Swedish school system going the way of Japan’s

Sweden’s “lax education philosophy”, so admired around the world,  along with its neighbour Finland’s as a progressive model of education, is under doubt and pressure to change in favour of a “more rigorous curriculum” that incorporates more testing.

Swedish education has previously been in the top 10 for reading in international rankings and has one of the most egalitarian education systems with pupils’ chances of succeeding in school being more equal in Sweden than elsewhere. It is known for a school system where children start school at six or seven years (compared with the usual four or five in the UK and the rest of the world) and where children feel less pressured by external exams. Schools are well-funded.

Particularly admired in Europe are Swedish free schools and Swedish Academies, the government’s six-year-old system of privately run, state-funded schools were influenced by Swedish free schools. Called Kunskapsskolan, Swedish free schools  have given Swedish education an image of progressiveness …and added to its a reputation for “a lax education philosophy” the schools have no timetable, no set lessons and little sense of a traditional classroom or structure.

All that may be slated to change as plunging test scores and international rankings appear to be spurring the Swedish government to intervene with more testing and a more rigorous curriculum, a move in the opposite direction of its “lax education philosophy”.  

This is interesting in the light of Japan’s look to Scandinavian models of education including the Finnish and Swedish systems when it pursued its previous relaxed education policy. And that policy has effectively been completely reversed this year following years of falling international test rankings and fierce internal criticism of its relaxed educational policy:  in the newly started schoolyear, the education ministry (MEXT) has added more classroom hours to schools nationwide and padded the content of textbooks across the board in its national curriculum.

Read the Newsweek article posted below for the full story …

PERISCOPE: Education: Sweden’s Test Crisis By Sarah Garland  NEWSWEEK (Published Jan 3, 2009, from the magazine issue dated Jan 12, 2009)
In Sweden, forget stock prices: it’s plunging test scores that are causing a national panic. Once 11th in the world in science rankings, Sweden’s scores on international eighth-grade tests fell 42 points between 1995 and 2007—one of the worst declines among the 35 nations tested. Reading and math scores showed the same disturbing trend.

Some experts say demographic shifts may be contributing to the plunge. Immigrants have increased from 9 percent of Sweden’s population in 1990 to 12 percent currently, with many refugees coming from places like Somalia and Iraq. Families are moving away from schools where the newcomers are concentrated, and teachers aren’t trained to deal with the increasingly segregated system.

But others say a more plausible explanation is Sweden’s lax education philosophy. Swedish children aren’t graded on their work until the eighth grade, and there are few curriculum standards. Sweden’s education minister, Jan Björklund, says this easygoing attitude is changing in response to the country’s dismal test performances. The ministry is developing a new, rigorous national curriculum, and by 2011, teachers will give grades starting in sixth grade. Younger students will also share the sting of failure if they perform poorly: new national tests, from the third grade on, will determine which students are held back until they can improve their scores.

© 2009

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Related link:

Kunskapsskolan: Swedish free schools 

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