“This is a local proposal. In Malmö we have a very unique situation: we are close to the point where a majority of pupils have a foreign background, which is to say that either they or their parents come from a country outside Sweden,” Allan Widman told The Local.
As chairman of the local branch of the Liberals, Widman has the backing of his party in Sweden’s third largest city. But he has not discussed the matter with Liberal Party leader and education minister Lars Leijonborg, or school minister Jan Björklund.
“We’re not commenting on that,” school minister Jan Björklund’s press secretary told The Local when asked about the proposal.
Widman explains that some schools in Malmö have as few as 5 percent ethnic Swedes in their classrooms.
“We want to give the opportunity for people who speak other languages in their spare time and in their homes to practice their Swedish in schools,” said Widman.
The proposal to ban foreign languages in schools first emerged in the run up to the election campaign. According to Widman, there was little debate at the time. But now that the proposal is on the table opinion is divided.
“When I first came up with it, I thought it was a rather obvious rule to have. But over the last 24 hours I have been surprised by how controversial it seems,” said Widman.
In light of this controversy he is quick to stress that the ban would be in place “just during lessons”. Anything else he feels, such as banning foreign languages on school premises, would infringe on pupils’ civil liberties.
“A lot of students are falling far behind at school because they do not speak good Swedish. We need all possible help for these children,” said Widman, adding that some teachers already have similar policies in their classrooms.
If Bertz and Widman manage to convince a majority of councillors to support their proposal it will be integrated into the county council’s annual school plan, which will be decided on in the next few months. But Widman readily admits that their cause is made “more difficult” by the current controversy.
“We presented the proposal in our campaign but we haven’t talked to the other parties about it yet,” he said.