Swedes’ support for nationalization high as school choice debate rages

Over 60 percent of Swedes think schools should once again be controlled by the state amid a debate about school choice following Sweden's poor showing in the OECD's Pisa rankings.

Swedes' support for nationalization high as school choice debate rages
File photo: Alamosbasement/Flickr
Sweden's schools are currently run at the munipality level, meaning that each of the country's 290 municipalities  take responsibility for everything from pre-school to adult education. Each municipality funds the schooling through local tax revenues, with the help of a general government grant. 
Last week's Pisa education ranking, which saw Sweden drop below  the OECD average in maths, reading comprehension, and natural sciences, has left many of Swedes keen to reintroduce a nationalized schooling system, which was abolished in 1991.
On Monday, Sveriges Television (SVT) published figures that gauged Swedes' reactions to the current schooling system, in which pollsters Sifo found that 61 percent of Swedes thought the national government should take over, while only 12 percent disagreed. The rest remained unsure.
The results came from a wide range of people, with varying ages and political persuasions, Toivo Sjörén at Sifo told SVT. He added that there was a definite level of uncertainty among those polled. 
"But the sense is that something needs to be done," he said. "And it's clear that the Pisa results have played a large part in this."
Others blamed the slump on Swedish parents' choice between municipality-run schools and free schools, as the growing inequalities between the schools has seen a similar gap in results.
Anders Jakobsson, a professor at Malmö University, is among those who blame Sweden's drop in the rankings on "school choice". The gap between the best and worst schools, he explained, has doubled in natural sciences and tripled in reading comprehension during the 2000s.
"Many schools have lost their most ambitious students due to school choice, and our reasoning is that the ambition levels of the teachers are dropping when ambitious students leave the schools," he told the TT news agency.
In the countries that perform more strongly in the Pisa ranking, there is less of a difference between the best and worst students, he added.
The Pisa results found that Sweden came out on average worse than the UK and the US, and fell harder than all other 32 countries measured. Sweden performed particularly poorly in mathematics, where students suffered a fall that was the worst of all countries over a ten-year period.
Sweden's Education Minister Jan Björklund on Tuesday blamed the country's fall from grace  on municipalities' "lack of competence", saying his government should have nationalized the schools already seven years ago when the current government came to power.

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Distance learning remains a ‘possibility’ for Swedish schools: Education minister

Remote learning remains a possibility, but not an obligation, for schools in Sweden as students around the country begin term this week, the Education Minister said on Wednesday.

Distance learning remains a 'possibility' for Swedish schools: Education minister
Education Minister Anna Ekström (L) and general director of the Schools Inspectorate, Helén Ängmo. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Minister Anna Ekström made the comments during a press conference in which she outlined the rules ahead of back-to-school season but did not make any new announcements.

She urged schools to be “flexible”, outlining some of the measures which have been recommended by the National Board of Education since an early stage in the pandemic.

This include changing furniture arrangements to promote distancing, staggering lesson and break times to prevent students mixing in large groups, and increasing cleaning. Many parent-teacher meetings are likely to be cancelled, she said.

Schools for under-16s have remained open throughout the pandemic, and Ekström said this decision was based on research showing children were affected by the virus to a lesser extent. “The younger the child, the more mild the symptoms,” she said.

In Sweden, only one of the almost 6,000 people to have died after testing positive for the coronavirus was aged under 10, and none of the victims have been in the 10-19 age group.

Ekström added that no occupational group linked to schools had been over-represented in Sweden's coronavirus statistics.

In addition to taking this kind of measures, heads of schools have also been given additional decision-making powers.

These include the ability to switch to remote learning, or make other changes such as adapting the timetable (including moving lessons to weekends) if necessary due to the infection situation. 

“If the situation gets worse, teaching can be moved partially or entirely to distance learning. This could happen in the whole country, individual schools, or in municipalities or regions where schools may need to close as a measure to prevent spread of infection,” Ekström said.

“The government is prepared to take measures, but we don't want to close schools.”