Today I was lucky enough to have my first education-focused meeting with Malin Hedström, a veteran teacher of 21 years. Malin has been involved in many different areas of the Swedish school system including being a special education teacher and a teacher at a school which is somewhat similar to an alternative learning center. She now teaches 8th grade English and Swedish in Storvik, Sweden. We had a great conversation about the school system here in Sweden and how it compares to the United States.
(On a side note, we had our meeting over something that is one of my favorite Swedish traditions: fika. It’s pretty much snack/coffee break time. It’s the best. I had a cardamom roll. It was amazing.)
Here is a quick summary of our meeting.
- Malin thinks that the Swedish school system does a better job of finding different ways for different types of people to get their education. Unlike the US, students don’t have to go to high school. Mandatory school goes until 9th grade. After that, students get to choose either an academic line (which they must have good enough grades for), a more trade-oriented line, extra school to get their grades better to being the academic line, or they can being working.
- Malin and I discovered that many of the problems that we currently have in the United States are also problems in Sweden.
- Classes where teachers would like to differentiate, but either have too many students or not enough time to do a satisfactory job of it
- Unmotivated students who aren’t being reached by a system that is too rigid
- Children who have come some immigrants who need extra help and wiggle room that they system can’t provide them with. Malin specifically talked about how children who have come alone from war-torn countries are expected to live up immediately to the same standards as Swedish children who have lived here their whole lives.
- We also discovered that many of the same reforms that have been tried and adopted in the US have also happened in Sweden, but generally a few years later. For example:
- The push-in model for special education students
- State-wide testing and “measuring” of schools based on tests and other country-wide measurements
- Charter schools, which are called “free schools” here
Malin has a class of 8th graders which are pretty advanced in their English skills and enjoy having academic challenges. We have decided that I will match up one of my classes with this class of hers. They will be able to write back and forth to a partner student in the other class. Then they will create a shared presentation together reflecting on the experience.
Here is a picture of the school that Malin works at. It is called Heängsskolan. It is also the school where I had one group of pen pals for my 6th grade class last year. As you can see, their outside space is very large and is more the “center” of the school as compared to Central.
I forgot to say that I drove up from Stockholm to the area of Sweden called Gävleborgslän where I will be for the next week. The drive was less than 3 hours and it was beautiful. I would count myself lucky to be a person who lives in this country.