‘More teachers needed’ to cut long waits for Swedish classes

More Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) teachers are needed to cut waiting times for foreigners wanting to learn the language, a new report by Sweden's education authority suggests.

'More teachers needed' to cut long waits for Swedish classes
An SFI class in Täby. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Foreigners are entitled to free SFI lessons in the municipality where they are resident. Under Swedish law classes should start either three months of the date they register at a permanent address in Sweden, or for those who are part of Sweden's national plan to help refugees get established in the country, a month after they apply to a course.

But almost half of the municipalities that responded to the survey said they are failing to meet these deadlines, according to a new report produced by the National Agency for Education, Skolverket, on behalf of the education ministry.

A total of 111 municipalities told the report's authors they currently have a queues for SFI classes exceeding the stated target time. Around half of those said the waiting times were between one and four weeks. Five municipalities reported the longest waiting times, five to six months.

The number of people taking Swedish for immigrants classes has increased sharply in the past decade, from some 50,600 in 2005 to 138,000 in 2015, and is expected to continue to increase on the back of Sweden's record intake of refugees in the past couple of years.

According to Skolverket the number of people qualified to teach SFI has not grown at the same rate as the number of students. “The lack of teachers in SFI is significant and it is difficult to recruit,” explained Anna Westerholm, head of Skolverket's department for curriculum directives, in a statement.

“Many municipalities solve this with larger teaching groups and flexible teaching hours, that is daytime hours as well as evenings and weekends. But long-term measures are required to among other things increase the supply of teachers. Skolverket also needs to offer support to those municipalities that need it.”

Skolverket suggests a series of measures to plug the staff shortage, including increasing the number of distance courses for people who want to teach Swedish as a second language and offering more funding to municipalities or schools offering SFI classes. It also suggests closer cooperation between the national jobseekers' agency Arbetsförmedlingen and local authorities to help new arrivals integrate faster.

Sweden's minister for upper secondary school and adult education, Anna Ekström, told The Local that work is already under way to plug an overall teacher shortage in Sweden, including SFI teachers.

“I think it is a big problem, and it's many problems on top of each other,” she said. “The government requested this report because there is a concern of the supply of teachers in general, and [SFI students] is also a group that has grown in the past few years.”

“Learning the language is important to get a job in Sweden or to complement your degree and also just to be an active member of society. The longer you have to wait to learn the language the longer it takes you to get established in Sweden.”

READ ALSO: Asylum seekers 'face years' without Swedish lessons

READ ALSO: How Sweden wants to improve schools across the country


Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

There are about ten Sámi languages alive today, spoken across the northern parts of Scandinavia and eastern Russia. But they are among the many Indigenous languages around the world that are at risk of disappearing. 

Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

You might have heard that there are over 200 words for snow in Sámi languages, which is unsurprising, given the climate of the Sámi homeland in Northern Europe. But there’s a lot more to the languages than snow. 

The Swedish Sámi parliament website says that “language is the bearer of cultural heritage and reflects our people’s common view of life and values. Language transfers knowledge about nature and the world.”

But Sámi language fluency has been declining rapidly for decades. Pite Sámi is critically endangered, with fewer than 50 living speakers, all in Sweden. Today, Northern Sámi is the most widely spoken. 

Due to assimilation policies in all the countries the Sámi found themselves in, older generations of Sámi people were not allowed to speak their own language in school, meaning some languages have already been lost. 

The Local spoke to speakers and researchers of the languages to find out some of the most unique and beautiful words still in use.

1. Sápmi  

Sápmi is the Northern Sámi word for the traditional dwelling place of the Sámi people, which encompasses the northern parts of Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Since the 20th century, national borders and state policies have divided Sápmi and the people who call it home. 

Location of Sápmi in Europe

A map of where Sápmi in northern Europe. Map: Wikipedia

Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi is part of the Sámiskeveivisere, Sámi Pathfinders, a group of young Sámi people who visit high schools and teach students about Sámi culture. She says Sápmi itself is one of her favourite words. 

“The word means a Sápmi without borders, it means relatives, sisters and brothers, and community,” she says. 

2. Eadni 

Eadni means ‘mother’ in Northern Sámi.

“It’s one of the first words that children learn,” says Berit Anne Bals Baal, a lecturer of linguistics at the National Centre for Sámi Language in Education at the Sámi University College, who chose it as her favourite word.

It has a complex phonology (sound system), and is similar to the Northern Sámi word for Earth, which is eanan

3. Guohtun  

Guohtun is a Northern Sámi word that describes the ideal conditions for reindeer to find lichen to graze under a covering of snow. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s one of those words that resists simple translation.

Lars Miguel Utsi, the Vice President of the Sámi parliament of Sweden, says, “Guohtun is a very complex word. It encompasses geography, plants, lichens, snow, and reindeer. It exemplifies the language and its connection to land and water.”

“It’s a very soothing word because it means that there is food and the reindeer can reach it,” he said. 

4. Giitu  

Giitu means ‘thank you’ in Northern Sámi.

Anyone who knows some Finnish might notice that it sounds quite similar to the Finnish word for ‘thank you’, kiitos. That’s because Sámi languages have more in common with Finnish than with Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, coming from the same language family: Finno-Uralic. 

You can respond to giitu with leage buorre which means ‘you’re welcome.’

5. Čáiddas 

This means snowball. We couldn’t have a list of Sámi words without having something specific to snow, could we? 

6. Vuovdi 

This means forest in Northern Sámi. Vast swathes of Sápmi is covered in forest. Sámi reindeer herders rely on old-growth forests to let their reindeer graze; they eat the kind of lichen that only grows in older forests. 

7. Boazu

Reindeer husbandry is a vital part of Sámi life. Photo: Image Bank Sweden

In all Sámi languages, there are two different words for reindeer. In Northern Sámi there is goddi and boazu.

Boazu means a reindeer who has been tamed and can be milked. Goddi is the word for wilder reindeer.  

Reindeer herding is an important aspect of Sámi culture and a vital source of income for many Sámi people. The Sámi parliament estimates that about 2,500 people are dependent on income from reindeer husbandry. 

8. Bures

An easy one! This is how you say “hello” to another person in Northern Sámi. 

9. Goahte  

Goahte is a type of hut in Lule Sámi. It’s a traditional Sámi home that can be built in several different ways, depending on what material is available, like with wooden panels or a construction of wooden poles covered with peat or cloth.

10. Sámediggi 

This is the Northern Sámi word for the Sámi Parliament. There’s a Sámi parliament in each country that divides Sápmi.

In the Scandinavian countries, it’s essentially a government agency with the aim of representing the Sámi people and increasing opportunities to participate in public debate.