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The Swedish university training Ukrainian teachers for Swedish schools

Ukrainian teachers fleeing war in their home country are undergoing training at Malmö University to be able to work in Swedish schools this autumn.

The Swedish university training Ukrainian teachers for Swedish schools
Lecturer Christina Johnsson trains Ukrainian teachers seeking refuge in Sweden in a new introductory course at Malmö University on the Swedish school system. Photo: Jan Samuelsson/TT

“They possess fantastic competencies which municipalities should be taking advantage of,” university lecturer Christina Johnsson said.

One topic discussed in the course is Swedish discrimination legislation. Johnsson, who is a lecturer in public law, opened discussions with cases where students’ clothing had been questioned, and where students wanted to be defined by a different gender. This provided the backdrop of a debate among the Ukrainian teachers regarding the issue of gender identity.

“It’s maybe a bit unusual for us,” Hanna Karasevych said during a coffee break, “but it’s not completely new or shocking. I had a female student who wanted to be a boy and changed her name,” she said.

Malmö University is the first in Sweden to arrange the introductory courses which are carried out on behalf of the National Agency for Education (Skolverket). The Ukrainian teachers will receive basic knowledge of the Swedish school system and the relationship between teacher and student. Other topics such as human rights, cultural issues and the school’s democratic responsibility are on the agenda.

“The Ukrainian school system has undergone big changes over the past few years, transitioning from a Soviet-style system to a school which puts children in focus,” Olga Skozyk said.

“Since the war broke out, I truly understand the degree of responsibility teachers have to build an identity for future members of society.”

“The Ukrainian school should have more insight on discrimination issues, there has been a big gap when it comes to these sort of issues”, said Iryina Kliuchnikova.

The idea behind the four-week course is for the Ukrainian teachers to be ready to start working in autumn, as teaching assistants to Ukrainian pupils attending Swedish schools, for example. This is something the teachers are looking forward to.

“Just to get together with other teachers from Ukraine here during the course has been such a huge joy for us,” Hanna Karasevych said.

“Such a huge joy for us.” Hanna Karasevych is enjoying the opportunity to get together with other teachers from Ukraine. Photo: Jan Samuelsson/TT

“Everyone smiles more and more each day. I have been a teacher for 20 years and have a big passion for teaching. I am an English language teacher and hope to be able to teach in a Swedish school. But any kind of job is okay, I want to have teaching back in my life.”

The teachers also liked the fact that the course covered issues like gender identity and discrimination, which aren’t discussed as much in Ukraine.

“[Students’ clothing] is not a big topic in Ukraine,” Tetiana Petrushehak said. “But it is a complicated issue and it is good that we got the chance to discuss it.”

“We are very grateful for this course and to get the opportunity to work in schools. Everyone has different goals and expectations but we all want a new start in Sweden,” she added.

“We can learn a lot from the Swedish system but we can’t copy it exactly,” Olga Skozyk said. Photo: Jan Samuelsson/TT

“There are a lot of differences in mentality, identity and other things,” Skozyk said.

Lecturer Christina Johnsson was impressed by her students’ level of knowledge, adding that the Ukrainian school system is “more developed than the Swedish one” in some respects.

She also noted that the Ukrainian teachers ask the same sort of questions that other teachers or students studying to become teachers ask, and her students’ status as refugees is rarely brought up in conversation.

“It seems to be very important for them to be in the professional sphere, focusing on teaching and not discussing the fact that they are refugees,” she said.

Malmö University plans to set up a course with similar content which will award university credits, in partnership with Stockholm University, Gothenburg University and Dalarna University. In the future, this course could also be used for refugee teachers from other countries, not just Ukraine.

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Sweden’s pioneering for-profit ‘free schools’ under fire

Thirty years after their introduction, Sweden is a world leader of "free schools" owned by for-profit companies that pay dividends to shareholders -- a business model hotly debated ahead of the general election on September 11, 2022.

Sweden's pioneering for-profit 'free schools' under fire

In a Stockholm suburb, the Drottning Blanka secondary school premises look more like an office space than your traditional red-brick institution with a schoolyard and gymnasium.

Like many of Sweden’s “free schools”, it doesn’t have its own building — instead, it rents a commercial space alongside other companies.

Here, performance is not just about how students do in exams.

“Free schools” owned by for-profit companies that pay dividends to shareholders are a business model hotly debated ahead of Sunday’s general election.

Drottning Blanka’s senior high school in Järfälla, Sweden. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Almost a fifth of pupils in Sweden attend one of the country’s 3,900 primary and secondary “free schools”, first introduced in the country in the early 1990s.

Known elsewhere as voucher or charter schools, Sweden is a world leader in this type of schooling, which offers broader educational choice but still follows the Swedish curriculum.

Around three-quarters of “free schools” are owned by public limited companies and are for-profit, according to official statistics.

The remainder are either non-profit or run by foundations.

But in egalitarian Sweden, in order to ensure the “free schools” are accessible to all, they are 100 percent state-funded.

‘Party’s over’

Critics of the model decry the fact that taxpayer money intended for children’s education ends up in shareholders’ pockets.

“The party is over. The money from your taxes must go to schools, not to company profits,” thundered Social Democratic Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in July.

She wants to put an end to “free schools” paying out dividends. Schools that do make profits should instead reinvest them in their establishments, she argues.

“The quest for profits in Swedish schools must end,” insisted Andersson, who is seeking the Social Democrats’ third straight mandate in the election.

Conceived as a right-wing reform in 1992 and supported by successive left and right governments since then, proponents of the system initially thought it would pave the way for a few schools run by individuals passionate about education.

Little did they know that it would give rise to a bevy of schools owned by private companies often listed on the stock exchange, such as AcadeMedia, Sweden’s biggest education group with annual revenues of over $1 billion (one billion euros).

The group recently announced — in the midst of the election campaign — that it would dish out 185 million kronor ($17 million) in dividends to shareholders, or about a quarter of its profits.

School Principal Pia Johansson poses for a photo at the Drottning Blankas secondary school in Jarfalla, Sweden. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

In the capital’s Järfälla suburb, principal Pia Johansson says her school’s parent company, Drottning Blanka AB which runs 27 establishments and belongs to AcadeMedia, has a profit margin target of six percent.

She’s opposed to a ban on dividends. “It’s like any other business: people invest money, large sums of money,” she says.

“It’s natural that investors want some of the profit,” she adds, acknowledging however that there “maybe should be some kind of limit”.

That’s the approach preferred by the leader of the opposition conservative Moderates, Ulf Kristersson, who is challenging Andersson for the role of prime minister on Sunday.

“I’ve always said that dividends at well-run school groups are not a problem for Sweden. I’m much more concerned about the bad state-run schools,” he said after AcadeMedia announced its dividend payout.

His party has called for dividend caps on schools that “perform poorly” academically.

Dividend ban?

While a large majority of Swedes are in favour of “free schools”, most are opposed to them turning huge profits, opinion polls show.

Prime Minister Andersson in July appointed a special rapporteur to draw up proposals on how to move forward with a ban on dividends from schools.

The issue is tricky, as existing shareholders would likely demand costly compensation.

Detractors of the for-profit system say the model attracts irresponsible actors, and encourages owners to cut costs to maximise profits and inflate students’ grades in order to bring in “clients”.

Marcus Strömberg, AcadeMedia’s chief executive, insists, however, that profits are necessary.

A company’s budget surplus enables it to invest in and develop its educational operations and provide “security for students”, as well as “create more school places”, he told AFP.

By AFP’s Karine Pfenniger