A comparative analysis of the Finnish and the German mother tongue and literature education

Term Paper 2009 14 Pages

Pedagogy - School Pedagogics


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 The content of the core curricula

3 Approaches to literature in and outside the school system

4 Immigrant education

5 Teacher education and the assignment of teachers

6 Conclusion


1 Introduction

“Language is the key instrument that allows us to create the reality we live in and coordinate our actions with others” (LAHDENPERÄ, 2006: 69).

The language we need to build up our own life by interacting with others and its related education are at the same time alike and unlike in different countries. Whereas there are common features in languages and language education, distinctive linguistic and especially cultural conditions lead to variations in teaching mother tongue and literature.

The results of the international student assessment programme PISA, organised by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) (SAR- KOMAA, 2008: 2), have been widely discussed in Germany since the publication of its first cycle. The mass media and experts have labelled the achievements of the German pupils and consequently the German education system as weak. While Finnish students achieved an average scale of about 550 in the reading lit- eracy assessment and consequently the second place in 2006, the German pupils scored with nearly 500 points, which meant the 18th rank of all countries and four positions above OECD-average (HARJUNEN and KARJALAINEN, 2008: 150).1 At the same time, the Finnish results meant a positive surprise for the Finnish society and were considered to be excellent (SARKOMAA, 2008: 3).

Finnish is a member of the Finno-Ugrian language family and therefore completely different from the Indo-European languages, such as German, which are spoken mostly in Europe (KULONEN, 1998: 1). One of its characteristics is a phonological writing system, which makes it easy to learn to read and to write (THE BLACK- WELL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WRITING SYSTEMS). This might be an advance of the Finnish students compared to the German students who have to acquire sev- eral orthography techniques and strategies in their first school years as there are a lot of morphological features in the German language influencing the spelling. However, this cannot be the secret behind the good assessment results of the Finnish students. They must originate from the education system itself.

Therefore, it is the aim of this essay to answer the following questions: What are the differences between the mother tongue and literature education in Finland and Germany? How is language taught similarly in both countries? What are the strengths and weaknesses of both systems? Which improvements can be pro- posed?

Firstly, information on selected aspects related to mother tongue and literature education are provided, such as the content of the core curricula, the approaches to literature in and outside the school system, the education of immigrants and the teacher education. Finally, conclusions about possible enhancements are given.

In order to meet the limited scope of this essay and to take the different school systems into consideration, the author focuses on compulsory education from grade 1 to 10 in Germany respectively from grade 1 to 9 in Finland. Upper- secondary education cannot be studied further in detail. In addition, it is important to note that the information about the German mother tongue and literature educa- tion might not apply to all parts of the country. Due to the federal system in Ger- many, each federal state develops its own curricula, there are different school books in the states and the teacher education is conducted differently at each uni- versity. Furthermore, some of the given information on the German education sys- tem originate from the author’s own experiences or are part of the general knowl- edge within the German society and therefore cannot be documented in detail.

2 The content of the core curricula

The Finnish core curriculum includes contents for the different mother tongues of the country and for the second language education in order to meet the special situation in Finland with its majority’s and minority’s languages. Finnish, Swedish, Sami, Romani and Finnish sign language as mother tongue are listed separately. In addition, contents are given for Finnish and Swedish as second language, Finnish for Sami speakers and Finnish for users of the Finnish sign language (FINNISH NATIONAL BOARD OF EDUCATION, 2004: 44ff).

As Finnish is the language which is used by the majority in Finland like German is in Germany, the following comparison focuses on Finnish as mother tongue. The information about the German language and literature education originate from the curriculum of the federal state Brandenburg. The author has already gained some practical experiences there and the range of primary school from grade 1 to 6 in this state enables it to compare it more easily to the Finnish system.2

Both, the Finnish and the German curriculum, divide the mother tongue and litera- ture education into fields of activity, which are quite similar in both countries, while the emphasis on specific aspects is different. In German language and literature education the pupils have to acquire competences in the following four areas: “talking and listening”, “reading and dealing with texts and media”, “writing and or- thography” as well as “examining language and its use”. The definition of and the emphasis on these fields of activity stay the same from grade 1 up to grade 10 (MINISTERIUM FÜR BILDUNG, JUGEND UND SPORT LAND BRANDENBURG, 2004: 17) (MINISTERIUM FÜR BILDUNG, JUGEND UND SPORT LAND BRAN- DENBURG, 2008: 12ff). The Finnish curriculum changes slightly the definition from “interaction skills”, “reading and writing” and “literature and language” in grade 1 and 2 to “interaction skills”, “text comprehension”, “preparing compositions and oral presentations”, “information management skills”, “tasks and structures of language” and “literature and other culture” in grade 3 to 5 respectively to “rela- tionship with language, literature and other culture” instead of the latter two in grade 6 to 9 (FINNISH NATIONAL BOARD OF EDUCATION, 2004: 44ff).

HARJUNEN and KARJALAINEN state that the emphasis on reading comprehen- sion in the curricula of several subjects represent one reason for the positive achievements of Finnish students (HARJUNEN and KARJALAINEN, 2008: 147). “The goal of the curriculum is to form active, life-long readers and learners by ex- posing them to a variety of text formats and types (…)” (HARJUNEN and KAR- JALAINEN, 2008: 174).

A German primary school teacher, the author talked to, regards the principle of a spiral, which is applied in the German curriculum, as a very good aspect. This principle means that contents, which were taught previously, are taken to higher and more complex levels in further grades.

Furthermore, one can assert that the promotion of cross-curricular activities and the combination of activities from different fields within the mother tongue and lit- erature education constitute a strength of both countries. For instance, the Ger- man core curriculum for grade 7 to 10 relates several outlines, such as “using lan- guage appropriately in every day life”, “understanding of literary texts and media in their contexts”, “meeting different cultures” or “writing, designing and presenting texts”, to each of the four fields of activity (MINISTERIUM FÜR BILDUNG, JUGEND UND SPORT LAND BRANDENBURG, 2008: 51ff).

Comparing the concreteness of both core curricula one can notice that the Finnish curriculum states more general objectives and leaves out concrete methods (FIN- NISH NATIONAL BOARD OF EDUCATION, 2004: 44ff). For instance, the Ger- man core curriculum offers a list which linguistic terms the children have to be able to deal with at the end of grade 6, such as the four German cases, the differences between subject, predicate and object, tenses or the distinction between rhyme, verse and stanza, and a collection of criteria for choosing books for the literature education at the primary school level (MINISTERIUM FÜR BILDUNG, JUGEND UND SPORT LAND BRANDENBURG, 2004: 48ff). Moreover, the curriculum for the secondary education includes propositions for different methods, such as the creation of a radio play or a comic on the basis of an epic text (MINISTERIUM FÜR BILDUNG, JUGEND UND SPORT LAND BRANDENBURG, 2008: 51ff).

On the one hand, the general character of the Finnish core curriculum offers flexibility for the teacher. On the other hand, the concrete content of the German curriculum is especially useful for teachers who have just began their teaching practice as it can guide them better through the preparation of their lessons.

However, the lack of contents for the teaching of German as second language to children with immigration background represents definitely a weakness of the German core curriculum.

Finally, it is important to note, that the core curriculum constitutes a framework for the lessons in language and literature education. In practice, teachers might have to adopt the contents to the individual characteristics of a class. According to a teacher of Finnish mother tongue and literature education at a primary school in Espoo, who was interviewed by the author of this essay, it is sometimes neces- sary to reduce the amount of content with regard to pupils with learning problems.


1 The maximum of scores which could be reached in literacy assessment was 600 (HARJUNEN and KARJALAINEN, 2008: 150).

2 In many of the other federal states primary school ends after grade 4.


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University of Helsinki – Department of Applied Sciences of Education
mother tongue and literature education Finland Finnland Germany Deutschland Muttersprache Unterricht Vergleich comparative analysis Deutschunterricht mother tongue literature education school Schule Deutsch Finnish Finnish language language lessons



Title: A comparative analysis of the Finnish and the German mother tongue and literature education