Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stockholm’s High School Recruiting Drive

As I was driving to IKEA yesterday a radio ad came on for the English language gymnasium here in Stockholm. Basically, it’s a high school where English is the language of instruction. The ad was singing the praises of learning English and the impact it would have on your future. And that’s when it hit me. This was like your classic American university recruiting ad. But this wasn’t America. And it was for high school.

High school is a big deal here in Sweden. And it’s time for students to make a decision as to what high school they want to attend. It’s kind of like picking a college. Except the Swedes make 14 –year olds do it.

I had a hard enough time picking a college. I can’t imagine having to also pick a high school. And of course they play up your future. Because this high school will lead to a better future. Or that high school will give you those opportunities.

It seems that when you enter high school you choose a line of study. Very specific. And you continue through with it. None of this liberal arts education that allows you to sample a little bit of everything.

There’s the whole idea of “jack of all trades, master of none,” so by focusing on just one subject, I suppose that is a positive. But what happens when you decide you don’t like your line of study? I didn’t know what I wanted to do in high school. Hell, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do in college. And I still don’t know what I want to do. But I have a whole lot of different subjects under my belt, and had plenty to choose from. I never felt like I had pigeonholed myself with something I had to do for the rest of my life. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have only studied one thing and to realize that’s not at all what you want to do in life.

I suppose when the government is paying for everyone to go to school, they want to make sure that the people they are educating are experts. Or maybe they just don’t want to employ all of those extra people. Seems easier to just put all the IT people in one school. All the social sciences people in another. Probably saving all sorts of overhead there. See… I studied business.

Of course, when someone has gone through three years of physics and suddenly decides that math really sucks when they started replacing all of the numbers with Greek letters, it’s going to get expensive. Now that person wants to study sociology. You know, that major that all of the athletes studied in college. D’s get degrees. Which, strangely enough, as a tutor employed by the university, is a term that is frowned upon. Anyway, now our future sociologist has to start all over. And that is definitely expensive for the government.

To expect high school students, who are more concerned with getting a girlfriend than learning the quadratic equation, to be thinking so far ahead that they need to choose a high school that will relate to their future employment is just ridiculous. And kind of mean even.


  1. I happen to teach high school in the U.S. and I think this is a great topic to explore! I love the differences between the education system in the U.S. and Sweden...both have their pros and cons.

    I am definitely with you on the whole idea of choosing your path of study in high school....seems hard to imagine right???? I didnt figure it out until my junior year in college!!!

    When the government is paying, I guess it's hard to argue!!!

  2. Practically no high school in Sweden provides only one field of study. Btw, there are also a lot of "wider" lines of study, like for example samhäll, where you can become anything, really. But for those who are sure of what they want to become there are also more specific "lines", that will make it much easier to get that profession afterwards, but you could also become that if you choose samhäll, for example. So I think it's better than only being able to study whatever you study at American high schools and then still not being that much closer to your dream occupation. Besides, it's free...

  3. high school is free in the US also unless you choose to go to a private school which is not huge percentage of people.
    I think kids that age need to have a broad range of studies, that is a time to start figuring out what they are most interested in. most 14 year olds don't really know what their dream occupation is yet and most will change their minds!
    Some US high schools are starting to focus more on certain subjects with "magnet" schools popping up specializing in math or art or whatever so will see how that plays out in what they are choosing then when they go on to University. Very interesting though the "recruiting" for high schools. I guess that is better than in the US where so many are only interested in which high school has better sports programs!

  4. you're right. there are definitely pros and cons to each educational system. I think that putting so much importance into choosing a good high school isn't a pro for the swedish system. like you said. took until your junior year of college to figure it out. most people are 20, 21 years old at that point. Not 14.

    robban - high school is free in the US too. unless as anonymous points out you go to a private school. and Im glad to hear that there are wider lines of study. I was getting worried seeing all of these ads and reading soem of the newspaper articles about choosing a high school.

    and I agree with anonymous. for the msot part no one knows what they want to do when they are 14. sure there are a few who do. and will follow that true and live happily ever after. but most won't. unfortunately. so a broader line of study is better for the majority of students I would argue.

    and an interestring point about sports. there are some recruiting stories out there even in high school. not necessarily good fo rthe educational system really. even though sports are glorious. and extremely beneficial in all aspects of life. but still. gotta be able to read better than you can hit a free throw.

  5. I wish that more universities in America would teach Swedish. I'd really like to learn. There is a lady in my church from Sweden and I'm hoping that she will teach me, but it would be nice to hear varying accents/dialects.

  6. The Swedish high school system is far from what you seem to think. Even if you choose a line directing toward science you can stil choose to study pretty much any course that's offered. If you want to get a broad education you can get that. For example, I studied at a school specialised in IT, but I still studied Religion, Math, Chemistry, Economics, Drama, English, Spanish, Swedish and a lot of other things. And if you start at a school and later regret it, say, after a year you can change school, without having to reedo the courses you've already taken.

  7. I won't comment you're answer but anonymous #2 here has really good points.


  8. You are so right. Myself, I wasn't that passionate about any jobs when I was 15 (Finns have basically the same system as the Swedes, we borrowed a lot from them). I was a sort of jack-of-all trades then, but couldn't see my future. I should have of course, but it's really too much to expect from a teenager.

  9. erin - plenty of universities teach swedish. and if not there are always self-study. Im sure you can find something!

    @anonymous - I'm glad to hear that. But it seems that most people i have spoken with about swedish high school have said that it is very specific and that while you do study a few basic subjects the majority of your study is centered on one subject. Engineering for example. Or Math. But I'm glad to hear that that is not necessarily the case. Broader is better in high school I think.

    Also glad to hear that things count regardless if you change your mind or not. I actually just assumed that that was the case. My concern was that if you changed there would still be plenty of specific requirements that would need to be fulfilled which would keep you around longer. Something very specific to your new line of study that was not offered in the old line.

    @smek this - nothing wrong with being a jack of all trades. makes for a well-rounded person.

  10. Hairy, when you first asked this question, it never occurred to me but, yes we do have specialization in the U.S. too!!!!
    Here in Houston and Austin there are a number of specialized schools.
    High School of Performing Arts
    St Stephens Academy (soccer and tennis boarding school)
    a high school for those interested in law enforcement, engineering, and medical, etc.
    And you'll hear private schools advertise all the time in Houston....its a necessary evil to make sure some schools meet their enrollment needs.
    I think that if students really do know what they want specialization can be a great option.

  11. It's true. There are charter schools, magnet schools, and even private schools that advertise. But not at quite the same level as those that advertise and recruit here.

    But you're right. The option for specialization is good. Too much specialization I would say is not.

  12. well, i already graduated and my university didn't teach swedish, so i took a few others. and, you're right - there is self study, but i know me and it would help if i had someone either learning with me or pointing me in the right direction.

  13. that's fair enough... self study languages is not an easy way to go.

  14. Whomever told you Swedish high school programmes are all very specialised was either high or an idiot. While there are programmes specifically geared toward particular professions (such as vehicle maintenance), the Natural Science and Social Science Programmes are both very general and are usually taken by those who have no idea what they want to do when they grow up. Natural Science has more maths and science than Social Science (which in turn has more civics and history) and may enable you to go directly into certain university programmes that you'd otherwise need to take a "Naturvetenskapligt basår" to get into, but otherwise they're both full of all kinds of subjects and will let you into most university programmes.

    I did Natural Science because I was actually INTERESTED in science and was seriously miffed that I was forced to drag myself through history, civics, language, religion and philosophy classes.

  15. I think the swedish high school system is superior to that of the US.

    The reason I believe so is that if you have to make up your mind earlier you will have to become more mature and then you grow as a person and you get some inner character. Also you don't get to run around like a baby not knowing what to do and when half of your life.

    That's just my 2 cents.

  16. fair enough. personally I think it much better to have the opportunity to explore a bit before having to decide. it allows you to find something that you truly enjoy doing.

  17. Just thought I would share my opinion on the matter since a) I am Swedish, b) I have gone through Swedish high school, and c) I am studying to become a high school teacher.
    Firstly, we start high school at age 15-16, which I don't think is all that young to start thinking about your future.

    Secondly, as previous people have written here, most of the programmes are quite broad and general. There are specific programmes for specific trades, but the kids who choose those programmes do it because they don't really want to go to school more than necessary, but want to find a good job in the future. (We call these kids skoltrötta/inte läshuvuden, or to be more pc, "praktiskt inriktade")
    Those kids who think that they might want to go on to higher education in the future (or are sure they want to) will probably choose samhällsprogrammet or naturvetenskapsprogrammet. BUT you don't have to. You see, any person who graduates with sufficient grades from high school can go on to higher education (depending on what you want to study, I mean, clearly, wanting to become e.g. a chemist requires you to have chosen naturvetenskapsprogrammet in high school OR to have taken a naturvetenskapligt basår after high school).
    I can use myself as an example. I studied naturbruksprogrammet in high school, which I would translate to the natural resource programme (or the nickname farming school :P). Note please that I did not study farming, but environmental care. However, now I'm studying at Gothenburg University to become a high school teacher in Swedish and English. Two educational areas not remotely related I would say. Still, in Sweden it works. The beauty of our system is that you can change your mind.

    And thirdly, which kind of has to do with my previous statement about you being able to change your mind, something they don't tell you is that high school in Sweden... is not very important (but sssssschhhh, don't tell anyone I told you this :P)

    I hope you have a better understanding about our educational system now! :)

  18. A very good explanation, thank you!