Young Tornedalians in education: the challenges of being national minority pupils in the Swedish school system

Young Tornedalians in education: the challenges of being national minority pupils in the Swedish school system


Pär Poromaa Isling




The Tornedalians are a national ethnic and linguistic minority group in northern Sweden who live along the Torne River Valley (Tornedalen) in municipalities that border the neighbouring country of Finland. This minority group has been subjected to marginalisation, racialisation and assimilation politics driven by Swedish colonial and nationalist interests and ambitions since the end of the 19th century. In the so-called ‘Swedification’ of Tornedalen, the education system has historically been a tool used to oppress and undermine the population’s culture and language, Meänkieli. Few studies have scrutinised contemporary conditions concerning the relationship between Tornedalians and the education system. This article examines the challenges and obstacles that young Tornedalians encounter in their quest to learn about and practise their minority group status within the Swedish upper secondary school system. The data consists of interviews with pupils, teachers and principals at upper secondary schools in two municipalities in Tornedalen. Drawing on postcolonial perspectives and theories of nationalism, the analysis suggests that colonial conceptions and processes are still at work in the region through the medium of the educational system. School practice is described as an ‘all-Swedish’ institution that is saturated with its majority culture; in other words, Tornedalian culture and Meänkieli are repressed due to the power, domination and precedence of Swedish values in school practice. Thus, the effects of Swedification policies are still at play in Tornedalian schools. However, there are promising pedagogical opportunities to enhance and develop the learning practice of Meänkieli and Tornedalian culture due to pupils’ interest in minority issues, combined with teachers’ knowledge of these matters. A conclusion drawn in the article is that there is a need for teachers to bring these minority issues into ordinary teaching and modify the curriculum so that, to a greater extent, it integrates and enforces elements of local minority language and culture into ordinary school practice.


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Tornedalians, national minority, upper secondary school, postcolonialism, Sweden


Published in Volume 27(1) Participation, Diversity, Involvement,