The Role of Language In The Educational Process Of Arctic National Minorities


Climatic, technological and economic transformations in the Arctic have led to serious changes in the traditional economy and the traditional way of life of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia. A whole complex of interrelated problems and contradictions has arisen. They require serious study, analysis, and the development of measures to resolve them. The key problem is the low level and quality of education of the indigenous population, primarily graduates of boarding schools, which does not allow them to find employment outside the traditional sectors of the economy and outside rural settlements. The basic condition for adaptation to new conditions is education and acquisition of competencies. However, at present, the education system does not provide conditions for the transition to new knowledge and opportunities. Studies show that the reasons for this problem are both the low interest of the representatives of the indigenous population and the imperfection of the education system in boarding schools. The study shows that cultural and linguistic equality and diversity increase the level, quality and accessibility of education, formattitudes towards a life strategy that is alternative to the traditional way of life, and thus increase the opportunities of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic in modern socio-economic and scientific-technological conditions. On the basis of the study, a number of proposals aimed at improving the level, quality and accessibility of education for representatives of the indigenous minorities of the Arctic have been formulated.

Keywords: Arctic, culture, education, indigenous peoples, language


The quality of educational training of the population is one of the conditions for successful social development. For a long time in Russia, the educational system of the indigenous peoples of the North presupposed their assimilation of Russian, European culture without taking into account the specifics of their mental makeup and ethnocultural needs. This led to a sharp narrowing of the functions of their native languages, the formation of a dependent psychology, a disdain for their own cultural values, the instability of the professional orientation of school graduates, and the inability to adapt to an independent life. At a certain stage, the system of boarding schools, which developed in Soviet times in places of compact residence of northern peoples, contributed to the elimination of illiteracy and the acquisition of a comprehensive education. Although, in general, the level of education of the aborigines was significantly lower than that of the newcomers, as a result of such a system, writers, professional artists, scientists, and technical intellectuals appeared among the indigenous peoples. However, today there is a need to apply a systematic approach to reforming and improving the education system, searching for optimal forms of education for children of indigenous peoples living in the Arctic, with the aim of their successful socialization, further employment, and integration into modern civilization.

Problem Statement

Industrial development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation (Russian Arctic), climate change, modification of the regulatory and legal framework, large-scale economic transformations taking place both in Russia and around the world, have led to serious changes in the traditional economy and traditional way of life of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia, localized on the land territory of the Russian Arctic. A whole complex of interrelated problems and contradictions has arisen. Serious study, analysis, and development of measures to resolve them are required.

One of these problems is the low level and quality of education of the indigenous population, primarily graduates of boarding schools, which does not allow them to find employment outside the traditional sectors of the economy and outside rural settlements. Young people do not find a place for themselves in the labor market, which creates social, humanitarian and economic problems. It can definitely be argued that this is a key challenge in the process of development of indigenous minorities (Detter et al., 2020).

Labor activity among the indigenous peoples is a source of livelihood for only a quarter of the working-age population. Benefits, pensions, subsistence farming – for 75 percent. Support for traditional industries only partially solves the problem of preserving and developing small ethnic groups and practically does not solve the low income problem. The capacity of the Arctic ecosystems and the low level of productivity inherent in the very type of management do not imply a significant expansion of the possibilities for increasing the income of the population. In other words, the task of increasing the level of social and economic well-being of indigenous peoples is not being solved within the framework of the task of preserving the technologies and way of life of the nomadic population.

The development of the ethnos in the future will be carried out on a non-traditional economic basis and the achievements of the post-industrial world (Lashov, 2014).

The basic condition for such a transition is education and acquisition of competencies that allow indigenous peoples to adapt to changing conditions. From an economic point of view, education is a source of economic growth. The knowledge, skills, abilities, motivation, values and energy acquired by a person throughout his life contribute to the growth of labor productivity and generate income for the individual and social group.

The availability of vocational education in modern Russia is practically the only potential opportunity for changing one's social trajectory. No other factor is capable of creating opportunities for growing ethnic groups for the transition to new forms of self-sufficiency. However, in our case, the education system does not provide the conditions for such a transition. For example, according to the census of 2002 and 2010, about 80% of the Nenets and 74% of the indigenous minorities in general living in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District (YNAD) do not have a vocational education. In relation to the population of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District as a whole, this indicator is the opposite – 80 to 20. In terms of the level of education of the population, the indigenous peoples of Yamal lag significantly behind all other regions where indigenous peoples live. In general, in the Russian Federation, more than 47.5% of indigenous peoples have higher and secondary education. First of all, let us note that the recorded lag of indigenous peoples from the level of education in Russia as a whole can be explained by historical reasons, by the greater involvement of these peoples in the traditional way of life, which does not require modern education, and by the fact that the traditional economy remained practically the only possible social route until recently. Indigenous graduates are less interested in continuing education than other children. The reason for this, apparently, is the lower value of education among the aboriginal population and the low level of material support of indigenous families. Socio-cultural factors also play a role: in particular, the fact that most of the indigenous peoples are not focused on self-realization in a relatively competitive environment (Detter & Filant, 2020).

However, we should not underestimate the defects of the education system itself: the inadaptability of the education system in boarding schools to the needs and capabilities of indigenous children; lack of special efforts of the educational system aimed at the formation of attitudes towards a life strategy that is alternative to the traditional way of life; economic forces. In general, the education system for indigenous minorities, concentrated on a boarding school, cannot be called effective.

Research Questions

To improve the level and quality of education of indigenous children, it seems necessary to answer the following questions: how can cultural and linguistic equality and diversity help improve the level of preschool education, the level of readiness of the first grader, adapt the education system in boarding schools to the needs and capabilities of indigenous children, expand the worldview of nomadic children, form attitudes towards a life strategy that is alternative to the traditional way of life, motivate parents to want their children to receive vocational education.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is to identify opportunities to improve the educational process of the indigenous minorities of Russia in modern socio-economic and scientific and technological conditions, to find a balance between the preservation of the traditional way of life of the indigenous population and development in new technological, economic and environmental conditions, to formulate proposals aimed at improving the level and quality of education of representatives of indigenous minorities.

Research Methods

The theoretical and methodological basis of the study is the scientific and theoretical provisions of foreign researchers of the educational processes of indigenous peoples.

Researchers from the Nordic countries are currently trying to find an answer to the question: is it possible in the conditions of preschool and school education to combine the traditional model of education of the Sami and aneducational model adopted as a basis in the Western world?

Currently, about 60 thousand Sami (about 1% of the country's population) live in Norway, about 20 thousand (0.2%) in Sweden, and about 10 thousand (0.1%) in Finland. Sami languages differ significantly from each other, and speakers of different variants of the language may not always understand each other.

Today the Sami speak less than 10 Sami languages. The Sami living in Finland speak three of them (Northern Sami, Skolt Sami and Inari Sami). In Finland, more than 2,500 people speak the Northern Sami language, in Norway and Sweden there are more than 25,000 speakers of this language. There are only a few hundred speakers of Skolt Sami and Inari Sami languages. These two small languages were close to extinction in the twentieth century. There are Sami who no longer speak their native language; there are also Sami who live outside the territory of their traditional settlement (Leggett, 2019).

The instrumental and methodological apparatus is based on a combination of empirical and theoretical methods, methods of general scientific knowledge and natural science: comparative historical analysis, normative analysis, comparative analysis, economic and statistical analysis, generalization, abstraction, modeling, system analysis and synthesis.


Previously, among many Sami in Northern Europe, there was an idea that it would be better for their children if they did not learn the Sami language, but concentrated on learning only the state language of their country. Until the 1980s, some Sami parents sincerely believed that their children's lives would be easier if they were free from the burden of their ethnic identity. However, a lot has changed today.

In order for a language to remain vital, that is, capable of further development, it is necessary to have structural support for the language at all levels, and to have state language support programs. Ultimately, however, the viability of a language depends on native speakers. The language must be used, it must be spoken. And this is exactly what the efforts of various organizations and programs that operate in the Nordic countries are aimed at.

In a multicultural society, the education system should be aimed at realizing cultural and linguistic equality, developing active multilingualism and susceptibility to multiculturalism. The challenge of developing receptiveness to multiculturalism stems from the need to establish a respectful dialogue between different forms of thinking and knowledge, inherent, on the one hand, in indigenous peoples, and on the other hand, in the national majority (Chaco´n et al., 2010).

Indigenous peoples must be fully involved in the planning of their own curricula, the results of which must be taken into account by the authorities. Granting indigenous peoples the right to self-determination in education will require political effort and greater awareness than ever before. To undergo transformation, the education of indigenous peoples must be seen as one of the factors that enable the creation of a society that is part of the welfare state (Hirvonen & Balto, 2008). The educational policy of the Nordic states is aimed at providing opportunities for obtaining a high level of education and, consequently, improving the quality of life of indigenous peoples (Paksuniemi & Keskitalo, 2019).

The role of preschool institutions in the Nordic countries in promoting the Sami language and culture is very important, because it is there that students learn their own traditions and master the skills of their native language at the initial stage of the formation of their individuality. Preschool institutions contribute to the preservation of the Sami languages and their transmission to future generations.

Preschool education in Finland

Paragraph 17 of the Finnish Constitution guarantees the Sami, as indigenous people, the right to maintain and develop their language and culture, as well as to use their mother tongue when contacting the authorities. In the Sami region of Finland, according to paragraph 121 of the Constitution, the Sami population has cultural and linguistic autonomy (Suomen perustuslaki, n.d.). For example, there are four official languages in Inari: Finnish, North Sami, Skolt Sami and Inari Sami. One of the tasks of modern language policy in Finland is the revival of the Sami languages.

In Finland, there are so-called “Language nests” – these are preschool language educational centers, which are an example of language activation by the method of full immersion of the learner in the language environment. From the very first day of training, the center's staff speak only Sami. The language centers operate like day care centers, in which all caregivers are recruited from Inari Sami speakers, and the parents of the children may not even speak Inari Sami.

Preschool education in Sweden

In Sweden, the Sami language is recognized as the official language of the national minority. This happened after the country ratified the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Today, in those regions of Sweden where the Sami have been historically living, the Sami language, along with Swedish, can be used in administrative bodies and in court. Children of parents who identify themselves as national minorities have the right to be taught in their native language. The use of the Sami language is also possible in kindergartens (Golovanov & Prokina, 2017). Sami kindergartens exist in several municipalities.

Preschool education in Norway

In some Norwegian municipalities with a compact Sami population, 3 Sami languages coexist along with the official language: Southern, Northern and Lule Sami.

In Norway, there are municipal Sami kindergartens. All children, regardless of their place of residence, have the right to attend them. Parents who prefer Norwegian as the primary language for their children, but would like them to learn Sami as well, can enroll their children in one of the Norwegian kindergartens with Sami education. In these kindergartens, children learn the Sami language several hours a week with a specially invited teacher or educator.

The timetable of classes in the Sami kindergartens is drawn up in accordance with the traditional Sami calendar, taking into account national customs, traditions, and culture (Keskitalo, 2019).

Such kindergartens actively use the so-called “outdoor education” initiated by the local Sami communities. Children spend a lot of time in the open air, starting from the age of 4, they actively participate in fishing (including ice fishing), learn to set a chum (and in spring all educational work is carried out inside it), collect berries and various plants, participate in cooking from harvested products, learn how to smoke meat. Also, in Sami kindergartens, additional classes on traditional crafts are held with specially invited masters, because not all children have the opportunity to learn the basics of the craft at home. While learning traditional crafts, children also learn traditional Sami terminology, thus expanding their vocabulary (Alexeeva, 2016).

The main principles of the ethnocultural educational space are the annually repeating cycle and the complication of learning at every age level. All work is documented, archives are created. Such activities contribute to the convergence of generations and the growth of self-awareness of the Sami.

Schools in Finland

In addition to the fact that, according to the UN Human Development Index, Finland demonstrates some of the best results in the world in terms of education, in this country (in comparison with other Nordic countries – Norway and Sweden), not only the issues of preserving the Sami language, but also the problems of developing and reforming the school system of education of Sami children are most successfully solved (Simola, 2017).

According to the Finnish national curriculum, the main goal of teaching Sami-speaking students is to promote their development towards active bilingualism and multiculturalism (Finnish National Agency for Education, 2018):

  • education should support the identification of students with their national cultural heritage and their connection with the Sami living in different countries;
  • when teaching in the Sami language, all academic disciplines should contribute to the continuous improvement of the students' level of language proficiency. Linguists have proven that a high level of knowledge of the native language further contributes to the successful mastery of the state and international languages (Chiat & Polišenská, 2016);
  • education should provide students with an environment conducive to the development of healthy self-esteem without losing their Sami identity or assimilating into the prevailing population;
  • the school should cooperate with the families of the students to ensure that the traditions of upbringing and training of the Sami are taken into account;
  • wherever possible, education should be adapted to the seasonal rhythm of the local Sami community, traditional seasonal activities and the changing seasons.

Education in the Sami language in Finland is provided by all general education schools and colleges located in the Sami region (Keskitalo et al., 2012). In Helsinki there is ‘Pasilan peruskoulu’ secondary school, which is different from all others. Bilingual classes have been formed here. Students in these classes are taught in both Finnish and North Sami. The school provides students with bilingual education up to the ninth grade, i.e. up to 15 years of age. 80% of the educational program for these students is provided in Northern Sami, the rest in Finnish (Leggett, 2019).

In Finland, great attention is paid to teacher training. A potential teacher must, firstly, graduate from school with excellent grades, then receive a specialized higher education and successfully complete a master's degree. Being a teacher in Finland is very prestigious, therefore the competition in the Finnish teacher training system is one of the highest in the world (Hannele et al., 2016).

Schools in Sweden

In addition to regular schools, the compulsory education system in Sweden also includes five Sami schools for Sami children under the age of 12. Four schools are located in the Norrbotten County (in Karesuando, Kiruna, Gällivare, Jokkmokk) and one in Lapland in Tärnabi. In Sami schools, instruction is conducted in both Swedish and Sami. They are open to all children whose parents claim to be Sami. Each Sami school has its own student dormitory, where the students live for most of the year.

Sami schools have their own national curriculum (Sami National Curriculum – SNC), which is similar in many ways to the Swedish national curriculum for compulsory school.

In contrast to Finland, most of the educational program is not provided in the Sami language (800 hours of teaching in the Sami language compared to 910 hours of teaching in Swedish over six years of study). That is, the current school system in Sweden, although it provides students with bilingual education, does not support the development of the Sami and Swedish languages on an equal basis.

Another problem is that the Sami curriculum includes six school years, while the Swedish national curriculum includes all nine years of compulsory schooling. That is, when the students finish the six-year Sami education, they are forced to continue their studies at another school, this time according to the Swedish national curriculum.

There is also a Sami gymnasium in Sweden, the only one in the country. In addition to the general education program, the gymnasium offers training in reindeer husbandry, traditional cooking, crafts and Sami languages (students can choose from Lule Sami, Northern Sami or Southern Sami). Throughout their studies, children live in a boarding school.

Schools in Norway

The Sami school in Norway is an inclusive school system with a Sami curriculum. Sami students study Norwegian and English in addition to their mother tongue.

Vocational guidance work is carried out in schools on the basis of orders from the municipality. It is the municipality that determines the professions that are in demand in a specific period of time (for example, electrician, construction worker, snowmobile repair mechanic, nurse, cook, reindeer herder) and compiles a list of them. On the basis of this list, comprehensive career guidance activities are carried out in schools (Alexeeva, 2016).

The mission of Sami education in Norway is to preserve and develop the Sami language, Sami traditions, the Sami way of life, and traditional economic activities.Ensuring the equality of the Sami and Norwegian societies is also considered important.

Sami language courses at universities in Finland

The educational center in Inari organizes intensive one-year courses in Northern Sami, Skolt Sami and Inari Sami for adults. These are practical language courses that focus on the development of speaking skills. Some courses are designed specifically for people whose work requires compulsory knowledge of the Sami language, for example, those working in the education, health and service sectors.

In addition to classes held directly in Inari, the Center also organizes online courses in all three languages. 70% of the Sami live outside Sápmi, the region of their traditional settlement. Virtual classes allow this audience to be able to learn languages too (Sami Education Institute, n.d.).

Sami language courses at universities in Sweden

Sami language courses can be taken at the universities of Umeå and Uppsala. Northern Sami is taught at Uppsala University and Umeå University, and Southern Sami is added to it at Umeå University (The official site of Sweden, 2021).

Higher education in Norway

The Sami University College and the Sami Research Institute, which is currently part of the Sami University College, are located in Norway. The aim of the Sami College, the only educational institution that trains teachers for Sami children, is to adapt education to the needs of the Sami society (Chiat & Polišenská, 2016).

The main principle of college education is teaching in the Sami language. In the Sami University College, along with theoretical training, great attention is paid to the development of students' practical skills, and the organization of their communication with native speakers. The curriculum is structured according to the traditional calendar. For example, in September, first-year students participate in the reindeer slaughtering and the processing of hides, in October they are engaged in the manufacture of traditional Sami clothing from the hides. In addition, the students, under the guidance of experienced native-speaking masters, go fishing, set chums, work with reindeer in the corral, and learn the traditional Sami handicraft “duodji”.

Teaching students of subsequent courses is repeated cyclically and in a more complicated form. Graduation project papers and oral examinations are taken in the Sami language (Alexeeva, 2016).


The study leads to a number of conclusions.

Educational institutions need to develop curricula taking into account the cultural characteristics of indigenous peoples, to strengthen the position of their native languages. Developing educational programs to support learning that focuses on the culture, knowledge and experience of indigenous peoples will improve their quality of life and equality.Such curricula, which combine indigenous knowledge and the mindset of the national majority, should be developed in active collaboration with indigenous representatives.

The schooling of indigenous children should be organized more flexibly, taking into account their perceptions of time and space. Teachers should actively use teaching outside the classroom, “in the open air”, abandon the 45-minute schedule, and draw up the curriculum in accordance with the traditional calendar. It is recommended to move away from divided and separate subject-based teaching and introduce holistic and active teaching through interrelated topics and cross-subject projects. It is also necessary to move away from teaching based on authoritarian attitudes towards teaching focused on students. In the learning process, the teacher should not act as an indisputable authority, but provide students with support in their independent solution of problems and work on projects. Student-centered teaching methods are more compatible with traditional parenting (and with the culture of indigenous peoples of the North) than teacher-centered teaching methods.

Teachers spend a lot of time planning lessons according to detailed instructions. Providing educators with sufficient time and resources to plan innovative teaching is essential.

At the stage of preschool education, all education should be carried out in the mother tongue of the indigenous children. At the primary school stage, instruction should be bilingual and reading training should be carried out in indigenous languages. At the secondary school stage, the bilingual education system must be maintained, and at all stages of schooling, most of the curriculum must be delivered in the students' mother tongue. Learning a third language should also be part of the curriculum.

One of the most challenging tasks is to help students become active and interested in learning. Here, both the pedagogical skill of the teacher and the cooperation of the school with the families of students are of great importance. Since indigenous peoples' motivation to acquire knowledge is closely related to the possibility of its practical application, vocational guidance work is mandatory in boarding schools. Moreover, it should be carried out in those specialties that are in demand in the region in a specific period of time or will be in demand in the near future.


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Personality, norm, pathology, behavior, uncertanity, COVID-19

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Serebryakova, R., & Detter, G. (2021). The Role of Language In The Educational Process Of Arctic National Minorities. In M. Ovchinnikov, I. Trushina, E. Zabelina, & S. Kurnosova (Eds.), Personality in Norm and in Pathology, vol 112. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 195-204). European Publisher.