(The original Finnish version was published in the newspaper Turun Sanomat on 17 August 2003.)
Less than 6 % of Finnish citizens speak Swedish as their mother tongue. Many of them speak also Finnish well enough to manage their everyday routines. Therefore I wonder why we have Swedish as a compulsory language in our schools. Both media and politicians have been quite quiet about the topic, yet it is always worth discussing. In my opinion the involuntary learning of Swedish takes too much time and resources away from teaching other subjects.
When Mikael Agricola wrote Abckiria in 1543, he initiated the development of Finnish as a literary language. The year 1776 saw the launch of the first newspaper that was written in Finnish. During the 19th century Finnish became equal to Swedish as a school subject. And that’s it. In the year 2000 we can state that nothing significant has happened to the language question in 200 years – even if in other European countries the pupils are not forced to study the language of such a small minority.
You can quite often hear someone saying that Swedish should remain a compulsory school subject because otherwise there would be just a handful of those Finns who can speak it. Another commonly used argument is that the Swedish language is a part of our general knowledge. However, earlier this year an opinion poll which was made for the Finnish news broadcast disclosed that 89 % of basic school pupils would study Swedish even if it was voluntary. So it seems like the compulsory Swedish lessons are just useless relics. The reason why Swedish is still an obligatory subject at schools is simply that there has not been enough political vigour to update its status.
Furthermore, those who support the status quo might say that we should have compulsory Swedish lessons because we also have compulsory mathematics, compulsory geography etc. But teaching universal science to the pupils is completely different from making them learn the language of a small minority.
Talking about minorities, we also have a growing Russian-speaking minority in Finland, but the Russian language isn’t an obligatory subject in our schools. So, even those Finnish youngsters who live near the Russian border have to study Swedish even if they would probably benefit more from learning Russian.
Like our late President Mannerheim said: ”Finland needs one common language to unify her people: Finnish.”