• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

No wonder Swedish kids can't solve problems

David Landes · 3 Apr 2014, 08:17

Published: 03 Apr 2014 08:17 GMT+02:00

 
For anyone even half-paying attention to Sweden’s school debate, this April Fools' felt like Groundhog Day—but it was hardly a laughing matter. For the second time in a matter of months, Swedish 15-year-olds failed to make the grade in an OECD Pisa study. While in December their maths and reading skills came in below average, this time around, Swedish teens “underachieved” with their problem-solving skills.
 
As the parent of two children who will likely receive the bulk of their primary and secondary education in Sweden, I too find myself concerned over Sweden’s poor Pisa results. However, I’ve so far resisted the temptation to hop onto any particular solution bandwagon, in part because I’ve only got a couple years of experience with the Swedish school system under my belt, and in part because I’m inherently sceptical of policy solutions trotted out during an election year.
 
But a letter I received from one of my son’s teachers, and read just hours before the April Fools' Pisa results were announced, exemplifies what I sense is at least part of the problem with Sweden’s schools.
 
The letter, emailed to all the parents in my son’s second grade class, is essentially a cry for help from a teacher who clearly feels she's exhausted all other options.
 
“Most of the kids in class talk and interrupt when someone else is speaking,” she explains, adding that during a recent lesson the kids “talked to each other and didn’t listen to warnings from me”.
 
“After countless attempts to calm things down, I decided to wait them out. It is after all their lesson time and their time to learn and if they choose not to listen to instructions or when I or another adult or peer is speaking, they have only themselves to blame.”
 
The teacher then revealed that this class of eight- and nine-year-olds often turn up to class 15 minutes late and that a culture among the kids of “always blaming each other” has resulted in hurt feelings and tears.
 
“Is this something we can try to work together to solve?” she begs, adding the last thing she wants it to be a “screaming teacher”.
 
“My wish is that you parents talk to your children at home about how one should behave,” she writes.
 
“Feel free to also talk to your child and hear what they think can be done so that lessons are more peaceful. I'll be more than happy to receive suggestions from the students as long as they can be followed.”
 
As I read the letter, my jaw dropped further with each passing line, while countless questions started popping into my head.
 
Had the teacher been clear about what boundaries and what the consequences of crossing those boundaries were? What sort of punishment awaited students who talked out of turn? How was talking to my child about events that I didn’t witness going to help the situation? Why were children allowed to show up to class 15 minutes late?
 
Maybe the teacher was simply inexperienced in how to deal with class of 25 kids. But it concerns me to know that someone who lacks skills fundamental to the teaching profession is allowed in the classroom in the first place.
 
What worries me even more, however, is that this poor teacher felt so helpless that she resorted to asking us parents for help solving her problems in the classroom – and that no one in the school administration stepped in to help. How can it be that a teacher can’t find the support and guidance she needs from other educators at the school? And how is it that none of her supervisors or school administrators managed to stop her before she made an even bigger fool of herself in front of us parents than she has in front of our kids.
 
Another parent I know lamented that the letter was “too pathetic to be true” and asked simply, what has the teacher done to demand the kids’ respect? Based on the email and a rather half-hearted talk with my son, the only plausible answer is: nothing.
 
This incident, as well as others I've experienced and read about in the past year, leave me with the feeling that kids are simply given too much leeway and, frankly, too much responsibility at too young an age. The assumption (mistaken) if you ask me, is that avoiding direct confrontation and punishment helps kids by reducing the risk of hurting their self-esteem. But teachers don't do their students any favours by refusing to set boundaries and enforcing them, even if it means upsetting the kids.
Story continues below…
 
Letting young kids take charge doesn't make them good leaders if they aren't also given parameters within which to exercise that power - or have the understanding that, ultimately, the teachers are in charge.
 
If teachers are afraid or don’t know how to gain and maintain students' respect, it’s not so strange that students fail to show respect for teachers, and, by extension, the lessons they are trying to teach. And if teachers are so unimaginative or hamstrung when it comes to finding solutions to the problems they face in the classroom, than is it any surprise that Swedish students' problem solving skills aren’t what they should be?
 
Now some pundits may read this account and conclude that teachers need more training and stricter certification before being allowed in the classroom, while others will argue it shows that schools lack the resources to provide students with a positive learning environment.
 
Frankly, I’m not sure what the solution is, but I do know that we can’t expect Swedish pupils to improve their problem solving abilities until politicians and educators get going at improving theirs.
 
David Landes

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How a Swedish rocker saved the life of this cute baby elk
Erik Brodén's daughters Tyra and Brita with the elk baby. Photo: Private

Probably the sweetest story you'll read today.

Man sentenced over dinner party murder in west Sweden
The man during a preliminary court hearing last year. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

He stabbed his friend at a dinner party and attempted to kill two others.

The Local List
Ten reasons why Varberg is the best place in Sweden
The Local shows some love for Varberg. Photo: Mikael Pilstrand/MarknadVarberg

Forget Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö, it looks like seaside town Varberg is Sweden's place to be.

Zlatan on his future: 'I made my choice a long time ago'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Thursday's press conference. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

Go on then, Zlatan, tell us what it is.

Nooo! Rain and floods set to dampen Swedes' summer joy
Rain in Sweden earlier this year. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

So, that was the Swedish summer? Nice while it lasted.

Homes
Slow design: How Nordic style can make your life better

The world has long been hungry for Nordic lifestyle, with its love of design, nature, and light. But this is about much more than painting your floorboards white or throwing a sheepskin on a chair – it’s a mindset that informs everyday life.

Report: Swedish information security 'not good enough'
Information security in government agencies has been criticised. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Low levels of security could lead to significant consequences, the state auditor warned.

Man arrested in Malmö after armed attack on car
Damaged cars at the scene of the incident. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The incident occurred in the south of the city.

What's on in Sweden
Four fantastic foodie events across Sweden this weekend
It's beer and food galore in Stockholm this weekend. Photo: Brooklyn Brewery Mash

Are world foods your thing, or do you prefer a banquet with beer? Either way you're covered in Sweden this weekend.

Sweden votes yes to controversial Nato deal
A Nato exercise in Spain 2014. Photo: AP Photo/Daniel Tejedor

A bid to stall the decision was voted down.

Sponsored Article
How to find student housing in Malmö: 5 tips
Gallery
People-watching: May 25th
Sponsored Article
Can you afford to live in Stockholm? (Hint: yes)
Society
WATCH: Why Swedish handyman wore pink high heels for feminism
Sport
LIST: Top-ten ridiculous things Zlatan has compared himself to
Blog updates

20 May

Editor’s blog, May 20th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Do not mention Abba! Or cuckoo clocks! Our most read article this week was…" READ »

 

17 May

What about “att”? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! It often seems like the small words are the ones that cause the most confusion.…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
'Sweden gives artists the space to follow their dreams'
Business & Money
Why Swedes don't want the euro
Sponsored Article
Stockholm makes it easier for refugees to meet startups
Fastighetsbyrån
Gallery
Property of the week: Vika, Falun
National
Is this the most Swedish tattoo ever?
Gallery
People-watching: May 20th-22nd
Sponsored Article
Food, fun, and reliable sun: Summer in Dubrovnik
National
How to really annoy a Swede abroad
Sponsored Article
How Stockholm startups help new employees feel at home
National
How this war veteran is warming hearts in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: May 18th
Sponsored Article
'Only soft power can defeat radicalism'
National
How this Swede's viral ad totally nailed Stockholm's housing crisis
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm attracts so many successful researchers
Gallery
Property of the week: Vasastaden, Gothenburg
Lifestyle
The best Swedish cities for dating
Gallery
People-watching: May 13th-15th
Sponsored Article
'Sweden gives artists the space to follow their dreams'
Culture
BLOG: Eurovision as it happened
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Why a 116-year-old Swede isn't the world's oldest woman
Sponsored Article
Can you afford to live in Stockholm? (Hint: yes)
National
Youth unemployment falls in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: May 11th
Gallery
People-watching: May 6th-8th
Politics
Why Sweden's Greens are in free fall
National
Can these cartoon Swedes help foreigners blend in?
National
Why this fearless woman is the talk of Sweden
National
Sweden set for sunny weekend
3,348
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se