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Plenaire lezing

De key note speaker is Fred Dervin van de Universiteit van Helsinki.

“In this culture they are not very good at languages” – The failure of linguistic diversity in Finnish education

Fred Dervin

Today’s education is often lauded for being more ‘global’, more ‘conscious of the world’. It is an education that is said to go beyond national borders and the woes of nationalism, xenophobia and racism. The keywords of the interculturalglobal-mindednessmultilingualism and the treacherous idea of translanguaging are to be found in most descriptions of ‘good’ and ‘social just’ systems of education. Unfortunately, these polysemic and often empty terms are not always understood by teachers, mostly because they were not trained to work with the paradigm shifts that they entail. Even those who received for instance multicultural and multilingual training during their teacher education, seem to be torn apart between non-reconcilable ideologies. The quote contained in the title of my presentation was uttered by a White Finnish ‘multicultural’ teacher about some of her students in a preparatory class. She had received training specifically to work with ‘diverse’ (read: either colored immigrant children or children from Eastern Europe).

Finland is often lauded as a ‘miraculous’ system of education which places social justice, equality and happiness at its core. Unjustly deserving the somewhat naïve and biased label of the best education in the world, the Nordic country of 5 million people has been struggling with ‘diversity’ for quite a while now. In the latest National Curriculum the sentence “all teachers are language teachers”, which clearly denotes neo-liberal attitudes to education and diversity in education, has puzzled many teachers who feel unprepared for such tasks. As has been the case for decades – something the thousands of ‘pedagogical tourists’ to Finland rarely problematize – Finnish teacher education, with its ethnocentric and ‘übernationalistic’ undertones, lacks behind. Student teachers are not prepared to revise their views on language and most of them happily enter the field full of linguism (problematic views on language) or complete disinterest in linguistic issues. In my paper I will discuss the failure of linguistic diversity in Finnish education by proposing an analysis of student teachers’, so-called ‘multicultural’ teachers’ and teachers’ perceptions of linguistic diversity in schools. I am inspired by folk linguistics which, according to Hoeningswald (1966: 20), urges us to “be interested not only in (a) what goes on (language), but also in (b) how people react to what goes on (they are persuaded, they are put off, etc.) and in (c) what people say goes on (talk concerning language).” My presentation ends with suggestions as to how to deal with this wicked issue to put an end to ‘waste’.