Gastkommentar: Anna Sjögren über Bildung in Schweden

Journalistin Anna Sjögren über Bildung in Schweden

Foto: (c) Maria Östborg

Foto: (c) Maria Östborg

The idea of all children’s right to education is profoundly rooted in Sweden and since the 70’s primary school (6-15 years) is mandatory by law. Primary school, secondary (16-19 years) and university is free and it’s only in the university that students have to buy their own study literature. So economically speaking education is available to all people regardless their social class. The question is if all have the same access to a good education.

For a long time Swedish students were doing well in both national and international rankings but since the 90’s we see a negative trend. In a study with the OECD countries Sweden came in 15th place in reading, 20th in maths and 23rd in science. Our neighbour Finland was ranked 2nd in reading and maths, and 1st in science. Out neighbour in West, Norway, also beats us.

The difference in results between schools in the country has increased. This can partly be explained by a growing segregation between different socio-economical groups. Another explanation is that since the 90’s the municipalities are responsible authorities for the schools, not the state. In practice, different municipalities choose to put more or less of their budgets into schools, what has led to increased differences in the quality of the education.

Everyone, regardless of their political stands, agree that this has been a failure. At the same time, most agree that to give back the responsibility to the state now would hurt rather than help. Schools, teachers and students already have their hands full understanding and implementing the different reforms that the government made these last two years.

And reforms are necessary. Because of the poorer results in primary school more students have hard keeping up with the studies when they reach secondary. As a consequence, some of them drop out of school.

In the new reform the qualifications for entering secondary school are higher. It is no longer enough passing Swedish, English and maths, now a student needs these subjects plus nine more to qualify.

For me, these are completely reasonable demands, but the real issue is how to raise the quality of the education and make all students reach the grades required for secondary. The government has also recently budgeted for increasing teacher skills in maths and for more maths classes in schools.

Another reform, to me slightly more problematic, is the design of the secondary education. Let me first briefly explain how the Swedish secondary works:

A student chooses either one of the theoretical so called “higher education preparatory programme” such as natural science, social science or economy, or one of the various“profession preparatory programmes”, for example construction, health care, administration or tourism. These programmes give you a profession when you graduate, whereas the first mentioned prepares you for higher studies.

Traditionally, both branches gave you a general qualification for higher studies. A student who chose a profession preparatory could also study at the university if he/she wished. From this year not all profession preparatory programs automatically qualify a student. You can choose extra subjects meaning you’ll study more than a normal programme. A good thought, but the fifteen-year-old who doesn’t make that smart and ambitious choice will have more difficulties studying at the university later on.

This system forces a fifteen-year-old to make a decision that will have big consequences for his/her life possibilities to access higher education.

The reform is motivated by the fact that a lot of the students who aren’t very study motivated (often from a lower socio-economic class) shouldn’t have to study theoretical subjects they don’t need for their profession. It is more important that they finish three years of secondary than not coping with it and drop out.

It is true that we, like many other European countries, need to minimize early school drop outs. But the paradox is that the government talks about the importance of more Swedes becoming highly educated to meet labour market demands. But how does that rhyme with making it harder for a significant part of the population to qualify for higher education?

Our schools are in trouble and some of the reforms made are good. But I think it would be a big mistake if we make higher education less accessible to all people.

Gastkommentar von Anna Sjögren
Anna Sjögren ist Journalistin bei der Zeitung „Norra Sidan“ in Stockholm.

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