Challenges facing students with a foreign background

Challenges facing students with a foreign background

“While it is perfectly acceptable to discuss bilingualism when it concerns English and French, things seem to take on a different tone when Arabic enters the picture. We need to change this,” asserted Anna-Karin Hedenskog, Rector of the Mother Tongue Division of the City of Malmö, during a Nordic seminar held in Stockholm on Friday, 15 November.

The school performance of students with an immigrant background is generally below average. Language skills and mother tongue education were among the topics of discussion when Nordic researchers, politicians, practitioners and experts in the field of education came together at the seminar Better results for students with foreign background, which was Thor André Skrefsrud, 350pxsorganised by Norden i Fokus, Sweden, in collaboration with NordForsk.

Researchers from the Learning spaces for inclusion and social justice project under NordForsk’s Education for Tomorrow programme presented their work analysing examples of inclusion and social justice in Nordic schools. Thor André Skrefsrud of Hedmark University College and Johannes Lunneblad of the University of Gothenburg turned the spotlight on a complex question: “What can be done to facilitate academic success for children and adolescents with a multicultural background?”

Ibrahim Baylan 350pxsThe researchers’ presentations were followed by an active discussion on the ways in which Sweden can implement this knowledge and the measures it will entail. Ibrahim Baylan, the spokesperson for the Swedish Social Democratic Party on educational issues, is of immigrant background himself. He believes that not all mother tongues are considered equally valuable. “A conflict is being created between other mother tongues and Swedish where one doesn’t actually exist.”

Maria Stockhaus of the Moderate Party heads the Education Committee of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions and is a municipal commissioner for Sollentuna Municipality. She believes that the importance of mother tongue education has been demonstrated but that it can be difficult to organise instruction from a purely practical standpoint. “I think we need to apply new techniques,” stated Stockhaus, pointing out that distance education is one of a number of tools available for organising mother tongue education.

Education is high on the agenda in several arenas in Sweden and representatives of the Education for Tomorrow programme also participated in the Swedish Research Council’s largest event within educational research, Resultatdialog, on 11-12 November. This year’s conference was held at Stockholm University and 37 research projects on educational science were presented.


Text: Lisa H. Ekli
Main photo: Discussion panel (from left): Moderator Cecilia Garme; Sofia Jannati, Sweden's Student Council; Maria Stockhaus, Education Committee of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions and municipal commissioner for Sollentuna Municipality; Ibrahim Baylan, Vice-Chair, Education Committee; Anna-Karin Hedenskog, Rector, Mother Tongue Division, Malmö. By Kaisa Vaahtera.
Photo 2: Thor André Skrefsrud, Hedmark University College, by Kaisa Vaahtera.
Photo 3: Ibrahim Baylan, spokesperson for the Swedish Social Democratic Party on educational issues. By the Swedish Parliament.