Distance learning of Sámi languages improves the linguistic rights of Sámi students

Instruction through remote connections has improved the opportunities of pupils with a Sámi background to study the Sámi languages, strengthen their Sámi identity and contribute to the preservation of the Sámi languages in Finland. The operating model and good practices of the distance learning pilot should also be utilised more extensively in other subjects.  

In spring 2022, the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) evaluated the effectiveness of the distance learning pilot for Sámi languages and the impact of the instruction. Instruction through remote learning has been organised since 2018. The aim has been to reach children and young people living outside the Sámi homeland whose families speak one of the three Sámi languages spoken in Finland. The number of pupils has tripled during the project and is approximately 150 in the school year 2022−2023. The most popular language in the project is North Sámi, followed by Inari Sámi. Skolt Sámi has the lowest number of pupils.

Guardians and pupils must actively apply for the instruction

Currently, more than 70% of children and young people with a Sámi background live outside the Sámi homeland. Schools are not always informed about a pupil’s Sámi background, which is why pupils and their guardians must take an active role in applying for instruction in a Sámi language. A majority of the pupils in the distance learning pilot are in basic education, but there are also pupils in pre-primary education and general upper secondary education. There are currently 70 schools participating in the distance learning pilot.

Organising the instruction is challenging due to the pupils’ wide age range, but also due to their different levels of competence in a Sámi language: Some pupils start their studies from the basics, while others have instruction in native-level Sámi. There is also a significant shortage of learning materials, which forces teachers in the distance learning pilot to do extra work and personally prepare digital learning materials in particular.

The responsibilities and tasks of different actors must be clarified

The distance learning pilot provides instruction complementing basic education and general upper secondary education. Instruction is provided two hours per week; the lessons are often either at the end or at the beginning of the school day. The school has the task of ensuring the safety of the pupils and offering them an instructor during the lessons. The evaluation showed that pupils have also attended distance learning. Distance learning has caused feelings of uncertainty about who is responsible for pupils when they attend lessons at home.

The instruction of the Sámi languages is currently funded with separate state funding, and the results of the evaluation have given no reason to change this. However, the education providers and schools that participated in the evaluation want the funding to be simplified: The funding should not be circulated through schools, but rather be sent directly to the municipality of Utsjoki, which coordinates the instruction.

Distance learning could improve opportunities for studying other languages as well

The operating model of the distance learning pilot can also be utilised in other subjects, such as the teaching of pupils’ mother tongues and the teaching of the so-called ”small languages” (French, German and Russian).

”The narrowing language skills of young people in Finland has been discussed for a long time. Hybrid teaching with remote connections could provide one way for supporting varied language skills in Finland. Outside large cities, it is difficult to get enough pupils and qualified teachers for instruction in optional languages. This means that students do not have equal opportunities to study the language they want. With the help of remote connections, lessons can alternate between distance learning and contact instruction, which also improves the employment opportunities of language teachers”, says Senior Evaluation Specialist Marita Härmälä.

What actions do the evaluation results support?

Firstly, the Sámi languages have a special status as languages that are being revitalised, and this needs to be taken into account more emphatically when reforming the national core curricula. Sámi pedagogy, Sámi culture and Sámi lifestyle as well as the endangered condition of the Sámi languages and their status as the only indigenous languages in Finland should be taken into consideration more clearly in the objectives and contents of the instruction.

Secondly, the Basic Education Act should be revised regarding Sámi children. The Basic Education Act was last amended in the 1990s. Regarding the Sámi languages, the Basic Education Act currently only affects Sámi children living in the Sámi Homeland. However, the demographic situation of Sámi children has changed radically since the 1990s, as more and more Sámi families are moving outside the Sámi homeland.

Good practices obtained in the distant learning pilot need to be extended to other subjects and other places of learning as well. Distance learning also sets new requirements for teachers’ pedagogical competence, including assessment competence.

  • The distance learning pilot is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, led by the municipality of Utsjoki and coordinated by the Sámi Parliament.
  • The distance learning pilot is carried out between 1 August 2018 and 31 August 2023, after which a decision will be made on its continuation.
  • The evaluation data were collected by conducting hearings, surveys and interviews.
  • 12 education providers and 17 schools participated in the hearings, while 47 education providers/schools, 71 pupils and 29 guardians responded to the surveys.
  • In addition, 11 lessons in the Sámi languages were observed.


Further information:

Senior Evaluation Specialist Marita Härmälä, tel. +358 29 533 5560, firstname.lastname@karvi.fi

Report: Härmälä, M., Sarivaara, E. & Laihonen P. 2022. ”Paljon on tehty, mutta paljon on vielä kehitettävää.” Saamen kielten etäyhteyksiä hyödyntävän opetuspilotin arviointi 2022.

Publications 3:2023. Finnish Education Evaluation Centre.