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