Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sweden’s Education Rank Falls

Sweden has long prided itself on its educational ranking. As it should. It has had a pretty solid reputation over the years. But it turns out that those rankings have been falling. For the last 12 years actually.

Sweden’s fall in the math and science rankings is one of the worst of the 35 countries included in the study.

Of course, there are differing opinions as to why this is happening. Some are blaming it on immigration. The idea there being that the increase in immigration, and especially refugee immigrants, has left teachers and the school system unprepared to handle the influx. I don’t know. Possible I suppose.

Another reason, and one that I believe plays a bigger role than immigration, is Sweden’s educational system overall. And what the Newsweek article refers to as a “lax education philosophy.”

Let me first explain that I never went to high school in Sweden. Or any sort of primary education. I can’t speak from a Swedish experience. I can however speak from a secondary educational experience. Because I have taken university classes here in Sweden. Classes in which retests were the norm. Not because it was hard, but because people would come in, read the test, and walk out. They knew that the retest would be similar and now they knew what to study. Pissed me off to no end. Mostly because I worked my ass off and studied and passed everything in the first go ‘round. But I couldn’t go back and improve my grades if I had wanted to.

Anyway, that lax education philosophy refers to the lack of grading. Students in elementary school don’t receive grades. The article says most don’t get graded until 8th grade. Jan Björklund, the education minister, has implemented a plan that will start grading 10 year olds. Sixth graders, by 2011. Which has been met with all sorts of criticism. Because we wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings you know. God forbid someone realize that they aren’t as good as someone else at something.

People are different. And some people are good at some things while others aren’t. Some people are more athletic. Some people are better looking. And some people are smarter. That means that some people are less athletic, ugly, and stupid. Which is unfortunate for them. But let’s not piss on their legs and tell them it’s raining. It does no one any good. Instead let them realize they aren’t good at math while realizing that they are good at historical research. Or that they can’t play basketball worth a damn but can shoot a target from 20 meters after having cross country skied 5 km.

Sweden’s idea that everyone is equal only leads to a false sense of security that does not match the real world. The real world makes judgments. For better or worse. To keep students from being graded until they are teenagers does nothing but create a group of coddled young people ill prepared for any sort of negative feedback that may come their way.

Obviously, grading sixth graders alone isn’t enough to halt the plummeting rankings. But, in my opinion, it can’t hurt. Grades make for accountability. They force people to look at areas they need to improve on. They act as indicators of where you are, where you should be, and even where you are going. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Welcome to Sweden. And a fall in the maths and sciences.

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  1. I'm no authority in anything (obviously, coming from the Swedish education system, eh..?), but my mother says that people who suck at maths know all too well that they suck at math. They do not need to be told that they are a "D", and therefore worse than most, but rather that if they improve this and this, things might work out. Problem is, the people making the decisions seldom have connection to all the kinds of people who need change...

    One ought to be able to abolish grades altogether, but some people seem to need 'em for motivation. Pfft!

    Anyway, not to get personal (or too inflammatory), but I've heard you come from a country with.. spelling bees...

  2. hey you can be an authority on all kinds of things. just not maths and sciences apprently if you got out of the system between 1995 and 2007. obviously.

    Im all for grades. maybe because I worked my ass off and got good ones. but a little motivation never hurt anyone.

    I also come from a country that has... geography bees...

  3. Actually, I could be that too since I was, in a sense, set free from the system at an early age. They left me with a textbook in a corner of a classroom and I almost taught myself.

    But getting good grades isn't what school is for. My grades were good, but there's a feeling of "OK, that's enough" when you ace a test which I tried to avoid. I prefer to look at knowledge and information as something worthwhile for its own sake. I wrote creative things in most classes (that one biology paper, heh) of gymnasium, tried to find my own angle on historical facts or introduce philosophy where it didn't belong, but then some asshole forced the teachers to put grades on 'em...

    Why I blame the "bee"'s, and grades by extension, is because it's little more than a way to take something dynamic and wonderful (language, for example) and make it an objective sport. Weird way to learn, in competition.

    Also, I do think Sweden's education system needs reform, but not so simple ones. I could go on, but I'm not likely to convince anyone, and my views are from a person who's never had to work for anything in school. Somewhat useless..

  4. I have a child in Swedish primary school. Being a fan of John Holt, i don't believe in grades in elementary schools. There are plenty of personal interviews to assess the performance at that age. (personally i had traumatic experiences with grades in elementary school)
    An important way schools in Sweden have changed was in 1994, with Carl Bilt as Prime Minister, the schools lost the ability to hold back students who fail even in elementary grades. Yes, even without grades an assesment can indicate failure to meet the standards.
    The scores have dropped in the last 12 years. What can we say about the last twelve years, a proliferation of private schools in Sweden that 'sell' grades. There are some places where the 'pay to play' philosophy of neo-liberalism has been great. I think the privatization of the postal service has been good, the privatization of the electric company, bad. The idea that people are worth their paycheck or their grades has made teachers and students into buyers and sellers and left something essential out of learning.
    I just had a great example of this from talking to my brother in the US about using the Dagis. (county daycare) I explained that the staff was trained and helpful, the kids love to go there and the facility is well equipped. I can even take a vacation in the summer and have the place for the children when we get back. All he could say with a sneer was 'well that's because THOSE PEOPLE get paid anyway, whether you come or not.' So the attitude that schools for our children must profit us monetarily to exist is a pervasive idea that leaves educators and children out.
    When Sweden ranked high in Math and Science internationally, there was a coordination between what commercial applications would be served and the training and education. My Swedish sister in law is trained in hydraulic engineering for example, in her small town's public school system.
    The education in Sweden today is preparing students for a service economy, resulting in a shortage of engineers and professionals. Business and industry should again work with the schools to tackle the future problems.
    Education is an investment in the future of the population. This fruit we see today is from stagnation. By failing to adapt to changing technology and tackle tough problems of the future we fail our children.

  5. I'm an American student who just got back from a semester at Lund University. The re-tests and the grading system drove me crazy! At my home university, if you fail the final exam, you have to pay to take the class again, AND it isn't a pass/pail grading system, so every point counts. As a very good student who gets great grades at home and has never failed a class, I have to admit that when I knew that all my work only had to be good enough to pass (and that excellent work would only be rewarded by a "well pass", not a 4.0 or a similarly distinctive mark), I worked much less.

    My understanding is that, at least at the university level, since the Swedish government is paying for everyone's education, they want everyone to succeed. That makes some sense. Maybe in America it makes more sense to make a student retake a course, since the student is the one paying.

  6. the second anonymous makes really goods points helpful for understanding the big picture. as an american, i didn't get graded a-f or p/f in public elementary school either, but the parents did get feedback each semester, and i think that we could be held back if we didn't meet expectations. high school is when grading should matter and count.

    but the retaking of tests in college is ridiculous and doesn't prepare you for the real world after college.

    as anonymous said and as obama has plans for in the us, there has to be a cohesive system of post-graduate training/job placement available. obama has talked about his visit to google, and saw that few americans were in their new hires group. when he inquired about this, google told him that they hire the best cs grads from the best schools in the US, and the best kids graduating in cs from caltech and harvard are asians and eastern europeans, and hardly any american minorities.

    so the system within the best technology sector in the us is set up right now to exclude kids coming from our own public schools, unprepared and perhaps unwilling, whereas (as obama and others argue) if we reward hard work in the us (and sweden) and emphasize science and technology (as opposed to service, etc), swedish and american kids can be on the cutting edge of math and science again.

    again, there's not a simple answer but i agree with partnering with businesses and government to provide entry level jobs for our own kids, so long as they rise to the challenge and are able to pass college-level tests on the 1st try for instance. it takes better investments in kids than we are doing now at home and in school to even get them to pass college, let alone get hired by google.

  7. @karl – I guess I never really saw grades as competition with others. If anything I was competing with myself. Motivating myself. Trying to figure out better ways to do something, what worked, what didn’t, how to improve, how to find new angles on old papers. Because I pulled some similar stunts, especially on assignments that I felt were unnecessary. Somehow though I never felt like that creativity was ever really stifled. I blame my teachers completely.

    Id love to hear some of the reform ideas. Because don’t get me wrong, I think grades are a good thing, but theres plenty more things that can be one. In just about any form of education.

    @anonymous – fair enough, you say personal interviews to assess performance, I say grades. As long as there is some sort of accountability.

    My problem is that I see that lack of grades as allowing people to float through without needing to take responsibility for their actions. Without needing to work hard because they know that, when it comes down to it, no one is really paying attention to how well they do.

    To be perfectly honest, I have no problem with people being worth their paycheck. Because some people are. And some people aren’t. And that should be taken into account. The services some people provide are so rare, or so well done, that they deserve to be paid for it. A lot. I suppose that can be relevant to grades as well. It shouldn’t be a business decision, but those who succeed should be rewarded disproportionately to those who don’t. They earned it. As I have said plenty of time sin this blog. Everyone is not the same. Some people are better at certain things. And that should be recognized.

    I don’t really get your brothers comment. My experience with daycare, while not extensive and limited to volunteer work and work at an establishment that offered day care, was that the people working there got paid whether the children came or not. Regardless, schools do profit us monetarily. And education and monetary gain shouldn’t be separated. Higher education, as a general rule, leads to monetary gain. On an individual basis. On a societal basis. On a global basis. One need look no further than the education levels and GDPs of economic powers the world over.

    So I agree completely with your statement that education is an investment in the future. And that if people don’t adapt, then we are failing our children, or me, since I am not so far removed from school, but also failing those who have long since left school.

    @seattle – first I have to ask, did you go through a program at UW? And if so, you should probably e-mail me. Mostly because I have questions about UW: aswedishamericaninsweden at gmail dot com.

    Anyway, I agree. It drove me nuts. It just lumped everyone together in these tiny groups of lagom. Very frustrating. School in Sweden was the easiest thing I had ever done. Very little class. Very little homework. Maybe a paper or two. Some reading. It was ridiculous. And kind of disgusting.

    I suppose the idea that since Sweden is paying they want people to succeed works. But I hope not. Because that kind of defeats the purpose of trying to educate everyone if they are just going to hand out degrees willy nilly.

    @bet – agreed. There have been some good comments that I think have clarified views from both sides.

    Some interesting points you bring up to. I definitely think its important to reward hard work. Which is why I like the idea of grading. Its an easy way to reward those who work hard and separate themselves from the group.

    It will be interesting to see what changes come into place in education in the next few years. Clearly something needs to be done.

  8. Interesting that some of the best students in CS are coming from Asia which has one of the harshest grading systems in the world for children? We started getting grades in pre-school in Taiwan. So is it that they push their kids to succeed and don't coddle them (you can probably guess where my opion falls regarding grades in school) or is it because there are so many Asians that the law of averages says that there will be a lot of exceptional students?

  9. I vote that the system might have something to do with it.

  10. ...maybe it has something to do with the culture's end goal?

  11. to be world leaders in computer sciences?

  12. Well, the idea of the lack of grading (until the 8th grade, of course) is that kids should be allowed to be kids, for as long as possible. Note that there are, of course, meetings between the teacher, the pupil and the parent(s), at which problem areas, as well as not so problematic areas of the pupil's studies are discussed and enlightened for both the pupil and the parents.

    I don't really see the relatively late start of grading students in Sweden as a problem. I'd like to think that it made me no harm, but rather allowed me to enjoy my days as a kid.

    I'd rather have the Swedish system than, for example, the Japanese one, where the pupils, starting at a very low age, are (a lot) more than encouraged to think very seriously, some might say over-seriously (or überseriously, if you like) by both teachers and parents. With that I mean, that kids are forced into thinking about which college they are going to attend and getting good enough grades to get into that particular college at a very low age. I think it's scary. Kids are kids and let them be. And as I believe, a very famous poet once said: "Were there no kids the world would suck tremendously."

  13. That’s fair enough. But I don’t think grading a kid keeps them from being a kid. I do think that it acts as a sort of transition. Preparation if you will. Helping the child grow and readying them for the world that awaits them. And I definitely think that can be done while still allowing kids to be kids and to run around and play and do stupid things. Because all of that helps prepare kids for the world that awaits them.

    I do think you make a really good point though about some systems being just too intense. There are limits. And having to worry about getting into college at a really young age just doesn’t seem like something I want to deal with. That being said, it’s hard to argue with a lot of the academic results of cultures that use those kinds of systems. I suppose it comes down to what you value.

    And so, in a horribly Swedish decision, the answer probably lies somewhere in between.

    I would also like to say that I love your use of überseriously, as well as probably the most glorious quote ever.

  14. Yeah, you're probably right. The best educational system would maybe be the middle way. Oh, the glorious middle way, the most Swedish of ways!

    My little joke aside, I do actually think that the idea of the middle way, or "lagom" as we would say here in Sweden, is often a good one. For me, it stands for balance and I think that a reasonable, or balanced if you will, amount of balance is very sensible. The best school would probably be one that isn't too slack (as some people would call the system of Sweden) and neither too intense (as some people, including me, would call the Japanese system, for example) but just "lagom".

  15. lagom does have its place. I agree. its just a matter of perspective. because for me, lagom would probably be the middle way between the swedish and american way. for others lagom might be between sossarna and moderaterna.

  16. Hey, I just found your blog, and I'm in need of some advice. I grew up in Stockholm, and went to high school and college in the U.S. (U of Maryland).

    I'm a senior, and applied to a few American schools as well as Swedish schools' Masters programs in Computer Science. I'm still waiting for the selection process to end, so I haven't heard from anyone yet, BUT, if I had a choice between an American school and a Swedish school, which one should I accept?

    I'm pretty torn on this question. While I really want to go back to Sweden, to brush up on my Swedish, see all my friends, and maybe even get a degree from the university my dad got his degree from, I've heard the academic atmosphere is pretty lax, and not very stimulating. The general consensus/image that I'm getting is that people are lazy, the classes are slow, and so on... is this true?

    From a purely academic standpoint, should I choose an American university (say, Georgia Tech) over KTH (Royal Institute of Tech in Stockholm)?

  17. let me start by saying that I have only studied here for one semester. and I was an exchange student. that being said, I know a lot of american students here who are doing masters. all of whom have complained about the school system in some way shape or form. laziness and slow classes among them.

    I dont however know anyone who is doing computer sciences here which I have heard is an excellent program. what I might suggest is getting in contact with the admissions people and see if you can get in touch with other international students in the program and see what they think.

    I would also point out, that studying abroad is a damn good experience. for so many other reasons than just the educational aspect. and you can take that for what its worth I suppose.

  18. I've just moved back to Sweden after a few years in London and Australia. My kids went to school here before they left and are now in a friskolor.
    I think I can compare pretty well the different education systems and will say this: if you want it to be about grades, stressed out kids, competition, learning for tests, etc. then go with the Aussie system where there is no room for anyone who doesn't excell at maths or literacy. One of my kids and one didn't but both came away thinking they were stupid.

    Oddly, London offered great education with lots of extras such as art, music, drama, sports, which helped those kids who weren't great academically but who had other skills.

    The school they're at now is fantastic: it believes kids should actually learn for the sake of learning and should have a lot on offer to help them realize their potential. The school does not believe in much testing and believes that kids learn in lots of different ways, not just through rote learning and regurgitation.

    The school also believes that teaching for grades or for ticking boxes is outdated and counter-productive, thus evaluate the kids on many different levels.

    I have never seen my kids so happy or so excited about learning. They actually love school and for me that says it all. They come home brimming with knowledge and ideas and as far as I'm concerned this sort of education will prepare them for life far better than working for grades.

  19. What I found was that the schools were so lax that all a student did was study for grades. dont do anthing during the term, come in and read the test. study what was on the test and take the re-test. receive the grade and go home. thats not learning anything at all.

  20. You don't seem to have fully grasped the philosophy behind the system of re-testing used at swedish universities. If one thinks it would be easier to pass a course just because you step in, grab the test and walk out again just to wait another two weeks to take it, well, then you're wrong. First of all, if you haven't managed to grasp the material taught at the course until the first test it won't pay off to wait another two weeks as the second test will be more difficult. On the top of that you will also have double workload as new courses have begun during the time and you have also lost the chance to take the test one more time. The alternative would be to wait another year to take the course again which to me seems as a less effective system. This system instead urges the student to complete the course as fast as possible. Everybody wins on that. As with most other countries, the quality of the education between the different colleges and universities in this country vary and depends on what their speciality field of study is. For instance, many humanities institutions have had their budgets cut over the years which of course affect the students alot with less lectures and so on. I still think the old universities and the classic technical colleges like KTH and Chalmers keep up pretty good with the international competition.

    But it's sad to admit that the swedish school isn't as good as it used to be, at least on the primary school level (grundskolan 1-9). Since the free school reform during the mid 90's it has created a very unfair system where some schools are great while others suck big time. But hey, Mr Björklund does the best he can to change it for the better and a new school system has been implemented since last year so I'm excited. This decline isn't unique for Sweden though. Apart from Finland, this can be said about any western country where the schools are on the way downhill with remarkable speeds. On the other hand, things are relative in the world. Perhaps compared the US, at least the swedish, as well as other other european high school systems keep up pretty good.
    As for the swedish high school system (gymnasium) I found a great article on comparison between the american high school and the swedish gymnasium written by a person who holds a degree from both:

  21. Just for the curiousity. What subject/course level did you study? And at what school?

    I recently read an interview with some American exchange students from University of Illinois studying for a master computer science at KTH. One of the students said he wasn't used to take several courses at a time and had a quite hard time and had to struggle to catch up. So apparantly the system isn't so lax everywhere, relatively speaking. In addition to this, as a former exchange student at a well known university in the States, the courses I took there had half the textbook workload than I was used to at my home university in Sweden. In the States I had more class time and more support so I found the system there less stressful than in Sweden where the student has to take alot more responsibility for her/his studies and figure out things on his/her own on a larger extent. I see pros and cons with both systems; The system in the States makes the students keep up with their work and require less self discipline, but on the other hand it tends to weaken the comprehension when the examination and grading are split up between too much quizzes, tests, weekly assignments etc. As I see it, the more common system in Sweden with fewer but more intense tests, assignments, papers, seminars etc and more time for self studies requires the student to grasp the course material in it's wholeness make sure to pass which gives a more holistic comprehension on the run.
    Of course the systems aren't exactly the same everywhere. It all depends on what course, subject, level of study etc to what methods suit.

  22. @seattlesarah

    Another American that hasn't catched the idea with re-testing.. Ok, let me explain because there seems to be some pretty big misconceptions here, not too uncommon when Mr Hairyswede comments on issues in this country. Aherm.! The actual re-test isn't a copy of the first test. Insetad it's a complete DIFFERENT, more difficult test. So it's not like you can grab the first test, read the questions, leave and just study for that test! As you might have understood by now it doesn't exactly pay off to wait for the re-test, it's rather the opposite. BUT, students still fail at times and do have to the right to take the course and test again in some way or another. Now, apart from desirable economic reasons, this system makes it possible for the student to complete the course as quickly as possible, so why wait another year? The only difference compared with systems without re-tests is that the student will have to wait to take the course again and on the run has to start all over again. I don't see why the latter system would incite the student to work any harder. If you fail you still have to do the test again in one way or another. My little conclusion is that the latter system is less productive for the society with students carrying on year after year spending even more money on tuitions when they could have been graduates, earning the big bucks and contributing to the society.
    And what's the fuss with the grading? How can you know how much you will have to study for the next test as every test is different? You study until you think you've grasped the content and the test will show if you have. Simple as that.

  23. Speaking of this issue. I've read countless of blogs and interviews with students and their experiences from their high school exchange years in the US. And I've never read that anyone experienced that the studies there were exactly tough. Rather they tell the very opposite. It didn't matter if the student had spent the year in Ohio, Florida or Nebraska. It was all pretty much the same. It seems like American high schools are all about having fun with more focus on extra curricular activities than actual studies! To me it seems like kindergarten compared to the gymnasium I went through in Sweden. I mean come on, multi-choice question and sometimes taking tests with open text books(!) Getting straight A's wasn't a big issue so to say. One girl said you'd have to take AP courses straight through to even get close to a college prep. integrated program here. No wonder the education system on that level is constantly being argued over in the American politics. You may question Sweden's system any time but on that level and in that light it seems like it's light year's ahead of the US along with rest of Europe. Sorry, but reading those testimonials made me chuckle quite a bit. I also have a dear American friend of Latin American descent who went to school in California. She didn't give a shit because she didn't feel like she was challenged enough. Instead she did other's homework for money. She found a better way to use her brains I guess.

  24. You went ONE semester at some university in Sweden and make a rant about how lax it was and tries to drag in other's experiences to generalize.
    I'm sure it wasn't on the most advanced level as you only went there for one semester.
    Just because the students aren't being treated as high school kids with homework every day at college level doesn't mean it's lax. I've heard stories about how happily surprised international students have been when seen their "lax" schedule with not toooo many classes per week but in the next moment shocked when they realize the workload with hundreds of pages in the text books they have to cover every week. It's just a different system in general, not more lax.
    However, it also depends on what you're studying. Humanities has never had a high status in Sweden and therefore doesn't get as much funding as for example, technical education.

  25. Hm. After reading your artice on this I'd like to give you a little lecture on this matter. Perhaps it will give you a second thought and even teach your something. Who knows.

    Anywho. To begin with, I'd like to take up an example on this matter that shows this isn't as simple as you're trying to make it. In Finland they give very few national tests in school and don't give grades until fifth grade. YET Finland ranked among the highest countries on the latest PISA test. How come you say? Well, from reading a bunch of articles on Finland's road to success it all boils downs to *drumroll*; good teachers! You can test and grade starting in the cradle if you want, but that won't help improving the results as long as you don't feel any confidence for the teachers. In Finland there's ten applicants on every study position. That tells something; that only the most ambitious and smartest students can become teachers. The people trust their teachers in that country.

    There are many examples of countries that uses grades from kindergarten that merely scored average on the latest PISA test. Let me tell you this, I'm not against grades. At all. But I don't think it's that simple, considering the results above. I think grades play a better role from perhaps 4-6:th grade when the kid have some self-awareness and by that time hopefully has learned that knowledge itself is important, not to get good grades. It's rather the reverse; the grades is an instrument to measure and to improve the knowledge. I think this is most beneficial for kids who come from families where the parents have low education and are prone to lack engagement for their kids' schoolwork in general. I mean, let's be realistic here. It won't help the kid with the bad grades if their parents won't care and nag on him to improve the results. Compare that family with the kid that has parents with masters degrees from Harward. Which of the kids do you think will get the best grades and go farthest? If you focus too much on the grades too early, those kids without the smart and engaged parents won't be helped at all. It only builds up low self esteem and a negative attitude towards learning as the kid coming from a family without any study tradition hasn't developed a postive attitude towards learning and knowledeg at home to understand why grades play such an important role here. Instead, what helps them are good and respected teachers who knows their stuff that cares and won't give up on them.

  26. I'm not sure what you're comparing to here, but as you've gone to school in the US i suppose you're comparing to education in the US. It's true that Sweden has dropped in it's ranking and personally I think it's due to several reasons. However, not for the reason of a lax school system. I've compared the Swedish national curriculum for 7-9:th graders with curriculum for grade 7-9 in the state of Minnesota, a state who's supposed to have one of the best primary and high school education in the US. I counted the required classes and subjects and compared the level of expected knowledge at the end of 9:th grade. And I came to the conclusion that the Swedish student has almost the double of amount of mandatory subjects and very few electives compared to the American students that have much more freedom and doesn't even take physics, chemistry and biology as separate and mandatory subjects as in Sweden. Instead they have something called "Science", which can be said is an introduction to science that briefly covers and integrates various disciplines within science. However, furthermore, what the Swedish student has to study in grade 7-9; physics, chemistry and biology, is partly introduced first at high school level in the States. Physics isn't even required at all to graduate, only physical science and biology with one elective science course.

    ..Continues in part 2.

  27. ..part 2

    when you finish the 9:th grade in Sweden you apply with your grades for a desired integrated program at a secondary school which in Sweden is called gymnasium. You can choose beetween vocational and college prep. programs. As a Swede that went through the gymnasium in Sweden and spent my last year as an exchange student in the US I can compare those two systems. Ok, So in Sweden I went to a 3-year technical gymnasium, an education which isn't exactly known to be lax. Rather, it's more or less where the math nerds end up after 9:th grade. However, I wasn't a top student there but when I was in the States I picked some science classes in the beginning to see what they were about. I got quite shocked when I realised that the physics they took in senior year was more or less what I had taken in 7-8:th grade back home! So I changed to AP Physics which was more in line what I was used to at my school back home. I took some other science AP courses as well. I realised that if I would want to get the same level of education in the States as back home I would have to pick all my major subjects as AP classes as well as AP in english and swedish and add even more subjects and second foreign language. The same would been if had been studying another program as well. But then I would have to take other AP classes that would correspond to the majors at the particular program.
    One thing I found odd in the US was the grading and the view on knowledge. It was the first time I had multiple choice tests and got my homework assessed and graded. Everything was so split up and it seemed to be more about busy work rote learning than actual comprehension. I found that quantity was more rewarded than quality. If someone had failed a test or assignment he/she could complete with some other assignment. Hooray! be continued in part 3.

  28. ..part 3.

    Some of my teachers were so lazy that they made us correct each other's tests! .. And some days we were given tests and they allowed us the have our text books open..
    I got A's in almost every subject whithout studying really hard and "graduated" as an honors student. In Sweden, well, an A is reserved for only the best.
    I think you've guessed where I'm heading here. To call that high school I went to in the US lax is just the forname.! I'd say the Swedish gymnasium corresponds more to an American college in terms of pace and study level. Since I graduated from the gymnasium in 1995 new graduation requirements has been introduced every fifth year or so, and as of year 2011 a whole new reform took place with a new examination system including higher graduation requirements than ever. Yet, during all those years from 1995 until today Sweden dropped in it's PISA rankings. Well, so how can all this be interpreted? Well, one can
    say for sure that it's not due to a lax educational system Sweden has dropped as the graduate requirements have increased every fifth year until now.
    Instead it must have other causes, which I personally believe can be blamed partly on the decentralizing educational reform in the 90's which made the communes to become responsible for the school budgets instead of the state. Some communes reserved less money for their schools' budget and problems followed such as kids with learning disabilities not getting the required tutoring help and a generally bad communication between teachers and clueless local politicians without insights in the school world. As of today things are slowly starting to change now with the new system rolling.

  29. The learning curve in the Swedish school is actually steeper compared to the US, but takes a little longer before it starts climbing. According to a teacher I know who's American and has experiences from teaching at high school level in both America and Sweden says that the gymnasium is much more intense than the regular high school in America. The grades only tell how well you do within a particular education, whether the requirements to receive a certain grade are low or very high compared to other educations. A school without a traditional grading system still has some sort of assessment to make sure no student falls behind.
    And those requirements to pass can be much higher than those at the school that is using traditional grading. Grading plays a very absent role if the actual education quality is bad. Sweden didn't use grading until 8:th grade during the 80's and 90's either but still ranked high in those days. Now it's diffent though with grades from elementary level and by time it will tell if it will make any change.

    It seems like you've justified your little theory only with some simple assumptions and speculations on this issue based only on your minimal experience with Swedish university education together with some general comments (sources, links? no? hmmmm..) from a few miscontent people around you and on here. And none of them went through primary and gymnasium in Sweden, so how is that related to this issue hm?
    Well, it's said that you hear what you want to hear..
    What has your exp

    I'm not very impressed by your analytical skills here I have to say. And It's not the first time you're spewing out ignorant posts here on things about my country. My advice to you would be to make more research before posting things like this, otherwise you're making yourself into a fool sooner or later. Perhaps this tells more about the level of teaching and the education you got in the US than in Sweden. I was trained in school to base my arguments on good foundations at least.

  30. Another thing I felt the urge to correct you about. People aren't supposed to be equal at all costs in Sweden as you're trying to state. That would be just a ridiculous statement, to say the least. Nonetheless, everyone is supposed to have the same OPPORTUNITIES to education no matter if you're rich or poor in this country, a policy that Sweden has in common with many countries.
    That doesn't mean that everyone should do be on the same level all the time. No student is held back if she or her happens to excel in school. As a matter of fact, I have an old friend that I remember skipped a grade when he was in elementary school, that without getting grades. Every year there's a quite fierce competition between all the 9:th grade students when they apply with their grades for the gymnasium education they wish to study. That's more competition than you have in the States at that level where you just continue to high school without any special requirements. Some middle/junior and high schools in Sweden even offer elite level education, "spjutspetsutbildning" in maths or languages nowadays where the students are able to courses at gymnasium/college level.

  31. There's a reason why you have to study for four years to get a bachelor degree in the States while it only takes three years in the rest of the world. Well, if you play around for four years in high school you have to pay for it sooner or later. In the Us, sports and planning for the prom is apparantly more important than actual studies and to learn things. How is the time spent at the track & field gonna help you to cope with the college studies? Well, according to what I've read it's an obvious truth that it won't; One third of the college students in the US take remedial courses in maths or english. That tells something about the school system in the US. Another thing I've read is that vocational high school education is been looked down on in the US. In Obama's holy land everyone is apparantly supposed to become college students. EVERYONE. Even the students with bad grades are supposed to get a free ride! No problems. They can always get some credits from time spent with the high school basketball team! And of course take hundreds of hours of remedial maths and writing.. Talk about urging students to not let anyone stick out too much and delude them into wrong paths. In Sweden, at least we don't have any problems with admitting that everyone isn't made for college studies. Some are just better at fixing cars than doing differential calculations. On this topic it feels like Sweden is more America than America is itself.

  32. Giving grades from the sixth grade is only fraction of all the changes in the reform that took place last year. I'm for grades sure, but I think Sweden's biggest problem hasn't been the grading system. Instead I believe that the most important parts are a new and better teacher education with the introduction to teacher certificates to be required to be able to teach. A new nationally controlled education system to ensure that the same good educuation quality can offered all over the country supported by regular national testing. A new examination system with higher requirements to graduate and to get the college eligibility will also set the goals higher. Since a couple of years back a more more strict disciplinary system has also been implemented and has shown already to be very effective. The parents and students have to sign a contract where they concede to abide by the clear rules at the school and not to break them. If they still do, there will be stairs of arrangements, each one putting more pressure than the previous on the student if he/she continues to break the rules.

  33. Well, getting a written assessment in 7:th grade and getting my first grades in 8:th grade certainly didn't coddle me to an ill-prepared student for the science gymnasium I went to later. And you have to know that gymnasium in Sweden corresponds to an integrated program with mainly AP level courses, no matter what program you choose. It's standard here. So your airy little pseudo-scientific explanation for the decline is quite weak I'm afraid, as well as one-dimensional. Don't you ever do your homework with research?
    I had great teachers who put demands on me and held me back if they saw I didn't got things and had good communication with parents about. That's how I remember the time in school when I didn't get grades. I think that explanation lies closer to the cause of the decline than the lack of grades from early on. At least I'm a living proof that you're wrong about what you're stating.

  34. @seattlesarah & Hairy Swede -

    In Sweden the re-test system is used due to several reasons, and it's NOT to make as many students pass on the cost of education quality. This system doesn't make it easier the pass the course itself as the re-test is a completely different and harder test which makes it impossible to study only for the questions. I don't see what would make this system so inferior as you're trying to make it. If you screw up you have to take re-test anyway, no matter if you do it a month or a ten years after the first test, right?
    However. The government here pays for the university education, so it makes sense that they don't want students dragging along for more years than necessary. There's also another reason; Students who receive loans - where a smaller part is a grant of merely 2000 kr from CSN have a limit to how many credits they can miss before they're not entitled to the loan anymore. The student has to take 70% of the credits annually which puts some pressure on the student. But if would screw up anyway you have to make up for a whole semester (20 credits) before you can receive loans again. This can cause some economical problems for the student as it's often the only or main economical income for the moment.
    This is not like in the US where your parents save up a bunch of college money for you and you can just give a shit if you screw up on the first run because you know that your economy won't depend on your study results. Comparing the system used here with the system in the US is like comparing apples and oranges as they're based on two completely different foundations.
    The conclusion is that the system used here urges the student to finish the studies on time no matter the funding. Unless you're studying at a private school it won't be beneficial to anyone if the studies take longer to finish than normally. And as for the society this system is more effective as more students can finish on time and contribute as early as possible in the society.

    @Hairy Swede - I'm not sure why people at your course thought they could read the first test and study only for the questions. Either you misunderstood it all or the students actually could do it. But that's not my personal experience as a student for many years and that's not how it's supposed to work. If it was doable anyway it sounds like pretty worthless and crappy course you took. There are crappy educations everywhere, even in this country. To only study for one semester like you did doesn't make up much for a general conclusion on the quality of education here. I know several international students, including Americans, who found the studies here alot tougher and demanding than at their home universities. It all depends on so many things - everything from expectations to teaching methods and funding at the particular school you're attending.

  35. Lol. You're a quite funny guy HairySwede, with equally funny analyses I've noticed.. If I'd reason like you do, I'd think nobody in the US would be able to come up with the most basic reasonable analysis. My school in Sweden at least taught me to base my arguments on solid grounds and facts. I doubt yours did.
    I've never read so much biased bullshit in my whole life like here. But someone once said that people see what they want to see. Your "general conclusions" is a very good example that it's true indeed. People like you should just shut up for a while and go back to school for some remedial courses.

    First of all, people aren't supposed to be equal here, that would be just a ridiculous and stupid statement. However, everyone has the right to EQUAL EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES. That's something completely different and isn't unique for this country. In fact, it's the key for a society's progress over time. You should take a crash course in economical history as well I think. It's written in the school law here that every kid has right to reach as far as the personal abilities go, even the gifted ones. The gifted students can be offered advanced level educations from middle school level to gymnasium. ->

    From the first grade kids in Sweden recieve assessments in every subject twice a year and the teachers also have a couple of progress meetings in between with their parents to tell if the kids have reached the goals, by exceed, much above exceed or not etc. It does the same work as number grades in telling the progress, or even better. This makes the kids feel that they must improve all the time in a more efficient way by keeping more focus on themselves by that the communication is much better between the teacher, parent and the student which gives better feedback and faster remedial if needed. It's just that the grading isn's so much of a big deal here other than for importance to show the progress for the parents and their kid only.
    It's better to focus on the kid's own learning potential itself during the first years than make the kid getting distracted by comparing some numbers with other kids. That only tends to lead to studying for tests and shallow rote "learning" I think. Most kids also needs to learn HOW to learn first. You're supposed to learn for life, not only for a test. Look at Finland, they don't give number grades until 5:th grade there and yet they top the PISA tests. Compare it with the US who give out grades a little earlier in some states, yet end up as mediocre on the same PISA tests. The truth is that the US has been on the same mediocre level for the past 3 decades or so while spending most money in the world per student. Education is so much more than traditional number grades. How does number grades make a difference if the rest of the education sucks anyway?
    The decline has other reasons, such as introduction of free school choice, decentralization etc. I'm a product myself of a system where I didn't start recieving number grades until 8:th grade and think I've managed pretty well.
    Me and my friends went through technical gymnasium (corresponds to AP level science) without any problems so something must have been done right here.
    Also, before 1994 and the last reform, Sweden was topping the PISA tests.
    I'm not against number grades but I don't think it's that simple really, which I've just shown.

  36. So. I don't give much for your general conclusions about the overall school system here based on your very little personal experience from a few college courses and from your miserable friends. I hardly think there aren't any "crappy" educations in the US, because you can find those everywhere in the world, even in Sweden. However, from that point of view it's all subjective and you can't speak for everyone else. It doesn't say anything either about the general education quality, if there is one at all. One system simply doesn't fit all. It's much more relevant to look at results and statistics for the outcome in the end by comparing programs or courses between different schools than judging a whole school or system due to a few courses within a field at only one school. But people who are querulous and one dimensional like yourself tend to lean and almost search for their peers to justify their bad conclusions. From what I've heard and seen as a student for many years, the international students from all over the world I met were very pleased with their educations where I studied (Lund university and Lunds tekniska högskola). I remember I had a friend there who was a Canadian from Vancouver and he had no complaints whatsoever, rather the very opposite. One thing that can be held for true more often though, is that students at the university level in Sweden are held much more responible for their own studies in a larger extent than, for example in the US. It means less lectures in average but much more individual reading (thicker and more textbooks) but time for reflection, analysis and by that, deeper learning. It's also quite common that students defend their work in front other critically opposing students as a way to train their analysing skills and critical thinking on both sides.

    The re-test system doesn't work that way you described. First of all, the second test has totally DIFFERENT questions, is harder which can only give you a pass grade as highest (G). So it's not that you can go in and grab the first test to tactics-study for similar questions and think you will win on that. Forget that, it's only counter productive as also new courses get to begin during the time until second test which makes it even tougher to manage. On top of that you also lose the chance to do the re-test the same semester and decrease the chances to pass. So, it's only an disadvantage to the students if they choose to take the re-test only. However, students still fail despite hard studying and this system makes the students complete their courses faster that way, while also the knowledge is somewhat fresh in their minds. Another reason for this system is that many students here support themselves by loans and as a student you have to pass a certain limit of credits annually to continue to recieve loans. The re-test system makes that possible.
    It also saves alot of time and money for both the schools, that are government funded and the students, while it at the same time doesn't affect the performance among the students.

    Besides, the university and the high school systems are two different systems here and aren't comparable. However, what I do know is that a Swedish gymnasium education corresponds to something between highschool and 2 years at college in the US. Therefore the US college student has to spend 4 years to get a bachelor degree instead of 3 as in the rest of the world. Well, I guess you can figure out yourself the level of laxity in US high schools compared to gymnasiums in Sweden..

  37. "I'm an American student who just got back from a semester at Lund University. The re-tests and the grading system drove me crazy! At my home university, if you fail the final exam, you have to pay to take the class again, AND it isn't a pass/pail grading system, so every point counts. As a very good student who gets great grades at home and has never failed a class, I have to admit that when I knew that all my work only had to be good enough to pass (and that excellent work would only be rewarded by a "well pass", not a 4.0 or a similarly distinctive mark), I worked much less.

    My understanding is that, at least at the university level, since the Swedish government is paying for everyone's education, they want everyone to succeed. That makes some sense. Maybe in America it makes more sense to make a student retake a course, since the student is the one paying."


    The Swedish government isn't paying for the education, the Swedish taxpayers do.
    As for that, the taxpayers have already paid their dues for many re-tests to come.

    What drives you to study in the first place? To learn as much as possible? To get top grades or ace tests to show off for you friends and family? You seem to only do it for the latter which I think it's pretty sad for you.

    Systems with *too much* fixation with grades have been shown to hinder deep learning as it tends to move the incitement from gaining knowledge to just do it for the sole purpose of getting good grades. The students become less and less concerned about what they actually have learned as there's no incitement left to dig deeper and reflect more around what you have learned. It works like, as soon as the student has that A he will feel "ok, that's enough, now I can forget about it, I got an A after all!". But soon it has moved from from measuring quality to rather measuring quantity and knowledge inflation is the result. Conclusion; your top grades might say *nothing* about the actual quality of your education.
    The driving force should always be your own interest in assistance with good teachers who can challenge and lead you, not getting good grades alone as it may be deceiving
    and restrict you from learning more. Knowledge is something that's hard to evaluate in exact terms and *too much* emphasis on grades makes it counter productive.

    If you think that the people at your next job interview is going to stare blindly at your shiny top grades from college only and not care about much else, you're being very naive and probably haven't much experience with the complex reality.
    But you'll live and learn one day too I guess.

    Being American you seem to hold the general North American simple view on knowledge where quantity seems more important than quality and depth. I shouldn't blame you as it probably hold you in a vice grip. But it's no wonder that the public school results in US are more disastrous than ever. From what I've read it seems that you believe that kids will try harder they more you test them, ex more national tests etc. I wonder how. Has it improved the results then? Nope. Why is nobody focusing on the relevant things such as the actual learning content and how it relates to the demands and needs in the world around or the teachers' conditions to give them the confidence they need from your society? It's sad, VERY sad that you don't realize this as it will do more harm than good for your education.

  38. Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on this. Some interesting views. It did get a bit heated at times though.

    Anyway, everything I've written in this post was based on my own experiences and those of many many many friends and family who earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the Swedish higher education system.

    I will say though, that having taught at the university level for four years now, my overall views on education have changed. That being said, I still believe there are plenty of things that can be improved upon here in Sweden. And the same can be said for the US.

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