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EDUCATION

We harmed Sweden’s teachers and should apologize: prof

With Sweden tumbling in international rankings, a generation of wrong-headed academics should apologize for undermining the role of teachers in the 1990s, says pedagogy professor Jonas Linderoth.

We harmed Sweden's teachers and should apologize: prof
A tired pupil at a school in Stockholm. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

An aspect often overlooked when analyzing Sweden’s precipitous fall in the annual Pisa rankings is the active role taken by researchers two decades ago in demonizing traditional teaching methods, Linderoth writes in newspaper Dagens Nyheter

“The age-old form of instruction, in which someone who knows something explains it to someone who doesn’t, came to be associated with abuse of power and blind discipline,” says the Gothenburg University professor. 

“Instead, a good teacher was supposed to support a pupil’s independent learning, classwork was to take the pupil’s natural motivation as its starting point, the boundaries between different subjects were to be dissolved, and the physical environment in a school was to be designed more to support a pupil’s own work than a teacher’s instruction.” 

As a result, he writes, the teacher’s traditional role was gradually dismantled, all under the watchful eyes of researchers, teacher trainers, civil servants, trade unions, and politicians. 

But recent research has suggested that the ideas greeted with such enthusiasm back then “stand in almost direct contradiction to what constitutes successful teaching methods”. 

Linderoth now believes that the innovators from the 1990s who ushered in such sweeping changes –   including himself – should publicly apologize for the damage they have done. 

An apology could help heal the deep fractures that emerged between more old-school teachers and a teacher-training regime that turned their world upside down. 

“It could rehabilitate teachers who managed to resist teaching trends that accentuate a teacher’s role as guide. It would allow teachers to once again view their own professional identity with pride in a historical perspective,” he writes. 

As a new school year starts the country is now grappling with the dual problem of qualified teachers leaving their jobs and empty spaces appearing in teacher-training colleges. 

“The situation is very worrying. Within a few years Swedish schools will lack thousands of qualified teachers,” says Linderoth.  

DISCRIMINATION

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.” 

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