Time to put knowledge at the centre of Swedish education

The Swedish education system has had its fair share of problems over the past few decades. Academic knowledge has been sidelined in an approach where little is demanded of the students.

During lower grades students are often not given homework. Before the 8th grade they are not even given grades. Respect for teachers has declined as the adults have limited power to deal with troublesome students and as disciplinary actions are very rare. On a number of occasions entire schools have been shut down since the students have been out of order.

Another problem is a change in the education of teachers themselves. The universities that train teachers have reduced the academic demands on their students and have a politicized post-modern approach to authority and knowledge.

Current education policies have visible and negative effects. To give an example, all students who have enrolled at Chalmers School of Technology have written basically the same diagnostic test since 1973. According to an article published in the Chalmers magazine Tofsen, results have declined rapidly over the past years. Since 1993 the percentage of students that pass one particular question has halved from roughly 40 to roughly 20 percent.

The new government is now suggesting a change in education policies, under which students will be given formal grades from during sixth grade. Another change is that the number of grades that can be attained above “failed” will increase from three to five, so that student performance can more easily be measured.

It makes sense to grade students, since this is the best way for both their teachers and their parents to evaluate how much knowledge they have acquired during their education. Grades give students goals to work towards and teach them early on to work hard and deal with academic demands.

The government’s new proposal seems as a step in the right direction, but students and teachers alike would benefit if additional reforms were to be implemented. Giving grades even earlier and grading students for their social conduct at school would both be positive additional steps. But given the Swedish electorate’s resistance to change, a slow pace of reform is the best one can hope for.

Nima Sanandaji is chief executive of think-tank Captus


IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

Sweden's Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) chain has been denied permission to open four new schools in Gothenburg, Huddinge, Norrtälje, and Upplands-Bro, after the schools inspectorate said it had not provided pupil data.

IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

According to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) has denied permission to the chain to open a new planned new school in Norrtälje, north of Stockholm, even though the building that will house it is already half built. The inspectorate has also denied permission to three other schools which the chain had applied to start in 2023. 

In all four cases, the applications have been rejected because the school did not submit the required independent assessment for how many pupils the schools were likely to have. 

Jörgen Stenquist, IES’s deputy chief executive, said that IES has not in the past had to submit this data, as it has always been able to point to the queues of pupils seeking admissions to the school. 

“The fact that Engelska Skolan, as opposed to our competition, has never had the need to hire external companies to do a direct pupil survey is because we have had so many in line,” he told DN.

“In the past, it has been enough that we reported a large queue in the local area. But if the School Inspectorate wants us to conduct targeted surveys and ask parents directly if they want their children to start at our new schools, then maybe we have to start doing that.”


According to the newspaper, when the inspectorate had in the past asked for pupil predictions, the chain has refused, stating simply “we do not make student forecasts”, which the inspectorate has then accepted. 

However, in this year’s application round, when IES wrote: “We do not carry out traditional interest surveys as we simply have not had a need for this,” the inspectorate treated it as grounds to reject its applications. 

According to DN, other school chain have been complaining to the inspectorate that IES gets favourable treatment and was excused some requirements other chains have to fulfil. 

Liselotte Fredzell, from the inspectorate’s permitting unit, confirmed that the inspectorate was trying to be more even handed. 

“Yes, it is true that we are now striving for a more equal examination of applications. Things may have been getting too slack, and we needed to tighten up.”