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INTEGRATION

Put up and shut up?

Sweden is nothing if not a mild, peaceable kind of country. So when an American baptist preacher, who appears never to have visited Scandinavia, decides that Sweden is a land of sodomy, bestiality and incest, it sits pretty strangely.

Sure, the cleric in question – Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas – is a queer character (in the old-fashioned sense of the word), but what about the more general point? Should foreigners – including those who live here – criticize Sweden?

Arriving in Sweden, along with my delight at wide open spaces and pickled herrings, I certainly found plenty to grumble about. My eyes started to water when I saw the size of my first tax bill. I was also cheesed off when informed that along with the rest of Sweden’s population I was not responsible enough to buy wine at the weekends, and I couldn’t rent a normal apartment in central Stockholm, even though I was willing to pay, because “there’s a ten year queue.”

These are just my pet hates. The non-resident Fred Phelps (along with other, more sane, well-informed voices) was more rattled by the conviction of pastor Åke Green under hate crimes laws for railing against gay people. How frightful, that laws could stop priests quoting from the delightful book of Leviticus, he cried.

But every time I feel the chest tightening at some indiosyncracies of the country I have chosen to live in, I have to remind myself to keep schtum and get a grip. Nothing is more irritating than a whingeing foreigner. This is as true of a Brit in Sweden as it is of a young Somalian in Britain.

My Swedish chums in England used to bang on about what a dirty, foul-smelling, overcrowded place London was.

“Well, why the hell are you here,” I would ask.

“Just because we whinge doesn’t mean we don’t love it,” would be the invariable reply.

And so it is with foreigners everywhere. But there’s no doubt that moaning is unattractive, and grumbling about things that are part and parcel of Swedish life – the taxes, the booze shops, the way they put pedestrian crossings around every blind corner – without first asking why things are the way they are is not just irritating, it’s plain insulting.

In fact, we can often sound like teenagers in a high school debate – we know what we think, but we haven’t really worked out how to justify it yet. Without the history, the intuitive knowledge of a country only available to those who grow up there, we are often scratching in the dark, and resort to comparing Sweden unfavourably with home.

So, why does The Local have an opinion page, if not to subject readers to ignorant rants about Sweden?

Well, apart from the fact that evolution has given journalists a distasteful urge to fill space with the outpourings of our oversized egos, we think that there is something that foreigners can add to the Swedish debate: a fresh pair of eyes, a different angle on things that are exercising the nation.

But I hope that we will also listen to Swedish voices, and recognize that Sweden has plenty to teach the rest of the world, even men of the cloth from Topeka, Kansas.

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EDUCATION

Sweden considers expanding mother tongue education

More students should study their mother tongue in Swedish schools, according to a proposal delivered to the government.

Sweden considers expanding mother tongue education
File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT
Students in Swedish schools who have a parent or legal guardian whose native language is something other than Swedish are offered courses to help them strengthen their skills in the other language. 
 
Roughly 280,000 students are eligible for this education but only approximately 170,000 are actively participating in the courses. 
 
According to Nihad Bunar, a professor of youth studies at Stockholm University who has been appointed by the government to address this issue, part of the reason the participation is so low is that the mother tongue courses are often held at the conclusion of the regular school day. 
 
“The consequences of this are obvious: tired students who have competing free-time activities. There is also a general perception that the subject is not as important as other school subjects,” Bunar said. 
 
Additionally, schools are not required to offer mother tongue classes if there are fewer than five students who would participate in the classes. 
 

 

 
A commission report that has been submitted to the government calls for making mother tongue education a more integrated part of the school day and offering it to smaller groups. The report also suggests offering the classes via remote learning, as a lack of qualified teachers in other languages is also a significant problem. 
 
The report points out that students who are given the opportunity to develop their mother tongue also tend to develop better Swedish language skills and perform better in school all-around. 
 
Education Minister Gustav Fridolin welcomed the report’s recommendations. 
 
“Studying one’s mother tongue can strengthen learning in all students. Therefore, more students should receive mother tongue education and the quality of the education and the curriculum should be strengthened,” he said in a government press release. 
 
The largest languages in mother tongue education in Sweden are Arabic, Somali, English, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Persian, Kurdish, Spanish, Finnish, Albanian and Polish.
 
The Local would like to hear from parents whose children are involved in a mother tongue programme at their local school. Please get in touch with us at [email protected] if you’d like to participate in a follow-up article. 
 
The recommendations on mother tongue education come just a few months after a report carried out by OECD at the request of the Swedish government, suggested that Sweden can and must do much more to help immigrant children perform better at school
 
That study noted that 61 percent of first-generation immigrant students do “not attain baseline academic proficiency”. The number decreases to 43 percent for second-generation immigrant students and that 19 percent differential is well above the OECD average of 11 percents. 
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