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Annual Conference of the FUEN Education Working Group: Focus on the primary level

What are the educational opportunities for the Swedish minority in Finland in their mother tongue? And what challenges do minorities generally face when it comes to their children's education? These questions were at the centre of the recently concluded annual meeting of the Education Working Group under the umbrella of the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN).

The annual meeting of the working group took place for the sixth time, this time in the Finnish capital Helsinki/Helsingfors. From 8 to 11 April 2024, 20 representatives of 15 minority communities from 13 countries gathered to discuss educational issues. After last year's conference in Sibiu (Romania) focused on early childhood education, this time the focus was on primary education.

The conference programme included several working sessions and discussion rounds dealing with the education system in Finland, the educational landscape of the Swedish minority there and the primary school education of other minorities in Europe. The invited speakers from the Finnish education sector, the organisations representing the interests of the Swedish language group in Finland and from the fields of science, politics and culture gave a wide range of insights into current developments, highlighted difficulties and presented examples of best practice for appropriate primary education in the languages of minorities.

The four-day event was chaired by FUEN Secretary General Éva Pénzes and the two FUEN Vice Presidents Gösta Toft and Daniel Alfreider, who also acts as spokesperson for the Education Working Group.

In order to gain a first-hand impression of primary school education in Finland, the conference participants also visited a Swedish minority school, the "Mattlidens skola" in Espoo, around 20 kilometres from Helsinki. There, 1,700 children and young people are taught from first to twelfth grade - in Swedish, of course. The members of the education working group were given an insight into everyday life at this special school during a guided tour conducted by school headmaster Tony Björk. They also had the opportunity to talk to teachers about innovative teaching methods and observe lessons in some classes.

An education conference entitled "The future of Swedish education 2024: How can we strengthen and improve quality?" was also held during the annual conference. This was organised by the association "Svenska Folkskolans Vänner", whose aim is to support the education of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland.

During the meeting, the minority representatives also provided insights into the situation of primary school education in their respective home countries. It became clear that the framework conditions for primary education for members of minorities differ from country to country, but that there are also similar challenges. On this occasion, some participants drew attention to problems that could weaken or even jeopardise their minorities - and thus once again underlined the importance of the annual meetings of the FUEN Education Working Group, where joint strategies can be discussed and solutions for existing problems can be worked out.


Photos: Cata Portin

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