Written by Stevie Walker
As my plane touched down into the Stockholm-Arlanda International Airport, I knew that this was going to be a summer that I would never forget. I was in Sweden. The next two months I could spend thoroughly immersed in the culture and society of Scandinavia. In my time there, I got to live with an amazing host family in the small harbour town of Nynashamn. Beyond just enjoying the culture of a unique European country, I was able to notice the cultural and societal differences. Among all of the differences, the one I kept constantly coming back to was education. The Swedish school system is so unbelievably different from ours. Living with a school teacher and three host siblings who attended Swedish public school, these differences were made very clear to me on an almost daily basis. I began to realize that the American school system is extremely lacking. The structuring, curriculum, and testing policy of the Swedish school system is clearly more apt to prepare the 21st century student for the real world than that of the United States.
First I would like to begin by outlining the basics of the Swedish public school system. At age 6, Swedes begin compulsory schooling. It is broken into three categories–Grades 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9. After that comes secondary school, or gymnasium, which is not required but that the majority of Swedes attend. For 3 years, they study within a chosen major that will prepare them for either a career or university. The grading system is similar to ours; students can get A’s through F’s, but unlike American schools, an E is considered passing and an A is an extremely hard grade to achieve for most students. This difference in grading is due to the wonderful way the curriculum of Swedish school is structured.
Learning and testing is taken at a much different approach in Sweden. The proficiency system does not exist. Multiple choice does not exist. Students do not normally have homework that is required for turn in. Instead, testing is done through essay writing and free response questions. Students need to be able to thoroughly explain and understand every aspect of what is being taught to them, which encourages students to learn important critical thinking skills that are vital for college and career. Rather than developing process of elimination skills or randomly getting lucky by bubbling in letter C, Swedes must truly understand all of the material to get an A. This is where the Swedish version of homework comes in. Homework does not come in the form of worksheets to be turned in, but rather in the form of studying, reading, and essay writing. Students can put in big or small amounts of studying to get the grade that they want. It is a very flexible system that truly capitalizes on the scholarship of the student. America should look away from the constrictions of multiple choice and begin to find different ways for students to express their knowledge. The critical thinking skills that come from writing, discussing, and analyzing are key in the modern workplace, and will make smarter, world class students of us.
The Swedish school system is also very flexible with its scheduling and teaching times. Instead of a block schedule, each day includes different classes at different times. Most of the time, students have at least a thirty minute break in between classes in which they can leave the school or do whatever they choose. Some days, students will have breaks for over a hour or, if the teachers have nothing left to teach for the day, their classes will end early and they can go home. This helps prevent the educational burnout that many students experience in America. Also, the fact that there are no bell systems makes students more responsible and more independent. School is more relaxed. Learning in an environment that doesn’t feel controlled by a bell or by a repetitive schedule is much healthier and easier for many. It is one aspect that encourages students to come to school every day.
Another aspect that encourages students to attend school is the fact that Swedish school is free–from elementary to university. Not only is it free, Swedish students receive an allowance of about 100 dollars per month from their government to help cover costs for supplies, books, and other school related things while they are in gymnasium. Now, of course, this is something that is probably unrealistic for the American government to do, but it is still extremely important that we give our students the resources they need to learn and the encouragement to do it.
The education of both the United States and Sweden is very rigorous, but the important question, which I was able to ask myself this summer, is are American schools challenging our students in the right way? High schools continuously pile tedious amounts of homework on students, but is that the right way for us to learn? The modern world and workplace is full of problems that require thorough analysis and critical thinking from every perspective. Students should start learning these skills early because there is no multiple choice in the workplace. Furthermore, there is no fixed bell system to guide you through a day in adult life. Flexibility and responsibility are two important traits that the Swedish school system is able to instil in its students better than we do in America. Great improvements could be made to our education system if we look at the way that other parts of the world educate their children. It is of vital importance that we make our education accessible to all, from pre-school to graduate school. After all, today’s students will be tomorrow’s world leaders.
Me and my Swedish Family