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IMMIGRATION

‘Immigrant kids need more schooling’: Sweden

The Swedish government has revealed a new directive aimed at improving immigrant students’ education and integration into Sweden, revolving around longer compulsory schooling and a shift in lesson priorities.

'Immigrant kids need more schooling': Sweden

In a statement released on Tuesday by the Government Offices of Sweden (Regeringkansliet), Jan Björklund, the Minister for Education and Erik Ullenhag, the Minister for Integration, revealed plans to attack issues facing the 70,000 foreign-born students in Swedish schools.

Björklund pointed out that it is ”unfair” that students who have recently arrived to Sweden are being compared and rated against Swedish students.

“If you write a national exam after just a few years in a Swedish school, it’s obvious that you won’t pass,” Björklund told the TT news agency.

The government also intends to remove the students who have lived in Sweden for four years or less from the grading statistics.

”It’s not reasonable to evaluate the performance of a school based on how many of the foreign-born students have reached the objectives in Swedish. After a few years, it’s reasonable that they pass, but not from the beginning,” Björklund told TT.

Key issues regarding these foreign students, who make up nine percent of Sweden’s primary school student population, revolved around how to integrate the children and raise the quality of their education by considering lesson priorities and additional compulsory schooling.

“For recently arrived children, schooling is the key to integration. Students today are older when they come to Sweden. It puts greater demands on the Swedish schools that receive them,” wrote the government in the statement.

Only 63 percent of the foreign-born students passed their final high school exams in 2010, a trend the government indicated is worsening.

The government highlights that more children are coming from different countries today than in past years, and that the age at arrival in Sweden has become older.

Foreign-born students in the ninth grade today have, on average, been in Sweden for 4.5 years. In 2001, the corresponding figure was six years.

To combat these growing trends, Tuesday’s reform packet highlighted that integration will be aided from an earlier stage.

Students will be tested upon arrival, whereas students are currently put into schools based purely on their age, with no consideration of their abilities.

Furthermore, the children’s knowledge of the Swedish language will be measured regularly during their first years at school.

Foreign-born students may be kept in school until they are 18, with more lessons given when needed.

There is also an intended reshuffling of priorities in terms of subjects learnt. For example, Swedish could be placed as a priority for students without a solid grasp of the language.

The plans are intended to come into effect by 31st December this year at the latest, following a review by a government commission.

Other measures planned by the government include an increased concentration on pre-schools.

Nearly one in five students speaks a language beside Swedish at home, and the government intends to increase the teachers’ knowledge of language developments. This is planned to come into total effect by the 15th of February, 2013.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

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