Why Sweden’s teachers have no time for their students

Why Sweden's teachers have no time for their students
A Swedish classroom. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
Teachers in Sweden are drowning in paperwork and have insufficient time to properly plan lessons, a new report suggests.

In a survey carried out by the Swedish teaching union, Lärarförbundet, almost nine out of ten primary school teachers answered that their workload is too high, with administrative tasks eating up valuable teaching time.

Of the eight hundred primary school teachers that responded to the survey, 86 percent said they had too much work, with form-filling cited as one of the duties that was most time-consuming. By contrast, only 14 percent said they felt their workload was right.

The complaints come despite efforts from the Swedish government to reduce the amount of time teachers spend on administration, and there are even signs that the opposite has occurred. Seven out of ten teachers questioned answered “no” when asked if their workload had decreased in some way in the last year, while 63 percent said they actually spend more time on administrative tasks than before.

“The government has taken steps, but what we see is that things are ballooning in the opposite direction instead,” Swedish teaching union president Johanna Jaara Åstrand told news agency TT.

“Teachers say that there is an inordinate amount of reporting in various computer systems. In many areas that’s down to local requirements that are not necessary according to national directives,” she added.

The survey suggests that form-filling is having an impact on how Sweden’s teachers plan their lessons, with eight out of ten saying they do not have time to plan and develop teaching of pupils in a satisfactory manner. As a result, the profession’s union have called for school principles to hire extra staff to help share the burden.

In response, Sweden’s Education Minister Gustav Fridolin has highlighted the allocation of another 800 million kronor ($96 million) annually to funds that municipalities can draw from and use to hire extra primary school personnel.

“With more specialist teachers and more teaching assistants there were will be more time for teachers to engage in their jobs,” he told TT. “The teaching profession should be a creative one where there is time for each student.” 

The complaints from Sweden's teachers come at a difficult time for the country's education system. A Unicef report published in April showed that Sweden, along with neighbouring Finland, is the country where school results declined the most between 2006 and 2012.