The Swedish School System – Some provocative ideas

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This was originally published on LinkedIn as a comment to Sirkka Persson, HeadTeacher achieving solid results in her school. Great work she and her team were doing.
As I have been working extensively with translating many of the major school documents, and fortunate to receive insights from policy makers in my work as a trainer, I thought I knew something about the system and its weaknesses.
I started commenting but exceeded LI’s maximum

number of characters. Instead of throwing it away, which I probably should have done, decided to publish it here. So hopefully people can comment on some of my highly critical views of the system, and decide if there is any merit in my criticisms.

Hope OK, if I just barge in here in English too, and respond. It certainly sounds like a v. good job is being done at your school. And not because of luck as you said, but hard focused work.
I am English half retired but have 2 young adult children, 30 and 25 who have benefitted from their schooling in Sweden, and I like to think their upbringing at home as well. I know that some education policy makers have often thought that the function of upbringing rests with the school.

I fundamentally oppose this thought.I believe they should complement each other.

Both my adult kids went to schools in Stuvsta and then Kungsholmens MusikGymnasium where they took the social science programme in the Swedish section Oliver (son) , and Emily (daughter) in the International section. I think we were all pretty satisfied in principle.
I will ask them what they think the schools could have done better. And if I feel sufficiently courageous, I  will ask for their response to this piece. Will probably get slaughtered for my pains.

IMHO one horrifying omission was that even though both Oliver and Emily  were and are capable, they did not have the faintest idea of handling job interviews through role-play scenarios. We trained this in role plays at home. But the school should have prpeared for something as basic as this.

Throughout my time in Sweden I been interested in the schooling system here. in Sweden.
Part of my work involved meeting policy makers, and translating many of the key documents from Swedish to English.
Not always easy because occasionally the quality of the original text was not really up to scratch  – not always sufficiently specific, clear, and relatively fuzzy.
A difficult role to take on with one’s clients. I had a few “dust-ups” but survived.

The overwhelming thought on looking back was the notable absence of the use of the concept of “learning” and almost total reliance on the concept of “teaching”. Not quite the same!

Another thought was the revolution in the recent syllabuses of presenting grading criteria in an effective way.
Earlier this was distributed across many pages, making comparisons difficult. Having different grades adjacent and viewable on the same page makes the teacher’s and learner’s task easier. There is certainly room for improvement IMHO in this context.

There is also the huge and vitally important question of the right to appeal a grade awarded. On a couple of occassions I have chosen to do this because it was fairly obvious the teachers involved had not read an assignment properly. We did, however, manage to arrive at some diplomatic solutions.

My final thought, given the importance of grades and the subjectivity inherent when overworked, underpaid  teachers award grades is why on earth isn’t a system used where the pupil’s teacher awards, say 50% of the grade, and the other 50% is awarded by external assessors. Given that there is,  I believe,  currently no right of appeal, this combination could balance equity with accuracy. For most students and pupils the legislation and information they have to dig into is very difficult and their first daunting exposure to legislation in a democratic process which profoundly affects their future.
IMHO this is an area that can and should be significantly improved.
It may be the case that policy makers have been blinded and over-challenged by the complexity of this task.
In my view this should not serve as an acceptable excuse or reason for no action.

If this view prevails we will all be the  losers in our society.


This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Peter Freund

    I believe the priviliged chilidren of Kungsholmen and Sweden in general is a quite good example of when the system works in favour of some against the rest. Awarding grades, appealing grades, school documents are the minor problems of Swedish schools. The major problem is to get good teachers to bad schools. The gap is widening and to become a teacher is status – if you teach at the “right” school. Otherwise you’ll just burn to death as a teacher. And Internet is todays best example of how the school-system of today is almost regarded by many pupils as redundant. All knowledge exists on Internet. Knowledge is often well structured ( for example) and using a phone most pupils know they can learn when necessary –
    even faster than the teacher. So I pose the question – ain’t the current way of schools about to become extinct?

    1. britur

      You write “Awarding grades, appealing grades …etc” are minor problems in Swedish schools. I don’t agree this is very often the first exposure of pupils/students to a democratic process. It is not good if they are excluded from such basic forms of democracy, given the fact that grades are one of the main passports to success in today’s world.

      1. Peter Freund

        One of the biggest mistakes of Swedish schools is that some still regard it as “democracy” or think it should be – that is why it does not work! Democracy is like giving and letting 4-year old children play with grenades. Not a good idea! Think of the mother (actual case) who asked the teacher to give her child a slap if she did not behave properly! That instigates respect for the authority of the school system! Not some policies with great intentions based on a dream world!

        1. britur

          Well, Mr. Freund, you argue your case fairly powerfully but not invincibly, but only because you take an extreme example, namely giving 4-year-olds a grenade. So why not give grenades to everyone who is against democracy. That would not work for many adults God help us, let alone children. Maybe the concept of proportionality could be applied here. Too dangerous to give 4-year-olds grenades. But perhaps a gentle slap would be preferable, but am not sure what would happen to a teacher doing this.Do you know? Not politically correct even if gentle, therefore illegal. We do have virtual reality, so why not virtual punishment? At my school admittedly – a boarding school in England – it was 6 of the best. I had to grin and bear it. Still, don’t understand even today how we got conned into calling it that!
          No choice. Today though it would not be tolerated. However, from what I have read in the newspapers, the police in the USA seem to be able to get away with murder! It Would be better to substitute virtual murder.

  2. Jason

    I think you are spot on. Bureaucrats are notoriously lazy, aren’t they??

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