Pakkoruotsi (Finn.), literally forced Swedish in English, is a controversial issue of Finnish education that has been debated over ever since its implementation in the 1970's as the Finnish comprehensive school system was reformed. The reasons for the change were mainly a desire to emphasise Finland's status as a Western nation, and to ensure that choices made in youth wouldn't harm future career ambitions.

Mandatory Swedish, or Finnish for Finns who speak Swedish as primary language, starts on the 7th grade and is required from there on in secondary (lukio and vocational school) and tertiary education (university). Finland has a 6 percent minority of Swedish-speaking Finns, and Finland is a bilingual nation. All important government services like the judiciary system must be available in both Finnish and Swedish, and all civil servants must know the language well.

What makes the language so mutually loathed by Finnish schoolchildren is the fact that the language is difficult to learn. Grammatically English is far more difficult to learn, but children are exposed to English far more often, as foreign TV shows are subtitled, computer games are hardly ever translated, and so on. Swedish has exposure through publicly funded TV and radio programs, but children seldom watch or listen to them. English is also usually taught as a second language all the way from 3rd grade.

The case for pakkoruotsi

It is a Scandinavian language. Norway, Denmark and Sweden are economically important partners of Finland, and with a knowledge of Swedish it is possible to grasp Norwegian and Danish as well. Therefore working with and in other Nordic countries will be easier with the language.

Swedish is an important part of Finnish cultural heritage. Important cultural figures of the 1800's were mostly Swedish-speaking, in fact, very few of them knew Finnish. The first Finnish-speaking author, Aleksis Kivi, emerged only in the late 1800's, and his name was originally Alexis Stenvall, a Swedish name. Also, Finland was a part of Sweden for several centuries, and under Sweden's rule several of Finland's important institutions like the courts were formed. Many, if not most historical documents are only in Swedish.

Finnish-Swedish culture is a national treasure, a cultural gem, an important part of the Finnish identity. Finland has Swedish television, newspapers, and literature. Knowing both languages promotes national unity and tolerance.

Learning other languages: knowing Swedish will usually help with learning other Germanic languages like German.

The case against pakkoruotsi

The time could be better spent studying other more universal languages like German, French or Spanish, or it could be devoted to the natural sciences or Finnish itself. Besides, the Swedish taught in Finland is the Finnish dialect of Swedish, mumintrollsvenska, which isn't really as useful as actual Swedish, rikssvenska.

Two foreign languages may be too much for a student. Many are the stories of a pupil very gifted in mathematics who could not graduate because of flunking Swedish repeatedly. Finns are speaking an internationally insignificant language as it is - Finnish.

Forcing the issue breeds intolerance. Forcing people to do things isn't usually a great incentive, and such a policy will only serve to expand the already wide gap between Finns and Swedish-speaking Finns. Pupils will develop a problematic attitude with both the language and the people who represent the language, and will never learn Swedish well enough for it to be of any actual use. Most adults will forget the language in a few years after graduation, out of lack of use - they will just speak English with Swedes, since they can better communicate with it.

It's just silly. Look at the numbers, you are using resources to educate 94% of the population to speak a language used by 6%, who will learn Finnish anyway. Children of Swedish-speaking parents are practically bathed in the language and will pick it up if not from school then from friends and the media, this is not the case with Finnish-speaking children and Swedish. Most bilingual nations like Belgium and Canada have a minority of over 20%.

No matter what the arguments are, pakkoruotsi is here to stay. The Swedish National Party's main issue is to upkeep the policy, and the SNP is often a member of the government coalition because of this relatively paltry demand. Additionally, criticizing the policy is a political taboo to a degree. Measures to abolish pakkoruotsi have been taken, though: Swedish is no longer a mandatory subject in the matriculation examination, the standardized final exam of lukio, as of spring 2005.


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