Swedish for Immigrants to undergo overhaul

Sweden's ministers for education and integration have announced far-reaching plans to improve the quality of language courses offered to immigrants.

Swedish for Immigrants to undergo overhaul

Writing in Monday’s Dagens Nyheter, Education Minister Jan Björklund and Integration Minister Nyamko Sabuni outline a seven-step programme designed to demand more of both language learners and course providers.

“Alarming” deficiencies in the current Svenska för Invandrare (Swedish for Immigrants – SFI) system seriously hinder the job prospects of new arrivals, the ministers write.

“It is also entirely possible to use SFI as a form of income year after year, without actually gaining any language skills or producing any results,” they add.

The ministers further note that nine out of ten SFI teachers lack the relevant qualifications in Swedish as a Second Language, while a vague curriculum containing abstract goals makes it impossible for students to know what is expected of them.

In order to improve the standard of education offered, the ministers highlight seven areas that need to be improved:

First of all, compulsory national testing is to be introduced from January 1st 2009 for all SFI courses.

“The tests will form the basis for a course diploma and will increase equivalence across the country when it comes to results and assessment,” the ministers write.

The SFI curriculum, currently “too abstract”, will be redesigned to include clearly stated goals.

A time limit of three years is to be placed on completion of SFI studies. Unless there are valid reasons, such as sickness or parental leave, students who fail to meet this deadline will be moved on to adult education courses outside of the SFI system.

A performance-related bonus is to be introduced for students who manage to successfully complete their studies within a specific time frame.

The entire SFI system is to undergo an evaluation, “focusing on participants’ results, teachers’ competence and how the municipalities organize the education.”

The government is to set aside 61 million kronor until 2010 to ensure that SFI teachers are better qualified to help their students learn Swedish.

The two ministers conclude their article with an open jab at the opposition.

“The fact that the Alliance government has had record success when it comes to creating jobs for immigrants just puts the extent of the Social Democrats’ failure in perspective. Mona Sahlin bears a great deal of personal responsibility, particularly after her tenure as integration minister,” write Björklund and Sabuni.

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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.