Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Schools, Students, Parents & Teachers. Curling in Sweden

Curling is a term that seems to have evolved here, and for good reason. It comes from an analogy with the sport of curling, people rushing ahead of children, frantically sweeping the path clean of even the most minor obstructions.

I've wanted to write about this subject many times but I get so frustrated and angry that I end up putting it on the back-burner and leaving it for another time. I'm not so sure I'm going to be any more successful this time either - but here goes.

This is a bit of an education household - it is our past and our present. My other interest in education comes from my research. We have had many a discussion about methods, attitudes and the education systems in the four countries we have worked in.

Anyway, the stories that I hear  Uuggghhh!!!! I don't even know where to start......... And all the time Skolverket (education department) put the blame on everyone but themselves - the teachers, the students, the parents, the independent schools - yet some of the stuff that they come up with makes me think they need their heads read!!!!

I've written before about how the need to attract students has a major effect on the running of schools. But sadly that is not the end of it - the stories I hear of parents ever so eager to have their child succeed are very worrying - in their desire to protect their children they really screw things up - for themselves and for others.

There are a lot of really healthy attitudes towards bringing up children in this country - and there are a lot of really healthy attitudes towards education - in many ways they are much healthier than what I know and see in both our countries. But I have to say that on the whole the approach is pretty soft. Boundaries are neither set nor adhered to - I see it and I feel it all around me and it scares me. And sometimes it makes me really, really angry.

But I will leave it here for now, perhaps another time I will dare to delve through all the issues that have come to light in the last few years, all the points of frustration, contemplation and sheer wonder - and I don't mean that in a positive way. And I know systems are changing around the world as many countries struggle to get a grip of how to run education - but in discussions with teaching friends around the world they are usually left with a gaping mouth.....

Typically when the pendulum swings from one way of thinking it goes to the other extreme until it comes back to the middle, to a position of balance. The Swedish education system is going through a crisis - I just hope the time comes when we have balance in Sweden, otherwise how will these kids ever cope in the real world? Or will we just continue to see a growth in the numbers of people who are burnt out and more of the lost generation - a term used to describe those born in the 80s?


  1. A very good post on the Swedish education system. I would definitely love to hear more about this when you have the time to get to it.

    Even with our little one only just starting förskolan (preschool) - I fear the worst when she starts school in 5-6 years.. Wondering what is going to be going on by then..

    Plenty of Swedish parents have the problem: Not my child. Swedish parents can't comprehend that their child might be doing something inappropriate. There is a defininte discipline problem which is letting Swedish children take power over adults. Both at home and in the school system.

    Coming from the US.. you learn to rescept your teachers and authority figures.

    I have taken numerous Komvux classes all over Sweden and the same thing happens everywhere: no respect in the classroom. The worst was students around 18-20 years old, just sitting and chatting while the teacher was teaching. The rudest thing I have ever seen. The teacher doesn't dare tell them to stop.

    That would NEVER happen in the US at ANY age. Teachers in Sweden really need to stop worrying about what the parents are going to think or say, and do what they think is best!!

    My husband told me that I'd never get away with being a teacher in Sweden - I'd be so "harsh" and demand respect that I'd be kicked out in a day.. :P :))

  2. I agree, very interesting! I think something happened with the school system/parenting in Sweden in the 70ies, things kind of spiralled downwards ever since and *nobody* seems very interested in dealing with the problems. If my memory serves me right there was also some major change in the high school system in the late 80ies/early 90ies that effectively managed to dismantle the system into some seemingly demandless hotchpotch.

    One reoccuring thing when out travelling is that people, especially in the tourism business, have some strong opinions about Swedish (and Norwegian) parents and their lack of controlling (in a good sense) children. I have to agree on that. Unfortunately.

    And I do agree with Hillary above, with the discipline problem and parents. Too many Swedes - and the system - is too anxiously afraid of not being PC, making demands, saying no, setting boundaries, is for too many Swedes terribly difficult.

  3. @Hillary thanks for your comments - I have been uncomfortable with the whole school system since I first came to Sweden but my discomfort has changed focus a little. As I have learned more about the thinking behind the school system I have developed a great appreciation for it. Saying that my discomfort is clearly still there - but for other reasons.

    I've also always felt that kids grow up much faster here and I have never been comfortable with that - I always said I would be out of here before my kids became teens - that remains to be seen.

    I think the "not my child" issue has been around for a long time and exists anywhere but I do agree discipline is a big issue.

    Terrible to read about your Komvux experiences - the teaching profession really needs to be upgraded and respect established. I'm sure the discussion about how to do that could go on for days.....

    It is nice to have you reinforce my own thoughts - there is clearly a difference between Sweden and the English speaking world - which is more authoritarian - for all the good and bad that goes with that.

    @Pia I had read somewhere something about changes that took place in the 70s and I'm curious to know more about that. There has been a lot of discussion recently with the introduction (or proposed?) of state-run parenting courses.

    Kids have a lot of rights in this country (and rightly so - in most cases) and that gives them greater protection. It also creates the attitude that kids know best - and I'm sorry but I just don't agree with that.

    Kids also have a lot more freedom here - I noticed Australian kids were not allowed to run out (or play!!) in the rain or jump in puddles - here it is all part of a day's fun. But freedom has to have limits and it has to be appropriate at the time and place. A child that is given complete freedom will not learn to respect other people and what is appropriate behaviour - an important lesson for later in life.

  4. I have to say I agree with you, based on my interactions with the Swedish school system. I think the problems stem from a good idea gone bad. They don't want to stress kids out, they want everyone to like school and be self-motivated. But I don't think it's impossible to create a psychologically healthy environment for kids AND still have some structure and teach kids respect. Teachers need to be able to set some rules and stick to them.

    I also don't think that relaxing the rules makes anyone more self-motivated. At the gymnasium I've worked at, I think the proportion of overachievers to students who don't care about school at all is pretty much the same as it was in my much more regimented American high school. The difference being that the Swedish kids who don't care aren't compelled to do *anything* at all. And when they're in gymnasium, they get their CSN money just for showing up.

    Another part of the dark side of this hands-off approach, I think, is that kids, and especially teenagers, are free to treat each other as badly as they want. "Mobbning" (bullying and teasing) is perhaps more psychologically damaging to a growing person than a strict, "mean" teacher ever could be.

  5. I am Swedish, and have lived all my life here. But still I think something is fundamentally wrong with both our schools and how we raise our children.

    Children need boundries, it isn't very caring to let a child run wild, neither to the child nor the rest of the society. And we Swedes seem to be to afraid to tell a child no, especially when it's not our own child. This because so many swedish parents unfortunately seem to think that it is an insult if you set boundries for their children.

    It so much easier to sit and blame everyone else for the problem, instead of seeing the part oneself could take on to make it better...

    (My English is perhaps not the best, but I hope I made myself understood at least.)

  6. @Megan I think most expats would agree with you - especially if they themselves have worked in a school. I've heard many express extreme frustration based on their own experiences.

    @Madeleine - great to have your comments and your English is perfect. Thank you for responding.

    Unfortunately I think part of the discipline problem comes from how little parents actually see their children - long hours away from each other mean everyone is tired and who wants to spend the little time we have together disciplining the children.

    I've also heard many refer to the kids that go back and forth between separated parents - again we want our time together to be quality time - it is precious. Who wants to spoil it by fighting? Who wants to be the parent that is the "bad guy". Even in my own family we have discussions about which parent is doing the disciplining and which is "too soft" and not "following through" and we live under the one roof!

    Both examples are perfectly understandable but are an unfortunate outcome of our modern society.

    I think this fear of telling a child off when they are not our own is spot on - What is that saying - it takes a society to raise a child? I think that is a good saying but I don't think our modern society would agree.