A workshop on co-located schools

The Jyväskylä Language Campus project Multilingual schoolscape – Multilingual learning environment organized a workshop on co-located schools on 2 December in Jyväskylä. Co-located schools (kieliparikoulut/samlokaliserade skolor) are cases where a Finnish and a Swedish medium school have moved together. Currently there are 35–45 such schools in Finland, and their number is growing. We see co-located schools as transparent examples of educational institutions where a multilingual learning environment is given. Our aim in organizing this workshop has been to explore good practices and share visions of how such cases could be used as a resource for language practice and learning.

From the point of view of education policies in Finland, co-located schools create an interesting situation since administratively the Finnish and the Swedish medium tracks of schooling are kept separate and run in parallel from pre-school to doctoral education. That is, when two schools from the parallel tracks meet by moving under the same roof, several questions rise. How to design the physical learning environments and language practices? How does interaction between the two school communities influence their perceptions of the role of the two national languages, Finnish and Swedish? What are the benefits and challenges of co-locatedness and inter-institutional interaction?

In co-located schools, a multilingual environment is given, but the potential of such cases has only recently been recognized for language learning and practice. The c. 30 workshop participants consisted of a rare but excellent combination of upper secondary school students, (head) teachers, researchers and school administration. During the one-day event, we were engaged in lively conversations on multilingual environments from several viewpoints: we discussed the latest results from contemporary research projects, learnt about students’ insights and perspectives, and draw plans for future cooperation.


We started the program with presentations. Unfortunately one of our invited speakers Tuuli From (University of Helsinki) could not make it to Jyväskylä this time but we look forward to continuing our cooperation in future events.


Gun-Viol Vik’s presentation

Co-locatedness is tightly linked to moving together either because one school moves to the building of the other or because a new building is constructed for housing both schools. Gun-Viol Vik (University of Vaasa, BiLingCo project) has investigated how staff members and students perceive moving together and the related changes in their everyday life. Her Vaasa case study indicated that using both Finnish and Swedish were considered normal in everyday interaction; however, school community members missed clear principles on choosing among the languages in encounters where people from the different schools meet. They decided to use one’s “own language” which was defined as either Finnish or Swedish. A linguistic landscape-oriented student project revealed that there was a clear division between ‘Finnish’, ‘Swedish’ and ‘bilingual’ areas on the campus, and bilingual signs were concentrated in shared spaces. This result shows that even though schools share buildings, still the wings used by only one of the schools keep a monolingual character. The paper also presented bilingual courses which have been, according to survey data, popular among the students; however, it has been especially their topic and not their bilingual nature that has made them attractive in the first place.


Åsa Palviainen (on the left) and Mari Bergroth presenting

The notions of “own language” and “monolingual speakers” are constantly challenged in the work of Mari Bergroth and Åsa Palviainen (University of Jyväskylä, Child2Ling project) since they focus on bilingual children in kindergartens. Based on interviews and on-site observations, they analyse how staff and parents see language use in contact situations: are such meetings perceived as resources or threats to learning and identity construction? Their examples uncovered various practices of creating spaces for languages. Closing the door of the ‘Swedish room’ excluded Finnish speech but, at the same time, Finnish signs could be seen through the glass of the door. In another case, the ‘Swedish room’ was situated between two ‘Finnish rooms’ so both Swedish and Finnish speech was audible most of the time. Although co-locatedness was in general perceived positively by the research participants, the study pointed out that ‘Swedish rooms’ were considered important in order to shelter the active use of the Swedish language in settings where Swedish speakers form a numerical minority. Further, the presenters emphasized that co-locatedness and contact situations are not equal to bilingual pedagogies.


The students’ presentation

It was a rare opportunity that we could listen to the presentation of upper secondary school students from two co-located schools (Jakobstads Gymnasium [Swedish medium] and Pietarsaaren lukio [Finnish medium]). The two schools moved together in 2013 but their cooperation has been running for a decade now. A shared “Tandem” course has been organized together and the students can take ‘normal’ courses across the schools and have exams in Swedish in the Finnish medium school and in Finnish in the Swedish medium schools. The student unions organize events together, and are very open to all co-operation as their representatives stressed. In general, the students underlined, that it is easy to meet people from the other school anywhere in the building since there are no separate spaces for the two schools (as it is often the case elsewhere). According to the students, choosing the language of interaction does not follow preset conventions; rather, it depends on the actual situation. It often happens that somebody asks a question in Swedish and the answer comes in Finnish, or vice versa. This flexible bilingualism is common in the town which has a Swedish speaking majority. Knowing both Swedish and Finnish were mentioned as essential in everyday life by the students, for example in finding a summer job.


Tamás Péter Szabó presenting a joint paper

In our presentation (Tamás Péter Szabó, Kati Kajander, Petteri Laihonen, Riikka Alanen, and Hannele Dufva: ‘Towards new multilingual learning environments: affordances in the schoolscapes of co-located schools’) we asked how people (do not) make use of linguistic resources that surround them in their physical environment. Since schools are custom designed sites for learning, we were interested in ways in which students’ and teachers’ linguistic repertoires can be extended with the help of the multilingual environment. We also studied the sense of ‘togetherness’ that makes co-located schools special since two institutions are very tightly connected to each other. We showcased examples from our fieldwork which we considered as schoolscape resources for language learning and use. For example, “banal” bilingual regulative signs such as ‘keep the door closed’ help school community members and visitors to learn either Finnish or Swedish. Further, spaces of ‘togetherness’ such as the school canteen or a student-designed room indicate the togetherness of the two communities. We also highlighted the potential of expanding the schoolscape towards virtual spaces in the form of QR codes that require smart phones to interpret and make sense of them.

Beyond invited talks, we were happy to receive two brief presentations of emerging issues. Ann-Christine Savén (Hindhår School, Porvoo / Borgå) shared her experience as a primary school teacher witnessing the decrease of the number of Swedish speaking students. After moving together, the two school communities needed some time for getting used to co-locatedness; for example, earlier the football matches were about ‘Swedes’ competing with ‘Finns’ while today the physical education programs feature mixed teams. Another brief presentation was about Pauliina Sopanen’s recently launched PhD project. She investigates co-teaching in bilingual kindergartens. In her data, there is a novel bilingual Swedish-Finnish medium group which is novel in the Finnish system that is based on separate tracks in the administrative level.

The general discussion pointed to the fact that the practice of co-locating schools is a general practice. It is a trend to close down small schools, especially on the countryside, and construct huge learning centers with several hundreds of students. There seemed to be a general understanding that co-located schools constitute more a resource than a challenge, at least from the point of view of languages. What is more, the need for continuity in togetherness from kindergarten to high-school was raised. Also the conscious sharing of good practices and well designed, shared multilingual learning environments was envisioned.

Planning further cooperation

We invited the workshop participants to draw plans for further cooperation. Since students, teachers, school principals, researchers and the Finnish National Board of Education were all represented, some of the plans will surely be turned into action. We offered three inter-related topics:

  1. Envisioning and designing future multilingual learning environments for schools;
  2. Planning courses and projects for students of co-located schools to enhance cooperation;
  3. Planning projects and training events for schools to enhance cooperation between different language groups using the premises.

The diverse background of the workshop participants resulted to a wealth of perspectives. Without doing full justice to the versatile ideas and debates, we present here some of the good practices mentioned.

Since children take part in multimodal interaction from kindergarten, the influence of images, signs and sounds on them is clearly significant. Considering that Finland is becoming more and more diverse linguistically, we should go beyond the Finnish vs. Swedish divide and enhance multilingualism that includes immigrant languages as well. What is more, a growing number of experts stress that languages are not distinct entities, so they should not be kept separate in education either. In multilingual everyday situations, we are not always aware which language we are actually using, or it might be challenging to recall in which language we watched a film or held a conversation.

Languages are, of course, more than systems of communication: they are tightly linked to our identities and life histories, that is why it is important to consider the aspirations and agendas of different groups (e.g. students, teachers, school administration, student councils, city councils, ministries, etc.) when thinking about the improvement of existing practices. Careful negotiations can help people in getting rid of the slogans that it is only “compulsory” but not necessarily useful to learn the other national language. For example, one way of making the other national language more attractive would be to appreciate the efforts of those students who take courses or exams in Swedish in the Finnish medium school and vice versa and give them recognition (e.g. a certificate) that they successfully performed in “the other” language.

According to workshop participants, events should be organized for teachers from both schools where they could take part in activities in mixed groups so they could more easily step beyond the administrative borders and language barriers of their own institutions. Further, teachers should visit other schools and see what good practices they have. Finally, the topics of autonomy and agency were emphasized: reform ideas should come from the schools themselves so people feel that the decisions are really theirs. Ideas from outside can be brilliant but if they are imposed on the schools by external agents, even well-intended interventions might easily fail.


The workshop was cordially funded by the Research Collegium for Language in Changing Society (ReCLaS) and the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Jyväskylä. Satu Alatalo took excellent care of all practical matters at the workshop. Photos: copyright by Kati Kajander.

The project Multilingual schoolscape – Multilingual learning environment has been funded by the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland in 2016.

Tamás Péter Szabó’s work has been funded by Kone Foundation in 2016.