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Nancy Commins, PhD

School of Education & Human Development

Fulbright Scholar

Turku, Finland 2011 - 2012


Immigrant Education: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers

An intense desire to instill and foster life-long learning in others led Nancy Commins into a specialty in bilingual education and the ability to prepare teachers to better meet the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse populations. Her work in Finland began in 2010 at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy. As a Fulbright Scholar, the continuation of her work for 2011-12 is in collaboration with the faculty of education at the University of Turku and the Turku Education Services Center. The work is a combination of teaching and course development related to the increasing ethnic and linguistic diversity of the Finnish student population.

In Finland, as in most countries in the EU, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants from other countries and cultures. Between 1990 and 2005 the national percentage of “foreigners” grew from less than .5% of the population to more than 2.2% (Soininen, 2006). In Turku, the numbers are much higher. According to Kauppila (2009), 9.05% of the Turku student population in Basic Education consisted of immigrants and foreigners speaking 78 different languages.

The Finnish National Board of Education has taken steps to meet these changing demographics aimed at improving the quality of Basic Education. Guidelines in support of municipalities planning for the development of multicultural skills for its populations include:

• Providing education for immigrants within the municipality/school
• Promoting tolerance and good ethnic relations, and increasing knowledge of different languages and
• Fostering contacts between the mainstream culture and cultural minorities within the school
• Developing multicultural identities of pupils from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds
• Promoting learning opportunities and producing materials for different linguistic and cultural groups,
• Developing multicultural home/school co-operation

Commins is ideally suited for this collaboration. For 25 years, she has been educating teachers about not only cross-cultural differences, but also about what it means to work with students who may or may not be fully embraced by the wider public. There are particular instructional theories and methods needed by teachers to best meet the needs of students who are learning content through their second language as opposed to learning a foreign language.

“I hope that my presence can support the goal of developing an internationally strong, attractive higher education and research community in Finland. I have extensive cross-cultural experience and my life has been incredibly enriched by opportunities to live, work and learn alongside people whose languages, backgrounds and cultures differ from mine.”

- Nancy Commins
PhD, School of Education & Human Development


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