Game Russians face reserved Finns

A scene of stark choices, tough objectives and ideas for a new way forward were presented last week to the European Educational Research Association in Slovenia. David Budge went along with 600 researchers to find food for thought.

Russian children who have moved to Finland with their families following the dismantling of the Soviet Union are struggling to cope with the culture shock they experience in schools.

Children who have been used to very formal teaching styles in Russia are loath to address their Finnish teachers by their first names and feel that they must stand up every time they answer a teacher's question. They are also shocked to find their classmates interrupting and even contradicting the teacher.

Social relationships with their new classmates can also be difficult, according to Sirkka Laihiala-Kankainen, a researcher at the University of Jyvaskyla, in Finland. Inevitably, immigrant boys often get into fights.

"Although many things are well with us, a Finnish child is nevertheless quite racist," one teacher said. "The last word they resort to when they're not able to defend themselves with other words is 'Russki'."

The fact that the Finns tend to be reserved adds to the problems of the 1,500 Russian children living in Finland. "These young people really do suffer because of our Finnish unwillingness to make contact," another teacher said.

Finnish teachers are generally more flattering about the Russian pupils' character. "One thing one must say about Russian pupils is that they behave themselves extremely well. They even open the door for you, offer you the chair, never call you names."

However, some Russian children could also cause problems. "If the Finnish teacher says that something is forbidden, talking calmly doesn't have any effect on these children," said one less impressed teacher. "They expect you to tell them very directly, very strictly, in a very loud voice."

The Russian children's inability to carry out certain tasks could also be frustrating. "They are not used to tasks where one gathers information, is critical about the sources and draws conclusions of one's own. It seems that they've been used to a superficial approach."

"Russian pupils in Finnish schools - problems created by differences in pedagogical cultures", by Sirkka Laihiala-Kankainen, Centre for Applied Language Studies, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland.

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