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SWEDEN'S FAILING SCHOOLS

EDUCATION

‘We should have nationalized our schools’

Sweden's education minister on Tuesday blamed the country's fall from grace in the Pisa global education ranking on municipalities' "lack of competence", saying his government should have nationalized the schools already seven years ago.

'We should have nationalized our schools'
Education Minister Jan Björklund. Photo: Leif R. Jansson/TT
"This is the final nail in the coffin for the old school reform," said a pensive Jan Björklund as he welcomed reporters to government headquarters Rosenbad in central Stockholm following the release on Tuesday of the OECD's annual ranking of schools in 65 developed countries and economies. He nonetheless made sure not to lay all the blame for the tumble in maths, reading, and natural sciences at the door of the politicians in charge at the time.
 
"The downturn was expected, it's been ongoing for 20 years," Björklund summarized. "Regardless of who is to blame, the pupils (measured in the latest Pisa) went through the old school system." 
 
According to the latest Pisa results released on Tuesday, Sweden now ranks below the OECD average in all three subject areas, faring worse than the United States and the UK.
 
The Liberal Party politician said he had taken the opportunity to reflect on things his own government could have done to hit the brakes on the slide – including wresting power from the municipalities, which were put in charge of running schools back in 1991, and once again managing schools on a national level. 
 
"We should have made them state-controlled schools again back in 2006 or 2007," he said in reference to the government taking power in 2006. "To lift the results requires competence that the 290 municipalities don't have."
 
He also stayed true to his oft-cited concern about "pupil-led education", in which students are expected to take responsibility for their own learning. 
 
"We should have put the focus on teacher-led education (katederundervisning) much sooner," he said, adding that boys did not fare as well as girls did in the less-structured system. 
 
Earlier this year, Björklund told The Local that he admired the focus on rules and decorum at the free-school consortium The International English School. 
 
"The English School could be a role model for municipal schools," he said. 
 
The minister remained upbeat, despite Sweden's unparalleled tumble in the rankings, that the trend could be reversed. The worst thing that the opposition could do, he told The Local on Tuesday, was to go back to the old system if they take power in next year's elections. 
 
Björklund took the opportunity to present the head of a new schools agency, Skolforskningsinstitutet, Professor Per Thullberg, who at the press conference said that a raft of education reforms introduced by the government in 2011 – including licences for teachers and national testing from grade three –  would hopefully make a dent in the poor results "by the end of this decade." 
 
The opposition, however, said Björklund should not shirk responsibility for the poor results.
 
"It's everyone's fault but his own," Green Party spokesman Gustaf Fridolin wrote in an op-ed in Aftonbladet on Tuesday. "There are several countries that have reversed a (negative) trend, strengthened the pupils' knowledge of math, and increased the number of applicants to teacher training in significantly shorter time than Björklund has had as minister." 

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HEALTH

Swedish opposition proposes ‘rapid tests for ADHD’ to cut gang crime

The Moderate Party in Stockholm has called for children in so called "vulnerable areas" to be given rapid tests for ADHD to increase treatment and cut gang crime.

Swedish opposition proposes 'rapid tests for ADHD' to cut gang crime

In a press release, the party proposed that treating more children in troubled city areas would help prevent gang crime, given that “people with ADHD diagnoses are “significantly over-represented in the country’s jails”. 

The idea is that children in so-called “vulnerable areas”, which in Sweden normally have a high majority of first and second-generation generation immigrants, will be given “simpler, voluntary tests”, which would screen for ADHD, with those suspected of having the neuropsychiatric disorder then put forward for proper evaluations to be given by a child psychiatrist. 

“The quicker you can put in place measures, the better the outcomes,” says Irene Svenonius, the party’s leader in the municipality, of ADHD treatment, claiming that children in Sweden with an immigrant background were less likely to be medicated for ADHD than other children in Sweden. 

In the press release, the party said that there were “significant differences in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD within Stockholm country”, with Swedish-born children receiving diagnosis and treatment to a higher extent, and with ADHD “with the greatest probability” underdiagnosed in vulnerable areas. 

At a press conference, the party’s justice spokesman Johan Forsell, said that identifying children with ADHD in this areas would help fight gang crime. 

“We need to find these children, and that is going to help prevent crime,” he said. 

Sweden’s climate minister Annika Strandhäll accused the Moderates of wanting to “medicate away criminality”. 

Lotta Häyrynen, editor of the trade union-backed comment site Nya Mitten, pointed out that the Moderates’s claim to want to help children with neuropsychiatric diagnoses in vulnerable areas would be more credible if they had not closed down seven child and youth psychiatry units. 

The Moderate Party MP and debater Hanif Bali complained about the opposition from left-wing commentators and politicians.

“My spontaneous guess would have been that the Left would have thought it was enormously unjust that three times so many immigrant children are not getting a diagnosis or treatment compared to pure-Swedish children,” he said. “Their hate for the Right is stronger than their care for the children. 

Swedish vocab: brottsförebyggande – preventative of crime 

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