Taking on a different tone from my previous posts on Sweden, the following posts are about our official visits to various agencies and schools around Stockholm and Gothenburg.
We arrived at the Swedish National Agency for Education – Skolverket in the afternoon. There, we met with various school leaders and directors within the agency and they gave us presentations about the Swedish education system and their direction in STEM/STEAM education. We also had our very first ‘Fika’ experience.
What is Fika?
Fika is roughly translated as ‘a coffee and cake break’ but it is also a state of mind, an attitude and an important part of the Swedish culture. Swedes make time for fika every day; it can happen at any time of the day and even several times a day. The cinnamon bun is a popular fika item, but they can be anything, really. What you eat is not that important during fika. The key thing is having time to socialise and catch up with friends and colleagues. It is even considered rude if you do not join in and socialise during fika time. It is a way to strengthen relationships as well as refresh the brain. In companies and businesses where fika is institutionalised, teams work better together and are more productive.
Right before we started our meeting in the conference room, we were directed into the fika room where we helped ourselves to a cup of tea or coffee and nibbles. At first, I felt very awkward and didn’t know if I should talk to people while I ate. We all just kind of stood around the room, smiling and nodding at each other awkwardly!
A brief introduction on the Swedish education system
In Sweden, every child has equal access to free education. The Education Act mandates that all children must attend ten years of school from the year they turn six and forbids homeschooling. Children can attend Pre-school between ages 1 to 5, then begin compulsory schooling at age 6. Upper secondary school – years 10-12 (Gymnasium) is optional. They can choose from 18 different national programmes of three years. Entrance into all those programmes demand students to have passing grades in Swedish, English and mathematics from their final year of compulsory schooling.
Under the curriculum for compulsory schooling, schools are responsible for ensuring that every student is able to use modern technology as a tool in searching for knowledge, communication, creativity and learning. Around 94% of all schoolchildren in Sweden report that they have access to Internet at school.
Outdoor learning is also an important part of the Swedish school curriculum. Their school-age educare programme stimulate students’ development and learning, while also offering meaningful leisure time. The educational programme provided by educare complements the compulsory school curriculum, and makes learning situationally governed, experience-based, group oriented and based on students’ needs, interests and initiative.
Grades from A to F are assigned starting in year 6. Mandatory national subject tests are held in years 3, 6 and 9 of the compulsory education.
Swedish National Agency for Education
The NAE is tasked with setting the frameworks and guidelines on how education is to be carried out in Sweden. They support the development of preschools and schools with the aim of achieving greater goal attainment. They do evaluations of various activities through in-depth studies and analyses and conduct follow-ups to keep track of how activities are carried out and how to they can be improved. They are also responsible for making decisions on certification of teachers. Public funding and grants are also administered by the NAE. They work together with the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, which oversees and examines the quality of schools through regular inspections.
The agency believes that schools should stimulate students’ creativity, curiosity and self-confidence as well as their desire to translate ideas into action and solve problems. Students need to take responsibility for the environment to create a sustainable future. Schools also need to contribute to students’ understanding of digitalisation and how it is affecting our society, and to develop their ability to use digital technology.
Professional development initiatives
The NAE has devised professional development initiatives targeting in-service teachers with an emphasis on teacher collaboration and peer learning. The initiatives encourage teachers to be collectively responsible for their own professional development with the intention of having a lasting impact through the network of teachers established and the continuation of collaborative learning after the programmes have ended. The process is simple, beginning with individual preparation, followed by collegial discussion with a tutor where they will also plan a lesson together, then teachers try out the lesson in their own class, finally they come together again to discuss their experience from the lesson – what went well or what could be improved – also led by a tutor. All modules the teachers develop together focus on five didactic perspectives: motivation strategies, scaffolding language and knowledge development, interaction in the classroom, formative assessment, and digital competence.
They follow the goals outlined in Education for Sustainable Development when planning modules of studies to teach students as well. This approach makes learning meaningful for students and gives them a sense of responsibility, not only in their own learning, but also to the rest of the world as a whole. This should be the ultimate goal of education.
Currently, the NAE is also responsible for the National School Leadership Training Programme, which started in 2009. They aim to provide headteachers with knowledge of the requirements set out in school regulations and to develop the role of the headteacher as a leader so that the quality of the activities can be assured. The programme is mandatory for newly appointed headteachers.
Running out of qualified teachers
According to the speakers, almost 50% of existing teachers in Sweden are not professionally trained in education and there is a major shortage of teachers. They estimate that they would need an additional 90,000 teachers in the coming seven years. Professional certification is now required for school and pre-school teachers on permanent contracts, to raise the status of the teaching profession. However, teaching is not a popular profession in Sweden and there are very few incentives for people to study education in university. In addition, there are very high expectations of teachers from the government and local politicians in order to maintain a good quality school within the municipalities. This is a real challenge for the Swedish government and one of the things they are really pushing forward in schools is ‘digital transformation’ as they recognise that a lot of learning can be done online. This can help to minimise the workload for teachers while they come up with better solutions for recruiting new teachers.
End of Part 5
Back to Sweden (Part 4)
Continue to (Sweden Part 6)