Swedish pupils gain ground in global education rankings

Swedes are cheering a new international ranking which suggests schoolkids have improved their performance in maths and science, after years of tumbling down global education tables.

Swedish pupils gain ground in global education rankings
Swedish pupils are doing better in maths and science. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

A report published on Tuesday made happy reading for the Swedes, whose education system has suffered blow upon blow in international education rankings in recent years.

The study, carried out by education research group Timss, revealed that Swedish 10-year-olds and 14-year-olds improved their results last year, compared to the previous survey in 2011.

In maths the 10-year-olds finished the test with an average score of 519 points, up by 15 on 2011, and the science test with a score of 540, up by seven.

The 14-year-olds improved their performance in maths to 501 points, up by 17, and in science 522 points, up by 13.

“The IEA's Timss 2015 study of mathematics and science achievement reveals that for Sweden both grade 4 and grade 8 student performance improved between 2011 and 2015,” Dirk Hastedt, the executive director of the group behind the Timss study, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), told The Local.

“This continues the established positive trend for grade 4, and reverses the previous trend for grade 8,” he added.

READ ALSO: Here are the best and worst schools in Sweden

Those studying maths in the third year of Sweden's senior high school gymnasiet, referred to in the study as 'grade 12', scored 431, improving their performance by 19 points on the 2008 test. However, those studying physics dropped by 42 points to an average score of 455.

“Sweden was one of only two countries that showed an improvement in results for grade 12 math specialists. Congratulations to Sweden!” said Hastedt.

However, Sweden still has a long way to go. The top-performing country was Singapore, which scored 618 and 590 in fourth and tenth-grade maths and 621 respectively 597 in sciences.

The results of the major Pisa 2015 global survey, which measures pupils' skills in maths, reading comprehension and natural sciences, are set to be revealed next week.

READ ALSO: The Local's interview with Sweden's education minister

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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.