I was lucky enough to have a meeting arranged with Maria Berquist who is the administrative supervisor for the office of Sandviken county in the education department.
(Actually, the office she works for is called the “Kunskapskortoret.” When you directly translate that over to English it is the “Office of Knowledge.” So Maria is the administrative supervisor for the Office of Knowledge which is a way more fun name than education department.)
I keep also forgetting to say that I’m carrying out all of these meetings in Swedish. I speak Swedish and used to be a Swedish teacher here and there. It’s actually very useful to do so, even though everyone speaks English. I think that I get a better picture of complicated systems if the person explaining them doesn’t have to translate what they’re saying themselves to English.
In any case, my meeting with Maria was very informative. We talked mostly about the organization and regulation of the Swedish education system as well as technology usage in schools. She was very knowledgable about both. I will try to summarize the most interesting and important parts of our conversation here.
Swedish School System
The Swedish school system is a complicated one with many moving parts, just like the American system. Instead of school districts as we have, the county is the main governing body. (Interesting side comparison: there are 290 counties in Sweden; there are 328 school districts just in Minnesota.) So, these country systems are the ones who decide how many schools and where they should be in the county and other such decisions that are similar to school districts. One of their other main jobs is to decide what the budget is for each school depending upon their different needs. In Sweden, schools aren’t funded at all by property taxes. Instead there is a funding level per student given from the national government. It is this that creates the budget for each county system. That means that the funding level for each student throughout the whole country is the same. Personally, I believe that this would lead to a much more equal system than what exists in the United States.
The county doesn’t decide curriculum; however. The other levels to the system are the government which passes laws governing the school system and also a government called Skolverket which is like the Department of Education. From what I understood, this is very similar to the American system, except that there is no state/provincial governance of schools. In Sweden it goes straight from the county school district to the state level. Sweden has national standards and schools are to follow these national standards. These go even further than just English and Math as Common Core has and actually cover everything a student should be learning in a certain grade level.
Another similarity between Sweden and the United States is that Sweden has charter schools, which they call free schools. From everything I understood, they are pretty much exactly like charter schools here in the United States.
Currently there is a very large problem in the Swedish system: a teacher shortage. This is a large teacher shortage that extends to the entire country. One of the main reasons this has happened, according to Maria, is that Sweden just instituted teaching licenses in 2011. This led to many teachers not being able to stay in their jobs and that now it is harder to become a teacher, many are not able to. Personally, it blows my mind that they didn’t have teaching licenses before. I am glad that it has become a requirement. However, a teacher shortage is obviously not a desired outcome. (I have heard from several people that I could get a teaching job here pretty easily as a result of the teacher shortage. If you don’t find me at home come September, you know why.)
Technology in Schools in Sandviken and other Communities
Maria was very happy to talk about technology in the school system, especially in Sandviken’s school system. They have won praise from all of Sweden for their 1: 1 initiative. They first started with their high school in 1996 as a beginning to their 1:1 program, which is more than a decade earlier than White Bear. This shows how innovative this small school system is. They then went down to the grade school level and worked their way up from there. Each school got to be a part of many of the decisions for the program, including if the students got to take their computers home with them.
In Sandviken, they prioritize teacher training of how to effectively integrate the 1:1 technology in their classrooms. Overall, teachers have more hours of professional development than what I am familiar with. The county prioritizes teacher training in technology very highly. They also prioritize having teachers who are excited about technology usage help other teachers. They can also have teachers who get a little extra money to be technology integration specialists.
Currently, it seemed to me that flipped learning was the technological pedagogical area that they focused on. I showed Maria a few resources on blended learning. (I believe that blended learning is a more flexible pedagogy than flipped.)
Overall, it was a wonderful meeting which was very enlightening. If you’d like to read more about the Sandviken county district and its schools, here is their website. Google translate will do the magic for all of you who don’t speak Swedish.