Students choosing wrong courses: report

While an increasing number of upper secondary (gymnasium) schools are competing for a declining number of students, many students are choosing the wrong schools or programs, a new report shows. Large numbers are opting to switch courses after starting their studies.

Fifteen percent or 17,600 students who were in the last year of high school in the fall of 2009 had changed schools and/or their program, according to a report from the National Agency for Education (Skolverket).

Many of the changes take place at the beginning of the first semester, said Charlotta Mannerfelt, project manager for the study.

“We think that study and career guidance services are insufficient in lower secondary school [grundskola]. Do students really know what they are choosing?” said Mannerfelt.

Even though demographic trends will lead to a sharp decline in the number of students in the next few years – from a peak of nearly 400,000 the last school year to less than 300,000 in the fall of 2016 – there is still strong interest in setting up new state-funded independent ‘free’ schools.

In Linköping, the student population is expected to decline 20 percent by 2016.

The increased competition has led many schools to engage in increasingly aggressive advertising. According to Skolverket’s questionnaires to the country’s municipalities, a larger selection of courses, particularly in big cities, can be confusing for students.

However, the survey responses also showed that eight out of 10 municipalities believe that the competition led to a improved quality in the local schools.

As school and program changes become increasingly common, the number of students that take four years to complete high school, instead of three years, is also increasing. In many cases, program changes involved the student taking more than three years to complete high school.

“There is a connection,” said Mannerfelt.

The reasons behind the changes mentioned in the questionnaires and interviews included students being tired of their long commutes, the program not meeting their expectations or getting a place in the program that they had wanted to attend in the first place.

Every other municipality also mentioned that student re-admissions during the admission period complicates planning and sizing for high schools. In addition, the outcomes of the drop in the number of students are different in urban and rural areas.

“Municipalities have very different conditions,” said Mannerfelt. “In rural areas, a decrease in the number of students can be problematic. In urban municipalities, the combination of an increased number of independent schools and a drop in the number of pupils [creates issues].”

She added, “Some municipalities are planning so they have still have places left in popular programs or programs that are less expensive, such as social studies.”

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