Education For Members

Why Sweden should protect its fantastic popular education organisations

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Why Sweden should protect its fantastic popular education organisations
ABF Malmö runs a long list of crafting circles. Photo: Johan Forsberg/ABF

When the computer programming class Richard Orange's son had loved was cancelled, he got in touch with the local branch of ABF, a Swedish public education organisation, and started it up on his own.


The course in Scratch, a block-based computer programming language for children, was the only extracurricular activity I'd ever found that my son had shown any enthusiasm for and I was disappointed it had been cancelled.

The Covid-19 pandemic had bankrupted CoolMinds, the company that ran it, and the course was called off half-way through. I collected the email and phone number of Fabian, the teacher, and also of some of the other parents, but a plan to move the course to the offices of a parent who ran a startup went nowhere.

Months later, I wandered on impulse into my local branch of ABF, the non-profit organisation founded more than 100 years ago to educate workers, knocked on the office door and found the people there immediately willing to help.

Yes, they could host a course teaching computer programming to children. Yes, they had a computer room upstairs with 10 PCs and a projector. No, I didn't need to pay anything to rent the room.

All I had to do was start a so-called "study circle" and do a short online course to become a so-called "circle leader".

After asking around among the parents of my children's classmates and making a few posts on neighbourhood Facebook groups, I soon had the 10 children I needed, and the course started a week later. 


ABF, launched in Stockholm in 1912 by the Social Democrat party and unions, is just one of Sweden's studieförbund, or popular education organisations.

There is also Vuxenskolan, which was started in 1968 by a fusion of the Liberal Party's Liberala studieförbundet (founded 1948) and the Centre Party's Svenska landsbygdens studieförbund (SLS), founded in 1930.

And finally, there is Medborgarskolan, founded in 1948, by members of what became today's Moderate Party. 

ABF remains the biggest, according to Statistics Sweden, with some 83,000 study circles run across the country in 2022, compared to 74,234 at Vuxenskolan and 30,169 at Medborgarskolan. 

They are all fantastic resources for foreigners. 


Some 42,871 people born abroad took part in events organised by Sweden's study circles last year. 

At the same time as my computer course, the ABF centre in Malmö gives Swedish lessons to a group of Ukrainians, and ABF centres across Sweden have since 2015 been teaching Swedish to refugees who do not yet have access to Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) courses. 

Worryingly, Sweden's study organisations are struggling. The government is reducing state funding for them by some 250 million kronor next year, 350 million the year after, and 500 million in 2026, cutting their funding by about a third.

At the same time, participation has still yet to fully recover from the pandemic. 

Below is a graph showing the total number of people partipating in study organisations, study circles and other types of popular education. 

Source: Statistics Sweden

As a foreigner who has come to the country and been impressed by its strong tradition of free adult education and self-improvement, I feel it would be a terrible shame if the studieförbund began to be dissolved. 

I found ABF such a help in setting up my children's computing course.   

Once I had the personal numbers of the children and their parents, I loaded them up onto the ABF web portal for circle leaders, and could then tick off whether they attended or not.

When I realised the course was going to be too time consuming to teach myself, I got back in touch with Fabian, whose teaching at CoolMinds my son had liked so much. 

All Fabian had to do was report the hours he taught and his rate. ABF's administrators then divided the total between each parent and, once I'd signed off that the course was over, sent each of them a bill. Neither Fabian nor I have ever had to deal with any of that ourselves.

The course is now well into its second year and is – given that it's basically an extra school lesson – surprisingly popular with the children. We've started two more courses, one where Fabian teaches Java programming to older children and another teaching a new group Beginner's Scratch. 

The Local has used ABF's free podcast studio several times. Photo: ABF

It's not the only way I use ABF. 

When the studio The Local usually uses to record our podcast in Malmö is booked, we use theirs. ABF used to host the choir my daughter is in. 

Alongside all this, there are all the eclectic events like Tai Chi, embroidery, or even on how to cook Finnish pirogi pies.  

But what is best about Sweden's studieförbund system is that if there's something you as a foreigner want to learn about or do, some event or activity you think should exist, all you need to do is get in touch and they will help make it happen. 

Long may they last. 


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