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Government acts on immigration and education

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12:09 CET+01:00
Sweden Says is a new series in which we look at what the Swedish papers are saying about the major issues making the news in Sweden. This week, David Landes surveys reactions to proposed new reforms in the areas of immigration and education.

Among the many stories reported on by The Local this week, two in particular have generated a great deal of attention on the opinion pages of Swedish papers.

Both stories reported on government proposals in key policy areas: education and immigration—areas in which the reform-minded Alliance government has been particularly active.

As written up in The Local on Wednesday, Sweden's Minister of Education has proposed reforms to how Swedish school children are graded. If Jan Björklund has his way, in a few years Swedish students will receive As, Bs, and Cs for their work, rather than the current MVG, VG, and G starting from grade 6.

For those unfamiliar with Sweden's current grading system, the marks can be translated as follows:

MVG (mycket väl godkänd) = very high pass

VG (väl godkänd) = high pass

G (godkänd) = pass

IG (icke godkänd) = fail

Of the four dailies that chose to write about Björklund's proposal in their main editorials, only one—Aftonbladet—was overtly critical of the new grading system.

In describing its support for the new system, Göteborgs-Posten (GP) emphasized the advantages of a more “nuanced” grading system noting that having more tiers allowed students to “more easily move up to a visibly higher level.”

Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) echoed those sentiments in more concrete terms.

“It can feel overwhelming for a student to improve from a G to a VG, whereas it appears within the realm of possibility to move from an E to a D,” writes SvD.

“Clear information also drives ambition,” added GP, further echoing the government's line that the new system will provide more accurate feedback about students' performance which in turn can help motivate them to improve.

But according to tabloid Aftonbladet, the new grading system is unlikely to be the key to success in the classroom, as the proposal's supporters claim.

“Students who today are successful will also be successful when their success is given an A, and students with difficulties are not going to have it easier because their failures are marked by an F,” writes Aftonbladet.

The tabloid criticizes the proposal further, asserting that the changes would pull teachers out of the classroom and into meetings about the new standards, thus leaving them with less time for their students.

Aftonbladet also worries that the new scale signifies further that Alliance education policy puts too much emphasis on ranking students against one another, thus exacerbating the esteem problems of low performers.

GP acknowledges and dismisses similar concerns, seeing the fears of students getting discouraged by low marks as overblown. According to GP, “it's important that students and parents clearly see early on whether there is a risk that students aren't making the grade.”

Reaction was also strong to a government suggestion that immigrants achieve a measure of economic stability before seeking Swedish residency for their relatives.

As reported in The Local on Thursday, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Migration Minister Tobias Billström have proposed that immigrants must demonstrate “appropriate housing” and a “steady means of support” before their relatives would be allowed to migrate to Sweden.

The lead opinion piece in SvD praises the Alliance government for talking bold steps to update Sweden's immigration policies from a system the paper sees as having “led to a sense of being left out, where immigrants' dreams have been crushed with amazing precision, and at the cost of widespread public dissatisfaction.”

The job and housing demand proposal is a “big step,” according to SvD. The new demands would “increase the driving force to settle in areas where there are jobs and tolerable conditions. More will take responsibility. The relatives that do eventually move here will find better conditions in which to build a dignified life.”

In stating its support for the proposal, Expressen points out that only two EU countries currently lack similar demands of new immigrants—Belgium and Sweden. It argues that the proposal will reduce the number of immigrants coming to Sweden because of family ties, but also admits that the approach is difficult.

“Every limitation of people's right to stay in Sweden is an extremely tough question and nothing to be happy about,” it writes. “Nevertheless, the government's proposal appears to be an appropriate compromise and fits with EU standards from which we cannot diverge too far.”

Meanwhile, the editorial board at GP is more skeptical toward the suggestion, asserting that “the proposal has advantages, but it is far from clear that they outweigh the disadvantages.” GP asks the reader—and the civil servants who will be tasked with flushing out the proposal in detail—to put themselves in the position of being an immigrant in another country.

“We can't place tougher burdens on foreign residents in Sweden than what we would accept for Swedes overseas,” the paper writes. “We all ought to ask ourselves how long we are prepared to live apart from our children if the world was to fall apart and we were forced to seek protection in say, Kurdistan.”

Criticism from Aftonbladet was even more pointed, with the tabloid writing that the proposal represents an “inhumane policy.” Aftonbladet argues for additional resources to help new immigrants get acclimated to Sweden, along with a renewed engagement with respect to the job market.

The government has chosen to start at the other end, writes Aftonbladet by “suggesting rules that are going to split families and in many cases worsen social exclusion.”

Where the main newspapers stand

Dagens Nyheter, "independently liberal" broadsheet, Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Svenska Dagbladet, "independently liberal-conservative" broadsheet,

Stockholm-based, owned by Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Göteborgs-Posten, "independently liberal" broadsheet,

Gothenburg-based, owned by the Stampen media group.

Sydsvenska Dagbladet (Sydsvenskan), "independently liberal" broadsheet, Malmö-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Aftonbladet, "independently Social Democrat" tabloid, Stockholm-based, owned by trade union federation LO and Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Expressen, "independently liberal" tabloid, Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

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