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Swedish-language high schools dominate best results list

Language proficiency and tight social networks may be the keys to secondary school success.

Turun katedraalikoulu 28. marraskuuta 2019
Turku's Katedralskolan was ranked first among large upper secondary schools by STT. Image: Roni Lehti / Lehtikuva

A comparison of large upper secondary schools by the STT news agency ranked 7 Swedish-language schools among the 10 best in the country, including Turku's Katedralskolan in the top spot.

Among small schools, three out of ten are Swedish-language schools. The best in this category is Ilomantsin lukio, a Finnis-language school in North Karelia.

STT included 350 upper secondary schools in the survey, less than one-tenth of which have Swedish as their primary language of instruction.

Rankings were made by comparing the average grades of students at each school when they began their studies in 2016 with the results of school-leaving matriculation exams in 2019. The comparison is used as an indicator of academic improvement.

Language makes a difference

As Yle reported earlier this year, students matriculating from Swedish-speaking high schools in the spring of 2019 had an average grade of 4.62 on a seven-point scale in four compulsory subjects,

That compares to 4.35 earned by students matriculating from Finnish-speaking upper secondary schools.

Swedish-speakers were also more likely to nab the top three grades of laudatur, eximia or magna. In both language groups, young women scored better results on the final exam than young men. However, boys from Swedish-speaking schools on average pulled down better grades than girls educated in Finnish.

Pamela Granskog of the Finnish National Agency for Education sees language skills as one major reason for the edge Swedish-speakers have.

"Swedish-speakers also have to know enough Finnish in order to function well in our other national language. English is fairly easy to learn as a Swedish speaker, so Swedish-speaking students get better marks in that subject," Granskog explains.

Jan Hellgren, an expert at the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre agrees that there is a "language effect" at play which most likely accounts for the better results seen in matriculation exams.

"If we think about how well the average Swedish speaker [in Finland] speaks Finnish, it is much better than the level of the average Finnish speaker in Swedish. We have also evaluated proficiency in English in basic education and Swedish speakers do better in that respect as well," says Hellgren.

The principal of Turku's Katedralskolan, Marianne Pärnänen, also believes that language proficiency plays a big role. Her school topped the ranking.

She does, however, point out that being bilingual is no automatic guarantee of academic success.

"For example, our English teacher is very demanding and it’s not easy to pass courses. These results are the outcome of a lot of hard work by teachers and students," Pärnänen told Yle.

Among friends

Another special feature of Swedish-language upper secondary schools that may be significant in attaining high rankings is the close social network within most schools.

Since Swedish is the native language of only 5.2 percent of the population, there are far fewer Swedish-language daycare centres, primary and secondary schools. Because of this, by the time pupils enter upper secondary school they already known many of their peers.

"Indeed this is evident here. Katedralskolan is in Turku where we have only one Swedish-language middle school, which is where most of our pupils come from," notes Marianne Pärnänen

Pamela Granskog also sees advantages in being part of a small school community.

"It may be that that if most of the other pupils are familiar and some are friends, it's supportive. You have a network backing you that helps you keep up. This kind of social network supports young people. If someone is falling behind, the network finds them and is able to pick them up and encourage them," says Granskog.

The top-10 STT ranking of large upper secondary schools (51 or more matriculants):

1. Katedralskolan i Åbo, Turku

2. Etelä-Tapiolan lukio, Espoo

3. Gymnasiet Grankulla samskola, Kauniainen

4. Korsholms gymnasium, Mustasaari

5. Pargas svenska gymnasium, Parainen

6. Mattlidens gymnasium, Espoo

7. Kyrkslätts gymnasium, Kirkkonummi

8. Helsingin Suomalainen Yhteiskoulu, Helsinki

9. Kulosaaren yhteiskoulu, Helsinki

10. Borgå Gymnasium, Porvoo

Small upper secondary schools (50 or fewer matriculants):

1. Ilomantsin lukio, Ilomantsi

2. Savukosken lukio, Savukoski

3. Kristinestads gymnasium, Kristiinankaupunki

4. Leppävirran lukio, Leppävirta

5. Helsinge gymnasium, Vantaa

6. Helsingin ranskalais-suomalainen koulu, Helsinki

7. Topeliusgymnasiet i Nykarleby, Uusikaarlepyy

8. Sipoon lukio, Sipoo

9. Polvijärven lukio, Polvijärvi

10. Paraisten lukio, Parainen

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