Sámi language education has, since Norway left the strict assimilation policy after the 1960s, been an important part of the process of indigenising education for Sámi students. At the same time, the situation of teaching materials has been challenging for a long time, and many teachers describe a demanding cut-and-paste situation where they, to the of best of their ability, seek out and adjust texts so that they can be of support in the process of acquiring Sámi. With this as backdrop, there is a good reason to highlight the release of new Sámi teaching materials.
In 2017 the textbook series Váriin, Vákkiin, Vuonain was published at the publishing house ČálliidLágádus. The title of the textbook series is Northern Sámi and can be translated as On the mountains, In the valleys, By the fjords. The textbook series is developed for students who are learning Sámi as a second language in primary and lower secondary school, and it consists of 12 books and a teacher guide. Textbook authors Toril B. Lyngstad and Edel Monsen are teachers in this subject, and they have over a long period of time developed learning resources for their teaching in Sámi as a second language at Manndalen school in Gáivuotna-Kåfjord-Kaivuono. With this textbook series, they share their pedagogical and didactic thinking with all Sámi teachers who want to use the books. The textbook series is rooted in the teachers’ local environment and is developed based on a school camp, which is organised by the school every autumn either on the mountain, in the valley or by the fjord. At the same time, the content of the books goes far beyond this local community and is about the whole of Sápmi. The intension is to move from that what is close and familiar to the students, and to expand the perspective so that it includes the entire Sámi society.
Differentiation and progression
Váriin, Vákkiin, Vuonain is based on three different environments in nature; the mountains, the valleys and the fjords, and each of these topics has got its own student booklets. Each of the three themes is dealt with in four booklets that reflect four main levels, from beginner level to more advanced level, and in addition, there is differentiation in each booklet. The idea is to change the theme every school year, and during primary and lower secondary school, students will return to the themes every fourth year. This opens up for a coordination based on the content, where all Sámi students at a school can work parallel with the same theme. Students also have the opportunity to repeat their knowledge of the theme (including vocabulary), and at the same time expand their competence by meeting the themes several times. So, the textbook series has a clear idea about a united thematic content and a simultaneously systematic professional progression.
Despite this is a textbook series which is developed for the subject Sámi as second language, there is also content connected to nature, culture and history in a northern Norwegian context. The students shall learn about, among other things, saltwater fish, plants and place names. The books have many colourful illustrations and pictures from nature, and these give the book an appealing form. There are few tasks that point to learning Sámi grammar in a traditional way, that is, exercises for practicing grammar rules. Instead, students learn words and phrases that can enable them to read, talk, and write about the surroundings of their local environment and about Sápmi. This approach to language learning points to a language learning pedagogy where learning a language is closely integrated with learning content, i.e. what is called Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).
My impression of textbooks in language subjects in Norway is that language education is based on an idea about an almost placeless language, where texts and illustrations show a monocultural and stereotypical image of the language communities where the language is used. What makes Váriin, Vákkiin, Vuonain differ from this impression, is the close connection between (language) education and place. The students learn Sámi through the place, and they learn Sámi through different places in nature. This way, the students are presented a quite nuanced image of the diversity within Sámi culture. This points towards a place-based language education pedagogy, where local communities and belonging to Sápmi are important values for language education.
Main goals and local needs
As I see it, Váriin, Vákkiin, Vuonain is a holistic solution to a pedagogical challenge in schools where the group of Sámi students is small and composed both in terms of age and language competence. The textbooks anchor a general Sámi language policy in the local communities, and the books respond to local needs, while at the same time Sápmi is used as an overall framework. Sámi language education policy aims to help strengthen Sámi language and culture in all parts of society by providing opportunities to have Sámi language as a subject at school, and also have Sámi as language of instruction. The goal is thus to strengthen the students’ belonging to the Sámi language and their opportunities to participate in Sámi society. This presupposes that the education system manages to build bridges between the student’s local experiences and the wider society (i.e. Sápmi). There is room this in the current curriculum. Norway has two curricula since 1997, and todays schools follow either the National Curriculum for Knowledge Promotion (LK06) or the National Curriculum for Knowledge Promotion – Sámi (LK06-S). LK06-S is primarily for schools within the Sámi administrative area, but also for Sámi classes outside the administrative area, such as the one we can find at Prestvannet school in Tromsø. The two curricula are Norway’s solution for primary and secondary schools to help to preserve and develop Sámi language and culture in line with national and international conventions. Furthermore, both LK06 and LK06-S provide room for adjusting teaching locally and to the individual student, since the goals are primarily competence goals and not specific knowledge goals.
We know little about how local and individual adapted language education takes place in practice. This is where Váriin, Vákkiin, Vuonaingives us an important insight, and we get to know something about how two teachers in Gáivuotna-Kåfjord-Kaivuono think about and practice the subject Sámi as a second language. An important context for understanding the textbook authors’ choice is that the municipality where they work, is part of the administrative area for the Sámi languages, and the schools have followed the Sámi curriculum since it was introduced in 1997. Gáivuotna-Kåfjord-Kaivuono is a center for revitalization of Sámi language and culture, because of the status as part of the administrative area. In addition, the indigenous festival Riddu Riđđu and Davvi ábmogiid guovddáš/Center for Northern People are important institutions. At the same time, the municipality is on the periphery of what is often considered the Sámi core area in inner Finnmark, where Sámi is the main language of society today. In short, for Gáivuotna-Kåfjord-Kaivuono this means that there is a strong will locally to learn Sámi at school, but that there are few children who today grow up with Sámi as home language.
The situation for Sámi language education is not unique to Gáivuotna-Kåfjord-Kaivuono. Also elsewhere in communities where the language shift from Sámi to Norwegian has come a long way, there is a need for a holistic thinking about language education, where professional and linguistic differentiation, and progression are adapted to the local language situation. For the students, it will hopefully mean that they will have a good foundation and inspiration to continue to use Sámi throughout their lives.
By Hilde Sollid
Lyngstad, T.B. & Monsen, E. (2017). Váriin, Vákkiin, Vuonain. Kárášjohka, Deatnu: ČálliidLágádus.