Sweden’s free schools prompt segregation fears

Sweden's system of state-funded privately-run free schools risks creating increasing segregation in society, international education experts have warned.

Sweden's free schools prompt segregation fears

“The problem of increased segregation among the population has begun to appear and this poses significant risks over time,” said Henry M. Levin at the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York to Sveriges Radio (SR).

According to Levin, who has studied the Swedish school system in an international perspective since the reforms of the 1990s, the process is a slow one but has the effect of fragmenting society.

In a soon to be published study by researchers at Stockholm and Uppsala universities shows that middle-class parents often decline to consider schools with a more diverse student body.

The researchers conclude from the report, which is based on interviews with 5,000 parents, that this selection process is a contributing factor to creating increasing ethnic and class divisions between schools.

Sweden’s free school system was introduced in 1992 and the country’s state-financed schooling system has developed into one of the most market-orientated and competitive worldwide.

The system has recently been adopted in the UK and is similar to the charter schools system in the US, with funding tied to an individual student.

Somewhat uniquely, the Swedish system also allows for profits to be made by the firms operating schools. This feature of the system remains controversial in Sweden.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson

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Schools in Sweden discriminate against parents with Arabic names: study

Parents with Arabic-sounding names get a less friendly response and less help when choosing schools in Sweden, according to a new study from the University of Uppsala.

Schools in Sweden discriminate against parents with Arabic names: study

In one of the largest discrimination experiments ever carried out in the country, 3,430 primary schools were contacted via email by a false parent who wanted to know more about the school. The parent left information about their name and profession.

In the email, the false parent stated that they were interested in placing their child at the school, and questions were asked about the school’s profile, queue length, and how the application process worked. The parent was either low-educated (nursing assistant) or highly educated (dentist). Some parents gave Swedish names and others gave “Arabic-sounding” names.

The report’s author, Jonas Larsson Taghizadeh said that the study had demonstrated “relatively large and statistically significant negative effects” for the fictional Arabic parents. 

“Our results show that responses to emails signed with Arabic names from school principals are less friendly, are less likely to indicate that there are open slots, and are less likely to contain positive information about the school,” he told The Local. 

READ ALSO: Men with foreign names face job discrimination in Sweden: study

The email responses received by the fictional Arabic parents were rated five percent less friendly than those received by the fictional Swedish parents, schools were 3.2 percentage points less likely to tell Arabic parents that there were open slots at the school, and were 3.9 percentage points less likely to include positive information about the municipality or the school. 

There was no statistically significant difference in the response rate and number of questions answered by schools to Swedish or Arabic-sounding parents. 

Taghizadeh said that there was more discrimination against those with a low social-economic status job than against those with an Arabic name, with the worst affected group being those who combined the two. 

“For socioeconomic discrimination, the results are similar, however, here the discrimination effects are somewhat larger,” he told The Local. 

Having a high economic status profession tended to cancel out the negative effects of having an Arabic name. 

“The discrimination effects are substantially important, as they could potentially indirectly influence parents’ school choice decision,” Taghizadeh said.

Investigating socioeconomic discrimination is also important in itself, as discrimination is seldom studied and as explicit discrimination legislation that bans class-based discrimination is rare in Western countries including Sweden, in contrast to laws against ethnic discrimination.”