Mariia Suris & Sissi Huhtala.
Tampere University of Applied Sciences TAMK is working on an accessibility and equality program during 2022. At the same time, TAMK is running the Host University of Applied Sciences- Varava- National Against Racism project, coordinated by Laurea and funded by the European Fund for Asylum, Immigration and Integration. https://varava.fi/ The VARAVA project aims to identify and raise awareness of structural racism – and, of course, to combat it. Structural racism can manifest itself at the organizational and educational level, for example in teaching practices.
Student Mariia Suris kysyy “Is there discussion about equality?” and describes teaching practices from her own perspective. The student talks about how he or she experienced studying at a polytechnic as a non-Finnish speaking student. Maria also wishes and suggests to the teachers’ better accessibility of teaching.
Starting to write the text
I work at TAMK as a project manager for a subproject of the VARAVA project. Mariia contacted me about the project and wanted to share her experiences. We had a Teams meeting and went through the different stages of Mariia´s studies. Mariia sent me the text message which I use in this text as a quotes- as a student speech.
Applying for studies- entrance exam
Maria is thinking and wondering, when there is a need for multilingual professionals in her working field and there are many such applicants, why there is only few non-Finnish speaking students to study at the University of Applied Sciences. Is there a development in special arrangements for entrance examinations?
She would have liked to use dictionary in the entrance exam and to have known in advance about the vocabulary and types of tasks used in the entrance exam. Otherwise, she would need more time to do the exam.
“I asked for a sample assignments and/or list of topics ( I got the answer “ You don’t need any special vocabulary, just ordinary primary school stuff “- and this doesn’t apply to me since I haven’t attended primary school in Finland).”
“It would be useful to be familiar with different types of tasks ( I have not taken part in multiple-choice tests before, the forms of assignment are not familiar ).”
Initiation and supervision of studies
Guidance on studies, information systems, and the start of studies in general are important for access and adhence to studies. Mariia would have needed clearer guidance on, for example, approval and the fact that information on relevant dates, times etc would have been obtained not only orally but also in writing. On the other hand, in Mariias opinion, her spoken Finnish language is stronger than written. She would prefer to use more conversation when communicating with teachers, than writing emails.
“For person that have had little contact with Finnish schooling system, general familiarization is not enough (opo? curator? acceptance? etc.). Person also needs short written summary when there is too many new words and information at the time. “
“Often, it is difficult when relevant information is presented orally (dates, times, room numbers, etc.)”
“It is much easier to simply talk to the teacher, rather than sending an email, if the matter is not short ad simple (less room for misunderstanding, 7 minutes of conversation vs. 45 minutes of writing emails).”
During the studies
Studying in a foreign language has often been difficult and burdensome for Mariia. In the lessons, for example, she had to keep an eye on a long text to start working. Mariia has not been able to do this, because nothing has been remembered just by looking, and there has not been enough time to get acquainted properly. Focusing on her own reading and writing has also been stressful in a lively conversational classroom situation, which is why Maria has wanted, and sought, a quieter and more peaceful space. The best situations where when you have been able to decide for yourself which book or article you will use for a task, and they could be even in English.
“When the class fist needs to read a long text ( the more pages, the more time difference with the other group members and it is already terribly tiering).
“When it says “take a look” at this guide or a book ( I cannot easily look at the text in Finnish; either I focus properly or I don’t don’t understand enough. Could there be details on what to look out for- topics, titles,pages..).”
“When you need to read/write in Finnish while there is a discussion in other groups in the same room- I just can´t.”
“A big relief when you can choose a book or article for a task yourself, and it can be in English.”
Mariia speaks fluently in Finnish. Writing is harder for her because she wants to write well and grammatically correct. For this reason, she asks for a different way of evaluating. She asks whether assessment should always be based on writing. If writing (an essay) is the only way of assessment, then she would need more time and access to dictionary to write it. It would be best to be able to take the exam on your own, for example in Moodle.
“Can there be some other form of examination than essay or writing?”
“Time limits are usually too tight.”
“Without a dictionary and even proofreading is painful.”
“It is easier to do it in Moodle than in Exam Terrarium, because I spend there all my time without an opportunity to go to the bathroom.”
From the feedback
Too often, students are only asked for the feedback at the end of the course. For the student, this is useless because he has already completed the course. Through the feedback asked during the course, it would be still possible to influence both, the process and content of the course and the students ‘own learning process.
Mariias experience was that giving feedback after the course had no effect. In addition, she reflected on the fact that her feedback stood out and became personalized, because with her own writing mistakes in foreign language, she felt identifiable.
“Anonymous feedback is not anonymous when I make atypical writing mistakes for a native speaker.”
“Otherwise, giving written feedback takes so much time that sometimes I don’t do it (especially when asked at 15.50).”
Development of language skills?
Teachers have thought and commented to Mariia, that language skills are evolving and learning becomes easier overtime. Mariia, herself, disagree with this a bit. At the moment, when studying in a foreign language is a stressful and exhausting, idea of developing language skills in the future is of no help.
“The general idea that I have heard from different teachers is that, the more the student practices a language by doing different tasks, the faster his or hers language skills develop, which may not be the case. I have noticed that sometimes there is impossible fatigue and my motivation for studying suffers. Performance that is expected of a native speaker who does not have a learning disability, can be quite a NIGHTMARE for an immigrant.
Mariias comment on the text
I wrote this frame in the text Mariia produced for me and sent the output to her for comment. Mariia wanted to correct my interpretation of the development of language skills a bit, and answered me:
“Thank you, the text looks really good! The only thing I would like to clarify a bit is the development of language skills. I agree with the teachers that my language skills also develop through doing school assignments. I meant that in my experience, overload slows down all learning, including the development of language skills. In my field of work, language is one of the most important tools, and language management is not a side task for an immigrant student but quite an essential thing. And it’s included in every single course, which significantly raises both the level of difficulty and the amount of work required.
In addition, I feel that I benefit more from, for example, professional articles that deal with topics concisely than from thick books that rotate the same thing ten times. It’s not just about spending time, it’s also about the fatigue that comes with reading, and then again, the actual content of the text cannot be delieverd. ”
What is that structural racism? It is unequal practices related to functions, policies, and structures, and practices, some of which are easily modified as long as they are first identified and recognized. The wishes and suggestions expressed by Maria are just such things that are small and easy to implement and change in teaching practices. All that is needed is an awareness of these unequal disadvantages and a genuine desire to take action to promote accessibility.