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EDUCATION

How the shake-up of Sweden’s school curriculum could affect your children

Sweden's National Agency for Education (Skolverket) has presented proposals for changes to the school curriculum. Here's what parents need to know about the plans.

How the shake-up of Sweden's school curriculum could affect your children
Here's what parents and teachers should know about planned changes to the school curriculum. Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/imagebank.sweden.se

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The curriculum currently in place has been largely unchanged since 2011, and have received criticism from teachers, students and their parents that grading criteria can be hard to interpret.

The proposed changes have been split into three areas: changing knowledge requirements, better adapted central content, and an increased emphasis on factual knowledge.

Most of the proposals relate to the grundskola, Sweden's compulsory school which pupils attend for ten years between the ages of 6 and 16, but there are also updates for the gymnasieskola (the three-year high school), adult education, and schools for pupils who are hard of hearing or have other special educational needs.

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Changes have been put forward for the subjects which are compulsory (Visual Arts, Biology, English, Physics, Geography, Home and Consumer Education, History, Sport, Chemistry, Maths, Modern Languages, Music, Religious Education, Social Education, Crafts, Swedish, and Technology) as well as some subjects which are only taught in certain schools and/or to certain groups of students: Mother-tongue education, Swedish as a second language, Sign language, Sami, and Jewish Studies.

Skolverket said its main aims in these suggestions were to put more emphasis on factual knowledge, to improve accuracy in grading, and to adapt core content since teachers reported difficulties in teaching all compulsory areas within the time they had.

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Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Controversy over ancient history

The agency has, however, already scrapped one idea which was initially part of the proposal: to scrap ancient history from the curriculum. It had initially explained the decision by saying that there were not enough teaching hours for history to cover all the content currently included in the curriculum; during the three years of högstadiet, there are roughly 25 teaching hours for history each year. But after widespread criticism, the agency announced just a few days later that it would keep ancient history and find an alternative solution.

“Everyone has agreed that there are not enough hours for the subject of history. We chose, as one of several possible solutions, to remove ancient history [from the curriculum]. There have been many reactions, but those we listen to above all are history teachers and we can already see that we need to find another solution,” Anna Westerholm, head of Skolverket's curriculum department, said in a statement.

She admitted that finding an appropriate solution would be “a hard nut to crack”.

Skolverket reiterated that retaining the current history syllabus was “not an option” and has called for input from history teachers.

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A change to grading 

The grading system itself would not be changed under the proposals, but Skolverket hopes that the grading process will become more fair and accurate. Swedish grades are awarded from A-F, with A the highest grade and A-E all counted as 'pass' grades. These grades are awarded at the end of each school term (only in the subjects the student was taught in that term, and during högstadiet only at the end of a course), starting with the autumn term of Grade 6. 

The agency plans to change so-called 'knowledge requirements' (kunskapskraven). These are the things which students are required to know in order to receive a certain grade, and Skolverket said the current system led to students getting very low grades just because certain details of the knowledge requirements weren't met.


Photo: Jonas Ekströmer / TT

For example, rather than requiring students to show how the “social, media, judicial, economic and political structures in society” are structured and how they function (as in the current syllabus for social studies), they will be required to show “knowledge of conditions and structures in society” and give examples of “connections within and between different social structures”.

So in the new proposals, knowledge requirements are “less extensive, contain fewer details and are formulated in a simpler way”, Skolverket said. This is intended to ensure students receive grades that accurately reflect their understanding of a subject, and that teachers can focus less on having to teach specific details in order to reach a grade.

The knowledge requirements are outlined for grades A, C, and E only. A B grade is awarded if students meet all of the requirements for C and some of those for A, while a D grade is awarded if students meet all of the requirements for E and some of those for C, and an F grade is given if a student does not meet the requirements for E.

Knowledge over abilities

One change that occurs throughout the proposed curriculum is a greater use of the term “knowledge of” rather than the term “ability to”. This change is meant to increase the emphasis on subject knowledge. This change has been made mostly in the lower grades, based on research showing that children improve their skills to reason and analyze as they get older.

Call for feedback

Skolverket has requested feedback on its proposals, particularly from teachers, which can be submitted via its website.

After this referral period ends on October 23rd, the agency will make adjustments and submit its final proposals in December to the government, which is ultimately responsible for making any changes to the school curriculum.

Any changes which are introduced will apply from the start of the academic year 2020/21, although students who begin grade 9 that year (or grade 10 in schools for those with special educational needs) may complete their grundskola education according to the existing syllabuses.

You can read more on Skolverket's website (in Swedish only) and submit your feedback to the agency here.

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EDUCATION

‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”

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At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.” 

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