Government acts on immigration and education

Sweden Says is a new series in which we look at what the Swedish papers are saying about the major issues making the news in Sweden. This week, David Landes surveys reactions to proposed new reforms in the areas of immigration and education.

Among the many stories reported on by The Local this week, two in particular have generated a great deal of attention on the opinion pages of Swedish papers.

Both stories reported on government proposals in key policy areas: education and immigration—areas in which the reform-minded Alliance government has been particularly active.

As written up in The Local on Wednesday, Sweden’s Minister of Education has proposed reforms to how Swedish school children are graded. If Jan Björklund has his way, in a few years Swedish students will receive As, Bs, and Cs for their work, rather than the current MVG, VG, and G starting from grade 6.

For those unfamiliar with Sweden’s current grading system, the marks can be translated as follows:

MVG (mycket väl godkänd) = very high pass

VG (väl godkänd) = high pass

G (godkänd) = pass

IG (icke godkänd) = fail

Of the four dailies that chose to write about Björklund’s proposal in their main editorials, only one—Aftonbladet—was overtly critical of the new grading system.

In describing its support for the new system, Göteborgs-Posten (GP) emphasized the advantages of a more “nuanced” grading system noting that having more tiers allowed students to “more easily move up to a visibly higher level.”

Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) echoed those sentiments in more concrete terms.

“It can feel overwhelming for a student to improve from a G to a VG, whereas it appears within the realm of possibility to move from an E to a D,” writes SvD.

“Clear information also drives ambition,” added GP, further echoing the government’s line that the new system will provide more accurate feedback about students’ performance which in turn can help motivate them to improve.

But according to tabloid Aftonbladet, the new grading system is unlikely to be the key to success in the classroom, as the proposal’s supporters claim.

“Students who today are successful will also be successful when their success is given an A, and students with difficulties are not going to have it easier because their failures are marked by an F,” writes Aftonbladet.

The tabloid criticizes the proposal further, asserting that the changes would pull teachers out of the classroom and into meetings about the new standards, thus leaving them with less time for their students.

Aftonbladet also worries that the new scale signifies further that Alliance education policy puts too much emphasis on ranking students against one another, thus exacerbating the esteem problems of low performers.

GP acknowledges and dismisses similar concerns, seeing the fears of students getting discouraged by low marks as overblown. According to GP, “it’s important that students and parents clearly see early on whether there is a risk that students aren’t making the grade.”

Reaction was also strong to a government suggestion that immigrants achieve a measure of economic stability before seeking Swedish residency for their relatives.

As reported in The Local on Thursday, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Migration Minister Tobias Billström have proposed that immigrants must demonstrate “appropriate housing” and a “steady means of support” before their relatives would be allowed to migrate to Sweden.

The lead opinion piece in SvD praises the Alliance government for talking bold steps to update Sweden’s immigration policies from a system the paper sees as having “led to a sense of being left out, where immigrants’ dreams have been crushed with amazing precision, and at the cost of widespread public dissatisfaction.”

The job and housing demand proposal is a “big step,” according to SvD. The new demands would “increase the driving force to settle in areas where there are jobs and tolerable conditions. More will take responsibility. The relatives that do eventually move here will find better conditions in which to build a dignified life.”

In stating its support for the proposal, Expressen points out that only two EU countries currently lack similar demands of new immigrants—Belgium and Sweden. It argues that the proposal will reduce the number of immigrants coming to Sweden because of family ties, but also admits that the approach is difficult.

“Every limitation of people’s right to stay in Sweden is an extremely tough question and nothing to be happy about,” it writes. “Nevertheless, the government’s proposal appears to be an appropriate compromise and fits with EU standards from which we cannot diverge too far.”

Meanwhile, the editorial board at GP is more skeptical toward the suggestion, asserting that “the proposal has advantages, but it is far from clear that they outweigh the disadvantages.” GP asks the reader—and the civil servants who will be tasked with flushing out the proposal in detail—to put themselves in the position of being an immigrant in another country.

“We can’t place tougher burdens on foreign residents in Sweden than what we would accept for Swedes overseas,” the paper writes. “We all ought to ask ourselves how long we are prepared to live apart from our children if the world was to fall apart and we were forced to seek protection in say, Kurdistan.”

Criticism from Aftonbladet was even more pointed, with the tabloid writing that the proposal represents an “inhumane policy.” Aftonbladet argues for additional resources to help new immigrants get acclimated to Sweden, along with a renewed engagement with respect to the job market.

The government has chosen to start at the other end, writes Aftonbladet by “suggesting rules that are going to split families and in many cases worsen social exclusion.”

Where the main newspapers stand

Dagens Nyheter, “independently liberal” broadsheet, Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Svenska Dagbladet, “independently liberal-conservative” broadsheet,

Stockholm-based, owned by Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Göteborgs-Posten, “independently liberal” broadsheet,

Gothenburg-based, owned by the Stampen media group.

Sydsvenska Dagbladet (Sydsvenskan), “independently liberal” broadsheet, Malmö-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Aftonbladet, “independently Social Democrat” tabloid, Stockholm-based, owned by trade union federation LO and Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Expressen, “independently liberal” tabloid, Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

For members


Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

While Covid infections are rising across Europe, Spain has managed to keep cases and hospitalisations low so far this autumn. But there are already signs things may be changing. 

people walk without masks on ramblas barcelona during covid times
Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave but will there be a sixth wave? Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Coronavirus cases have been rising quickly across Europe since October but not so in Spain, which has maintained one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation and death rates on the continent. 

According to prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain could well be on the verge of reaching herd immunity, a statement the country’s Health Minister tends to agree with.  

READ ALSO: Has Spain almost reached herd immunity?

Add the favourable epidemiological indicators to the almost 80 percent rate of full vaccination of Spain’s entire population and the immunity claim doesn’t seem so far-fetched. 

But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught governments around the world – or should have – is to not assume Covid-19 can be eradicated after a few encouraging weeks. 

Not that Spain is letting down its guard, the general public continues to take mask wearing in indoor spaces seriously (outdoors as well even though not required in many situations) and there are still some regional restrictions in place. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

And yet, Covid infections are on the rise again, although not at the pace seen during previous waves of the virus. 

On Thursday November 4th Spain re-entered the Health Ministry’s “medium risk” category after the national fortnightly infection rate surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 people.

From Friday 5th to Monday 8th, it climbed five more points up to 58 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

It’s the biggest rise since last July but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, especially as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low and steady.

A closer look at the stats shows that 1.52 percent of hospital beds across the country are currently occupied by Covid patients, 4.41 percent in the case of ICU beds. 

Daily Covid deaths in October were under 20 a day, the lowest rate since August 2020. 

With all this in mind, is a sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain at all likely?

According to a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Spain will have a sixth wave.

The Seattle-based research group predicts an increase in infections in Spain from the second half of November, which will skyrocket in December reaching the highest peak towards the end of the year. 

The country would reportedly need about 24,000 beds for Covid patients (4,550 for critical ones) and there would be almost 2,000 deaths. 

Increased social interactions would mean that on December 30th alone, daily Covid infections in Spain could reach 92,000, the study claims. 

If restrictions were tightened ahead of the holiday period, including the use of face masks, the sixth wave’s peak wouldn’t be as great, IHME states

It’s worth noting that the IHME wrongly predicted that Spain wouldn’t be affected by a fifth wave whereas it ended up causing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths. 

two elderly women in san sebastian during covid times
The vaccination rate among over 70s in Spain is almost 100 percent. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

The latest message from Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias is that currently “the virus is cornered” in the country, whilst admitting that there was a slight rise in cases. 

“I do not know if there will be a sixth wave, but first we must remember that immunisation is not complete in all patients despite vaccinations,” Dr. José Polo , president of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), told El Periódico de España

“That’s because 100 percent effectiveness doesn’t exist in any drug, or in any medicine”.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, Spain still has around 4.2 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated, mostly people aged 20 to 40. 

The majority of Covid hospitalisations across Spain are patients who have not been vaccinated: 90 percent in the Basque Country, 70 percent in Catalonia and 60 percent in Andalusia.

Among Covid ICU patients, 90 percent of people in critical condition across all regions are unvaccinated. 

“Although there are many people vaccinated in Spain, there will be an increase in cases because we know how the virus is transmitted and when the cold comes and the evenings are darker we will tend to go indoors, and the virus spreads there,” Cesar Carballo, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine of Madrid, told La Sexta news.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned that Europe is at a  “critical point of regrowth”  and that it has once again become the “epicentre”  of the pandemic, due to the generalised spike in cases in recent weeks.

Does that mean that Spain’s daily infections won’t be in the thousands again as winter nears? Or that regional governments won’t reintroduce Covid measures ahead of Christmas to prevent this from happening?

Nothing is for certain, but as things stand Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave seems unlikely, but not impossible.

The Spanish government continues to push ahead with its vaccination campaign, reopening its vaccination centres, administering booster shots to its most vulnerable and considering vaccinating under 12s to meet an immunity target of 90 percent.