Educational challenges in Sweden – Is the grass of education always greener in Scandinavia?

Sweden enjoys a great reputation in the world not only in the category of education, but also for its economy and successful implementation and execution of the duties of a welfare state. Sweden is known to be regulated very clearly and successfully. It is applauded for being one of the countries with the best regulatory mechanisms for the refugee crisis and immigration and to be one of the pioneers in handling the climate crisis. But is Sweden truly as imperceptible in terms of education as is assumed? Which educational challenges is Sweden facing?

 

General information

 

Swedish student are attending school compulsorily for 10 years. School is government funded, e.g. through taxes. Therefore, every child has the possibility to attend school. Access to education is high.[1] Students attend the following school stages: ”förskoleklass (‘preschool year’ or year 0), lågstadiet (years 1-3), mellanstadiet (years 4-6) and högstadiet (years 7-9).” [2] These are the compulsory years. A highschool education, gymnasium, which is attended from years 10-12 is possible, but not compulsory. The higher education system is divided into universities and högskola. Högskola can be compared to university college.

 

Considering the International school awards, the international school Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket won an environmental award in 2021. This was announced by ISC Research.[3] Both Sweden’s investment in education in financial terms and the study outcome in terms of reading performance are above the OECD average, a benchmark created by PISA. This means that the Swedish government puts sufficient focus on education and that the financial input and educational output align.[4] According to the HMRI Rights Tracker, “on the right to education, Sweden is doing 86.0% of what should be possible at its level of income (measured against the income adjusted benchmark).” [5] With this, Sweden finds itself in the top 10 countries with the highest score in the category “right to education”. The leading country is Singapore with 96.5 percent. Finland, Sweden’s neighboring country, is ranked in 7th place.

 

Quality of university education

 

In total, Sweden established 50 institutions of higher education on its land.[6] According to the QS World University Ranking 2022, six Swedish universities are among the top 200 universities worldwide, the best ranked being Lund University coming in place 89, scoring 60.1 overall. Lund University is followed by KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Chalmers University of Technology. Two other universities are ranked by the QS Ranking within the top 200 universities worldwide, the remaining 45 universities are not mentioned. The worst ranked university on the QS World University Ranking 2002 is Umeå University, scoring 30.5.[7]

 

Migrated students and the issues they face

Sweden is a country with large numbers of immigration. 14.4% of Swedish citizens are, as of 2009, born in other countries, and therefore immigrated to Sweden.[8] The PISA report recommends Sweden to have a closer focus on the needs of those with an immigration background, who make up more than 5 percent of their attending students. As immigrant students have it much harder to obtain high study results, there should be extra support for this demographic of students.[9] The gap in study performance between those born in Sweden and those whose families immigrated to Sweden is significant: 27% less students from immigration backgrounds are able to achieve high levels in the PISA testing. Furthermore, anxiety is also much higher amongst those students who are not born in Sweden.[10] Furthermore, almost one in two immigrant students in Sweden finds themselves at a disadvantage.[11] The gaps in performance and dedication to study remain big between those who were born in Sweden and those who immigrated. Even though Sweden has taken significant steps towards creating equal opportunities for those who seek refuge and more opportunities in the Swedish country and making relatively open immigration policies, there still is a lot of work that needs to be done. Seen on a global scale, the chances of those with low study performance due to socio-economic background attending the same school as those with high study performance is relatively high. It is stated that “disadvantaged students have at least a one-in-five chance of having high-achieving schoolmates”. [12] When asked if they believe that their intelligence cannot be affected, which is a question asked by PISA to find out if students have a will to improve their learning capacities and knowledge, more than 60 percent of students disagreed with this statement in 2018. This means that they believed that their own actions could affect their intelligence. Yet, there was a negative difference between immigrant and non-immigrant students.[13]

However, there are serious efforts to include those students from other countries into the Swedish educational system. They receive the right to study at the same schools as Swedish students and there is more focus being set on integration. Students who are originally from other countries also have the right to tutoring in their mother tongue if enough students with the same mother tongue are in their vicinity.[14] This indicates that the Swedish government also takes steps to accommodate those who are not native in the Swedish culture and language.

Performance

 

On the PISA  report 2018 [15], Sweden’s general educational performance ranks at place 11. It is the 5th best country according to study performance in Europe. The PISA test examines students’ academic abilities in three disciplines: reading, mathematics and science. Students performace is measured in points and divided into 6 levels, level 1 being level 1a and 1b. In all three categories, Sweden scored in level 5, together with many other European states, such as Germany, Ireland and Switzerland.[16] Sweden’s study performance has been increasing in between the tests from 2015 to 2018.[17] Even though the trend was negative, now the curve is flattening, which means that the negative developments in reading performance are slowly coming to an end. It also shows that the investment in education, which is over OECD average, also leads to reading results higher than average. Students in Sweden scored 505 points on the reading test, the OECD average being 487 points and the maximum 555 points.[18]

 

New trends- Prepping being taught at schools

 

As a result of new developments, preppin is now being taught at Swedish highschools. Out of fear of a Russian military attack, not only private courses, but also public schools teach how to prepare for an emergency of this nature. There remains a possibility that Russia might settle its military on the Swedish island Gotland to be in a better position to attack and possibly annex the Baltics. Risk managers are giving classes at Swedish schools to inform the students about possible dangers and how to prepare for them. In these classes, students are taught how to prepare not only for the Russian invasion, but also for other catastrophes that could be a result of climate change or other global influences. [19]  Sweden has already been focusing energy on teaching prepping since 2017, which had been intensified by the Covid 19 pandemic.[20]

 

Conclusion

 

To conclude, Sweden enjoys a good reputation for its education for a reason. The financial input is high, and the study performance has been increasing as well. Sweden has been successful at fixing its issues with decreasing performance and is slowly bringing this trend to an end. However, Sweden faces multiple immigration gap related issues. There should be a stronger focus at aligning the needs of immigrated and native-born students.

 

Written by Vivien Kretz

 

Image Source: https://scandification.com/flag-of-sweden-guide-to-the-swedish-flag/

 

Bibliography

 

Bergmark, & Hansson, K. 2021. “How Teachers and Principals Enact the Policy of Building Education in Sweden on a Scientific Foundation and Proven Experience: Challenges and Opportunities.” Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 65(3), 448–467. https://doi.org/10.1080/00313831.2020.1713883.

 

Borgonovi, Francesca. 2019. “Reducing the Immigrant Gap in Education: What Sweden Can Learn from Other Countries.” OECD Education and Skills Today, February 1, 2019. https://oecdedutoday.com/reducing-the-immigrant-gap-in-education-what-sweden-can-learn-from-other-countries/.

 

Forsberg, E., Hallsén, S., Karlsson, M., Bowden, H. M., Mikhaylova, T., & Svahn, J. (2021). “Läxhjälp as Shadow Education in Sweden: The Logic of Equality in “A School for All.’” ECNU Review of Education, 4(3), 494–519. https://doi.org/10.1177/2096531120966334.

 

DW Documentary, dir. 2022. Preppers: Sweden Bracing for the Worst | DW Documentary. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LRsZ6TUCCA.

 

Eurydice. 2022. “Sweden.” European Commission. 2022. https://eurydice.eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-education-systems/sweden/sweden.

 

Golding, Yo. 2021. “ISC Research Announces Winners of International School Awards.” Independent Education Today, January 18, 2021. https://ie-today.co.uk/news/isc-research-announces-winners-of-international-school-awards/.

 

Olsson, Emelie, 2021. Understanding swedish prepping : a mixed-method study on resilience, trust, and incentives to prepare for crises. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Urban and Rural Development.

 

Persson, Magnus. 2022. “Crossing a Social Demarcation Line: Students Experience Friction in the Transformed Swedish Higher Education System.” International Studies in Sociology of Education 0 (0): 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/09620214.2022.2125039.

 

“Publications – PISA.” n.d. Accessed September 30, 2022. https://www.oecd.org/pisa/publications/pisa-2018-results.htm.

 

“QS World University Rankings 2022.” n.d. Top Universities. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2022.

 

Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations, 23. OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

 

Study in Sweden. n.d. “Universities in Sweden.” Study in Sweden. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://studyinsweden.se/universities/.

 

“Sweden – OECD Data.” n.d. The OECD. Accessed November 27, 2022. http://data.oecd.org/sweden.htm.

 

“Sweden – the World’s Best Education System?” 2018. Simply Learning Tuition (blog). September 28, 2018. https://www.simplylearningtuition.co.uk/advice-for-parents/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-swedish-education-system/.

 

Swedish Refugee Law Centre. 2022. “Access to Education.” Asylum Information Database | European Council on Refugees and Exiles (blog). 2022. https://asylumineurope.org/reports/country/sweden/reception-conditions/employment-and-education/access-education/.

 

 

 

 

Sources

 

[1] “The Swedish School System.” 2021. Sweden.Se. November 30, 2021.https://sweden.se/life/society/the-swedish-school-system.

 

[2] “The Swedish School System.” 2021. Sweden.Se. November 30, 2021.https://sweden.se/life/society/the-swedish-school-system.

 

[3] Golding, Yo. 2021. “ISC Research Announces Winners of International School Awards.” Independent Education Today, January 18, 2021. https://ie-today.co.uk/news/isc-research-announces-winners-of-international-school-awards/.

 

[4] Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations, 23. OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

 

[5] “Sweden – HRMI Rights Tracker.” 2019. Accessed November 14, 2022. https://rightstracker.org.

 

[6] Study in Sweden. n.d. “Universities in Sweden.” Study in Sweden. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://studyinsweden.se/universities/.

 

[7] “QS World University Rankings 2022.” n.d. Top Universities. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2022.

 

[8] “Sweden – OECD.” n.d. Accessed November 27, 2022. https://www.oecd.org/migration/integration-indicators-2012/keyindicatorsbycountry/name,218347,en.htm.

 

[9] Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations, 18. OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

 

[10] Borgonovi, Francesca. 2019. “Reducing the Immigrant Gap in Education: What Sweden Can Learn from Other Countries.” OECD Education and Skills Today, February 1, 2019. https://oecdedutoday.com/reducing-the-immigrant-gap-in-education-what-sweden-can-learn-from-other-countries/.

 

[11] Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations, 27.  OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

 

[12] Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations, 20.  OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

 

[13] Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations, 36. OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

 

[14] Swedish Refugee Law Centre. 2022. “Access to Education.” Asylum Information Database | European Council on Refugees and Exiles (blog). 2022.

 

[15] Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations. OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

 

[16] Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations, 5-8. OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

 

[17] Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations. 10. OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

 

[18] Schleicher, Andreas. 2019. PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations, 23. OECD Publishing. OECD Publishing.

[19] DW Documentary, dir. 2022. Preppers: Sweden Bracing for the Worst | DW Documentary. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LRsZ6TUCCA.

 

[20] Olsson, Emelie, 2021. Understanding swedish prepping : a mixed-method study on resilience, trust, and incentives to prepare for crises. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Urban and Rural Development.

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