My confident approach to my adult ed Finnish for Beginners course was probably formed from several wacky Community episodes. And then there was Malorie Dunfy’s “They tell us to bring a glue stick,” explanation about adult ed – I . Since I have been curious about every aspect of the admired Finnish education system -including adult ed- and since I felt sure it would be glue-stick easy, I enrolled.
Finnish adult education is popular. The participation rates are high- a 2013 Statistics Finland poll shows that 2.2 million Finns participated in adult education programs not leading to a degree. In Finnish Lessons 2.0, Pasi Sahlberg notes that “two thirds of the Finnish adult population participated in formal or non-formal adult education programs in 2012, more than in any other country.” An extended working life, a higher employment rate, increased productivity, enhancing a longing for lifelong learning and multiculturalism are the goals of the adult education programs. Some programs lead to degrees or certificates. Several staff development programs are purchased by employers. Some labor market training programs target the unemployed.
The Turku adult education center also has a “wide and high-quality selection of courses. Around 850–900 courses and lecture series are organized annually. The largest subject groups are languages, crafts, visual arts, as well as dance and exercise. Additionally Turku Adult Education Centre offers plenty of courses in information technology, music and subjects related to nature, environment and history, among others.” See the Turku Adult Education site for more. The building where I take my beginner Finnish class is in an old school on Luostarinkatu. Student charcoals and collages are on display downstairs and I am tempted to peek into the tango classes next week.
I was timid about signing up for the class. My university was unable to help out with Finnish training and the library suggested I contact adult education. I signed up easily online. I will receive 52 ninety-minute lessons for 50 euros. I just showed up for class- when I told the instructor that I had not paid, she assured me that I will “receive some letter sometime. Don’t worry.”
Although the building is dated, the classrooms are bright and well equipped. The level of technology available to teachers and students is simply the best out there. This is a mental shift for me. Mind boggling- but teachers and students seem to have access to the same level of technology as corporate executives. Schools are using the same grade of equipment that business uses to make millions.
Thirty students are enrolled in my class- it is a sea of diversity. Nepal, Pakistan, Mexico, Ireland, Nigeria, Morocco, Italy, Spain, Iraq, Korea, the Phillipines, Germany, England, Singapore, and Russia are represented. I am the lone Yankee- no one can figure out how to say US citizen, so I am amerikkalainen. I’ve only taken two classes, but believe me- this is not a “Bring a glue stick” operation. Like all competitively selected and excellently trained teachers in Finalnd, Niina is a pro. Very well prepared, technologically savvy, profoundly confident in her mastery of the subject matter, poised and unflappable- her lessons are first class. I feel like I am in an important learning situation or a private school- a place where there is a genuine commitment to helping me learn basic Finnish.
The class is demanding. I must study at least an hour a day- two per day would be better. I perceive that other students in the class are working at least as hard as I am- probably harder. Niina speaks only in Finnish and honestly, I am exhausted by the end of the ninety minutes. My brain is tired- sitting for the SAT tired. Learning another language is takes focus, commitment and work.
So I return to my deep respect for this nation of multilinguals. By the time Finnish students take their national exam at age 15, they have mastered three languages. It’s humbling. And also a cause for comparison and wonder- why are we not insisting on a even a second language in the US? How did our English language classrooms morph into places where literature and culture are the focus?
Gerald Graff traces the history of Departments of English in Professing Literature. He presents a historical account of the academic literary studies in the United States in the nineteenth century. He traces the development of college language classes in Greek and Latin, English grammar, and rhetoric and elocution. Nineteenth century outside social and cultural events and their influence on the creation of English departments are examined. Read a review of Graf’s work here. What is immediately interesting is the relative newness of the literature-intensive language classroom. Until just over a hundred years ago, lit was considered “too soft” for university study. Since high schools generally followed college models, when reading literature became the focus, it happened everywhere.
And looking at the literature dominant English classrooms that we have today, I wonder what we may have thrown out in reducing/ eliminating foreign language study. Could the mental energy required to master another language be what we need to help us think more critically and creatively? In replacing the harder Greek and Latin for the softer literature course of study, have we turned away from rigorous language thinking? Have we made our language classroooms bring-your-own-glue-stick classrooms?
I repeat how impressed I am with this nation of multilinguals. I wonder how much of their remarkable literacy skills, test competence, and critical thinking relates to a course of study that demands so much language acquisition. I have another 48 adult education lessons to help me figure this one out.
Thanks for reading this blog. Now, enjoy these photos by Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen of Old Finnish People with Things on their heads. In a youth-centered world, the artists share a beautiful and arresting look at unique and interesting characters in strange circumstances.
This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog and the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.