Literacy for the Globe
By Dr. Amy Tervola Hultberg | Published: April 28, 2016
When my Salolampi path crossed those of Pirjo Tuuri and Aino Wheler in 1998, our obvious connection was Finnish language and culture. Almost 20 years later, we clearly see the deep thread of literacy that began our lives, brought us together and profoundly affects our current professional roles. We believe in literacy always and for all, rooted in our common Finnish background, where literacy is a joyful expectation. Finnish education, specifically literacy, intrigues teachers, parents, students and other professionals. Not only are Finns well-read in their mother tongue, a language full of complex structure, they read and create literature with frequency. Finnish homes are filled with literacy opportunities and their use of libraries is among the highest in the world. Finland commands a continuous presence on the international education stage and in 2016 ranks as the World’s Most Literate Nation.
The common understanding of literacy involves immersion in language, meaningful text, and time to build relationships. Finns live this philosophy as they offer natural learning experiences for young children before and upon school entrance. In Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Schools, my work involves allowing children to discover the power and love of reading. This challenge requires me to play matchmaker for children who have had little exposure to extensive vocabulary or intimate literacy experiences. I constantly draw from my own voracious and boundless literacy experiences at home or at the Finnish Language Village. My husband and I are raising our four- and two-year-old children in as screen-free an environment as possible. Literacy work at Salolampi requires villagers to phonetically decode and make meaning through Finnish text generously used in our setting.
Gentle guidance is often needed for children who may not be surrounded naturally by literacy. Pirjo, currently in Kenya, relays “Finns are born with literacy in their blood. Babies and children observe adults reading as they develop pre-reading skills. The Finnish literacy relationship continues as concentration, listening, and storytelling skills progress gradually and organically. A vital part is to spend time with other readers, first with your parent or caretaker, later with friends, teachers, loved ones, and with whomever you read. Literacy has a very important social aspect in Finnish culture.” Access to a variety of written materials is critical to embedded literacy in Finland. This availability is not always true in Kenya, where Pirjo has observed homes with a Bible or one other book. People often share one book among three to five others. Whenever Pirjo travels, she has a book along, and it automatically creates excitement and engagement with fellow travelers.
Through her work in fundraising for the New York Public Library, Aino supports the mission of an organization that is dedicated to broadening literacy in New York City and worldwide, by providing open access to library materials as well as classes and support services in person. The library is particularly important to underserved populations who have not benefitted from growing up in a home filled with bookshelves. Aino also notes the international influence of Finnish authors who are constantly broadening their audience.
Pirjo sums it all with a moment from Kenya: “Through books one can reach a completely new world and maybe one that is otherwise unreachable. I remember explaining pizza to a fellow Kenyan teacher after he saw a picture in a book. Most likely he will never get to taste one, but at least now he knows what it is and a bit of Italian culture.” The world of literacy is truly global.
About the Author
Amy Iida Tervola Hultberg, Ph.D., Dean of Salolampi, Finnish Language Village, works with young school children in Detroit Lakes, Minn. during year, primarily matching good books to reluctant readers. She lives in New York Mills, Minn.