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Outrage over language ban proposal

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07:18 CET+01:00
Elementary students in Sweden with foreign backgrounds should no longer be allowed to study maths in their native languages, according to a Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) working group.

“We are very skeptical toward the experiment taking place around Sweden right now, with maths being taught in Arabic. The risk is that it will worsen students' development of Swedish language skills,” said Christer Nylander, a Liberal Riksdag member and head of the party's working group on education policy, to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

The proposal has drawn criticism from the Green Party, which wants to give children and young people who come to Sweden from other countries the right to learn both maths and English in their mother tongue.

“It's not only effective for teaching mathematics, but it's also been shown to be effective for learning Swedish. The Liberal Party is going against everything they stand for with this idiocy,” Green Party spokesperson Maria Wetterstrand told SvD.

“The goal still must be to have more students leave elementary school with passing marks in maths, Swedish and English. There are no rational grounds for taking a measure as coercive as a ban.”

Nylander contends that research into the success of teaching subjects in students' native language are inclusive, pointing to a study by the European Forum on Migration Studies, carried out at the request of the European Commission.

“It's not supported by international research that it results in positive results in the subject,” he said.

However Carla Jonsson, a researcher at the Centre for Research on Bilingualism (Centrum för tvåspråkighetsforskning) at Stockholm University, thinks the ban would not only prevent learning in students' mother tongues, but that their knowledge of the subject and of the Swedish language would also suffer.

“It would also send out the signal that minority languages aren't worth anything and lead to students feeling a diminished desire to learn Swedish,” she told the newspaper.

The working group's proposal is set to be reviewed at the Liberal Party's national meeting in November.

According to 2007 statistics from the National Education Agency (Skolverket), more than 18,000 elementary school students in Sweden receive lessons in Arabic, more than any other foreign language. Second most common is Spanish, with 5,000 students being taught, followed by Albanian, Bosnian, Somali and Persian.

Roughly 3,900 school children receive lessons in English, the seventh most common language represented in the agency's statistics.

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