In the nomad school that was implemented from 1913 and onwards, the Sami children should not get used to civilization. Therefore special school huts were built, but were still boarding schools. Photo: Unknown.

Education for Sami children

Already in the 17th century attemps were made by priests to educate Sami boys. There were other initiatives to educate Sami children in the 19th century. From the beginning of the 20th century there were special boarding schools for nomadic Sami children run by the state. The primary goal of the Sami schools during the 20th century was to make the Sami good Swedish citizens.

Various school systems
There was no concerted approach to the teaching of Sami children until the end of the 19th century. In 1632 there was a school in Lycksele for Sami boys that were supposed to become priests. At the beginning of the 18th century there were courses in Sami areas where kids could learn reading and writing and be educated in Christianity.  Sometimes wandering teachers, cathechists, came by and taught the kids for a longer or shorter time. Various school systems were tried with varying degrees of success up to about 1880, when the Sami school system started to resemble the non-Sami elementary school system.

Boarding schools for nomadic Sami
From the early 1900s to the beginning of the 1960s Sami school education was organized around lávvu schools.  According to the Swedish government, the Sami should live in a goahti or lávvu; if they lived in houses there was a risk that they might become like Swedes. However, the lávvu schools were only for the children of reindeer-herding Sami, and about two-thirds of Sami children attended municipal schools. This caused both segregation and division among the Sami people, since these schools were not for all Sami children.

The reason for this was to protect "the real Sami", i.e. those who were still moving with their reindeer and living as nomads. Swedish authorities were afraid that the kids could get used to civilization, and that would not be good for the nomadic Sami society. The vicar in Karesuando, Vitalis Karnell, was an expert in the official investigation and he wrote: You can favour the Lapps in every way, make them moral, sober, and sufficiently educated - but don't let them drink from the cup of civilization, they will only sip from it, but it hasn't, and will never be a blessing for them. A Lapp should stay a Lapp."

From lávvu to housing
The Sami people protested against this lower kind of education already in 1917. The lávvus run as boarding schools were gradually phased out by 1952 and replaced by school buildings. The Sami language was first introduced as a school subject in nomad schools on an experimental basis in 1953/54, and later applied in the new curriculum 1962, but only for two hours per week. The Sami children only learnt how to read and write in Swedish, in spite of the fact that the lávvu school was supposed to protect the culture.

Sami school for all
In 1962 Swedish Parliament decided that all Sami children should be allowed to attend nomad schools if they wished, and the length and content of the education should be equivalent to that provided in nine-year compulsory schools. The period of compulsory school attendance for Sami children, including the children of reindeer-herding Sami, was therefore nine years, as for other children. But the education provided by these schools was considered substandard, and the number of pupils gradually fell to a mere hundred or so by the end of the 1970s.

Modern Sami schools
At present there are five Sami schools (1st to 6th forms) in the north, in Karesuando, Kiruna, Gällivare, Jokkmokk and Tärnaby. The modern Sami school of today can be described as a "normal" school with a Sami profile. The children are supposed to become bilingual. There is a great emphasis on Sami culture and tradition, but the children must also fulfill the requirements in to the Swedish school system. There are also "ordinary" schools that offer Sami-language teaching although there is a lack of teachers in Sami. There are also a few Sami pre-schools in the north of Sweden.

Higher education
There is, in addition, an upper secondary school in Jokkmokk that offers a Sami programme, including Sami-language instruction and specific Sami subjects. The Sami Education Centre in Jokkmokk, which is Sami-run, offers special programmes in Sami handicrafts, language and culture, read more at Samernas. It is also possible to study Sami linguistics and culture at the universities in Umeå and Uppsala.

Sami University
There is a Sami university - Sámi Allaskuvla, on the Norwegian side, in Kautokeino (Guovdageaidnu). It was established in 1989 and the main language is Sami. The students come from all over Sápmi - from Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia. Here one can study Sami language, journalism, duodji (handicraft) and pedagogics.


Sámi Allaskuvla in Kautokeino, Norway, has 200 students.

Det finns samiska förskolor i Kiruna, Gällivare och Jokkmokk.

Sami schools
The southern-most Sami school is situated in Tärnaby.


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