Support, Education and Study Guidance
The mother tongue plays a very important part in a child's identity and self-esteem. The mother tongue provides the basis for the child's ability to learn. The child finds it easier to learn their second language and other school subjects. It is of considerable advantage to society if many people are multilingual.
The national curriculum for pre-school education states that children with a mother tongue other than Swedish should be given the opportunity to develop their mastery of that mother tongue as well as the mastery of the majority language. There can be a mother tongue teacher specialising in teaching mother tongue at pre-school level who meets the children once or twice every week and leads them in activities such as singing, drawing, play, cutting and gluing, playing games, reading nursery stories in the children's mother tongue. The mother tongue teacher might also lead the whole of the pre-school class in traditional songs and games, thus "translating" the culture for the children from a Swedish background while at the same time strengthening the sense of identity of the children they are working with. Studies have shown that if children are given the chance to develop their mother tongue skills from pre-school age, their academic performance at school will be better; their mother tongue proficiency functions as a bridge between the language spoken at school and the language they speak at home.
Mother Tongue at School
Mother Tongue Studies is a school subject in its own right at both compulsory comprehensive and upper-secondary level. The objectives laid down for teaching in this subject is that the courses should contribute to enabling students to benefit as much as possible from their school education, while at the same time developing their bilingual identity and proficiency. The teaching is to be carried out in such a way that it promotes students' personal development and strengthens their self-esteem. There are also a number of rules governing the teaching of Mother Tongue Studies; these are described in more detail under the heading "Regulatory Documents". The teachers of Mother Tongue Studies often come from the same cultural area as the children they are teaching, and they must also have a good level of knowledge of the Swedish language and Swedish society.
Study Guidance in Mother Tongue
Children and young people who have recently moved to Sweden and have not yet learnt enough Swedish to be able to follow lessons are able to have the content of classes explained in their mother tongue. Parents and schools discuss individual students' need for mother tongue study guidance, and the head teacher makes the final decision as to which students need mother tongue study guidance, and when.
Who is entitled to support, education and study guidance in their mother tongue?
All pupils/students who speak a language other than Swedish at home can receive tuition in their mother tongue. In the case of Sweden's official minority languages mother tongue tuition can also be provided to children who do not use the language in their everyday communication at home. Adopted children, who understandably do not speak their mother tongue at home, are also entitled to receive support and instruction in the language in question.
What are Sweden's official minority languages?
Meänkieli (A language related toFinnish spoken in the Tornedal district in northern Sweden), Saami (Lappish), Romani chib in a number of different roma languages, Finnish spoken in Sweden and Yiddisch. The position of the minority languages in Sweden was strengthened when Swedish legislation was brought into line with EU regulations in 2001.
How to apply for a place?
Parents who would like their children to receive Mother Tongue Support or to follow a course in Mother Tongue Studies should talk to the school or municipal authority in question. It is parents, and not teachers or other staff at nursery or comprehensive school, who decide whether they want to apply for a place for their children in a mother tongue class or mother tongue support group. However, nursery teachers or schools should inform parents as to when it is time to apply and what procedure they should follow. Mother Tongue Support and courses in Mother Tongue Studies are non-compulsory, and parents do not have to pay.
Who's responsible for Support, Teaching and Study Guidance?
The municipal authorities have the overall responsibility for the provision of pre-school and school education. The municipalities have considerable freedom in choosing how they wish to organise education to make sure it corresponds to the guidelines and objectives laid down by the state. A municipal authority is required to provide mother tongue tuition if there is a group of at least five students wishing instruction who speak a particular language, and if appropriately qualified teachers are available. Different schools may co-ordinate their Mother Tongue Studies courses in order to create student groups of sufficient size.
Organisation at Pre-School Level
The municipal authorities are responsible for ensuring that pre-school services are given the resources they need to fulfil the objectives of the national curriculum. Each individual child's development and learning is to be furthered, in close co-operation with the child's home.
Organisation at Comprehensive School Level Under the terms of the School Education Act, Sweden's municipal authorities are required to offer courses in Mother Tongue Studies to those entitled. There are differing forms of organisation of Mother Tongue Studies at comprehensive level, but each student receives two or three hours of instruction per week.
1. Mother Tongue Studies as Language Option (years 6 - 9)
Instead of taking a foreign language students may choose to study their mother tongue. In this case, their classes in Mother Tongue Studies are included in their regular timetable, and they attend during school hours. The number of Mother Tongue Studies lessons students have per week may vary as they progress from year 6 to year 9. The head teacher at each individual school determines which language options are to be available, depending on factors such as the number of students who wish to take a given language.
2. Mother Tongue Studies as Individual Option (years 1 - 9)
Throughout their time at compulsory comprehensive school (between the ages of 7 and 16) students may choose to study one or more chosen subjects in greater depth; this is their Individual Option, and is included in the regular timetable. Schools are required to endeavour to provide the teaching required. Students may choose to study their mother tongue as their Individual Option, if the school's head teacher judges that the school can offer Mother Tongue Studies as an Individual Option (this judgement is based on factors such as the number of students who express a wish to take a course of Mother Tongue Studies as their Individual Option).
3. Mother Tongue Studies as a Profile Option (years 1 - 9)
The Profile Option is a provision whereby the timetable allows schools to give themselves a specific profile by devoting a certain number of hours per week to teaching one or more subjects (for example extra music tuition, or a wider range of physical education). Schools may offer courses in Mother Tongue Studies as a Profile Option.
4. Mother Tongue Studies outside the regular timetable
It is also possible for students to take Mother Tongue Studies in addition to their timetabled lessons, as an additional subject. In such cases the student has a number of extra lessons every week; the number of extra lessons is decided by each individual municipal authority, although the usual scope of these courses is two lesson hours for each group per week.
Organisation at Schools for Special Needs.
Students who attend schools for students with special needs (generally, students with learning difficulties) can also follow courses of Mother Tongue Studies and receive mother tongue study guidance. They can study Mother Tongue either as an Individual Option or in addition to timetabled lessons. A special syllabus has been drawn up for Mother Tongue Studies at schools for special needs. The teaching is generally individually tailored to meet the needs of each student.
Organisation at Upper Secondary School.
When young people move on to upper secondary level education they may continue to study their mother tongue. They can choose to follow a course within their regular timetable, either as an Individual Option or as a Modern Languages Option; or they can choose to follow an additional course, over and above their regular timetabled lessons. The actual range of opportunities available for studying Mother Tongue at upper secondary level varies from municipality to municipality, depending on factors such as student numbers and resource availability.
Co-Operation between Home and School
Children are dependent on their parents and school staff having a positive attitude towards the question of Mother Tongue Studies. It is important that a climate of positive co-operation can be established between the home and the school/pre-school centre. Nursery schools and schools are under the obligation to invite parents to school to discuss their child's progress at least once a term. Teaching staff, parents and the child are present at this meeting. In the case of children with a mother tongue other than Swedish it is often natural for the mother tongue teacher also to be present at the meeting - although the intention is not that the mother tongue teacher should act as an interpreter. Parents have the right to request information in writing if they wish for further elucidation of what has been discussed at the meeting. At comprehensive school students receive end-of-year grades from class eight upwards.