It’s not “fun” to teach about the Sami
Discrimination against Sami is a pressing, yet widely unspoken problem in Sweden. Approximately 30.000 people of the Swedish population are still facing racism, prejudice, and very often, plain ignorance.
In 2011, Skolverket first included education about Sweden’s five minorities in the compulsory part of the curriculum for elementary school. However, earlier this year, Swedish Radio reported that Swedish History teachers still skip teaching about national minorities in their classrooms. The report states this is often due to the teachers’ lack of time and knowledge.
“People don’t learn enough about Sami people”, explains Julia Märak Leffler, 29, a Sami-Swedish Sociology student from Linköping, “Looking back at my parents’ generation, not at all my generation, and I’m quite sure that today’s generation doesn’t learn enough.”
In her Master’s thesis from 2015, Julia investigated how the Sami people were portrayed in school books and was presented with quite an old fashioned view.
“The Samis live up north, Samis have reindeer and they are one of Sweden’s minorities”, she recollects, “But that’s not enough.”
“In Swedish textbooks you can learn about how native americans were suppressed by settlers”, she continues, “but generally, Swedes don’t know that we have a similar history here.“
The curriculum from 2011 states “the school is responsible for ensuring that every student, after the compulsory school, has acquired knowledge of the national minorities’ culture, language, religion and history.” and, furthermore, “the school will also ensure that the students get an orientation in the different minority languages, and […] gain knowledge about how cultural heritage has evolved in different national minorities.”.
However, in the 2013 national test for the subject of Social Science, the only test available to the general public, there is no mention of the Sami people’s background, culture, or history.
The tests, which are held every year, are a way to oversee and influence what students are being taught in the classroom.
Arne Löfstedt and Lotten Norlin work in the project team responsible for developing the national tests for Social Science at the Gothenburg University. They recognize that there is an issue due to the lack of grading criteria that Skolverket offers on the topic of national minorities. This makes it difficult to create questions that assess the depth of the students’ knowledge on the subject.
In the school curriculum, national minorities do not have a grading criteria, instead, they are simply included in the learning outcomes. There is no specification on how detailed the topic should be. Arne further states that he has contacted Skolverket expressing concerns about this, but no follow-up was mentioned.
When asked about the reason why teachers skip the topic of minorities, such as the Sami people, Lotten stated: “It is hard to make it fun! There are much more fun topics to teach about…and the Sami questions are also new in the curriculum.”
“For example crime is fun, the kids love it! Maybe the Samis aren’t”, adds Arne.
Many believe the school has a tremendous impact on the way we learn to view the world and the society we live in. Charlotta Svonni, teacher and researcher at Umeå University, and Julia Märak Leffler highlight this outlook.
“I think school is a huge source of discrimination” says Julia, “I believe that what you learn in school, what you see in media and what you hear from politicians, creates what you call ‘official knowledge’. So, if you learn things in school, or don’t learn things in school – this will shape how you see things.”
The lack of knowledge teachers have on how to address the Sami topic is problematic not only for the Sami people themselves, who more often than not have very limited knowledge about their own culture and identity, but also for the Swedish people who do not know how to approach the subject, explains Charlotta.
Charlotta further adds that, “when there is lack of knowledge there is stereotypical misconception, and, therefore, discrimination.”
This, additionally, puts an obvious strain on their mental health. Last year SVD reported that just about every second young Sami woman has had thoughts of committing suicide.
Julia feels that the general ignorance about their culture affects Sami people in different ways. It is detrimental in the sense that many do not feel valued enough in society, and it affects Sami people like Julia, who are often unable to realize that they can identify as being a Sami.
“If you only read about Sami people as someone up north or someone with reindeers, it becomes an us and them-thing.”