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How the shake-up of Sweden’s school curriculum could affect your children

Sweden's National Agency for Education (Skolverket) has presented proposals for changes to the school curriculum. Here's what parents need to know about the plans.

How the shake-up of Sweden's school curriculum could affect your children
Here's what parents and teachers should know about planned changes to the school curriculum. Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/

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The curriculum currently in place has been largely unchanged since 2011, and have received criticism from teachers, students and their parents that grading criteria can be hard to interpret.

The proposed changes have been split into three areas: changing knowledge requirements, better adapted central content, and an increased emphasis on factual knowledge.

Most of the proposals relate to the grundskola, Sweden's compulsory school which pupils attend for ten years between the ages of 6 and 16, but there are also updates for the gymnasieskola (the three-year high school), adult education, and schools for pupils who are hard of hearing or have other special educational needs.

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Changes have been put forward for the subjects which are compulsory (Visual Arts, Biology, English, Physics, Geography, Home and Consumer Education, History, Sport, Chemistry, Maths, Modern Languages, Music, Religious Education, Social Education, Crafts, Swedish, and Technology) as well as some subjects which are only taught in certain schools and/or to certain groups of students: Mother-tongue education, Swedish as a second language, Sign language, Sami, and Jewish Studies.

Skolverket said its main aims in these suggestions were to put more emphasis on factual knowledge, to improve accuracy in grading, and to adapt core content since teachers reported difficulties in teaching all compulsory areas within the time they had.

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Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Controversy over ancient history

The agency has, however, already scrapped one idea which was initially part of the proposal: to scrap ancient history from the curriculum. It had initially explained the decision by saying that there were not enough teaching hours for history to cover all the content currently included in the curriculum; during the three years of högstadiet, there are roughly 25 teaching hours for history each year. But after widespread criticism, the agency announced just a few days later that it would keep ancient history and find an alternative solution.

“Everyone has agreed that there are not enough hours for the subject of history. We chose, as one of several possible solutions, to remove ancient history [from the curriculum]. There have been many reactions, but those we listen to above all are history teachers and we can already see that we need to find another solution,” Anna Westerholm, head of Skolverket's curriculum department, said in a statement.

She admitted that finding an appropriate solution would be “a hard nut to crack”.

Skolverket reiterated that retaining the current history syllabus was “not an option” and has called for input from history teachers.


A change to grading 

The grading system itself would not be changed under the proposals, but Skolverket hopes that the grading process will become more fair and accurate. Swedish grades are awarded from A-F, with A the highest grade and A-E all counted as 'pass' grades. These grades are awarded at the end of each school term (only in the subjects the student was taught in that term, and during högstadiet only at the end of a course), starting with the autumn term of Grade 6. 

The agency plans to change so-called 'knowledge requirements' (kunskapskraven). These are the things which students are required to know in order to receive a certain grade, and Skolverket said the current system led to students getting very low grades just because certain details of the knowledge requirements weren't met.

Photo: Jonas Ekströmer / TT

For example, rather than requiring students to show how the “social, media, judicial, economic and political structures in society” are structured and how they function (as in the current syllabus for social studies), they will be required to show “knowledge of conditions and structures in society” and give examples of “connections within and between different social structures”.

So in the new proposals, knowledge requirements are “less extensive, contain fewer details and are formulated in a simpler way”, Skolverket said. This is intended to ensure students receive grades that accurately reflect their understanding of a subject, and that teachers can focus less on having to teach specific details in order to reach a grade.

The knowledge requirements are outlined for grades A, C, and E only. A B grade is awarded if students meet all of the requirements for C and some of those for A, while a D grade is awarded if students meet all of the requirements for E and some of those for C, and an F grade is given if a student does not meet the requirements for E.

Knowledge over abilities

One change that occurs throughout the proposed curriculum is a greater use of the term “knowledge of” rather than the term “ability to”. This change is meant to increase the emphasis on subject knowledge. This change has been made mostly in the lower grades, based on research showing that children improve their skills to reason and analyze as they get older.

Call for feedback

Skolverket has requested feedback on its proposals, particularly from teachers, which can be submitted via its website.

After this referral period ends on October 23rd, the agency will make adjustments and submit its final proposals in December to the government, which is ultimately responsible for making any changes to the school curriculum.

Any changes which are introduced will apply from the start of the academic year 2020/21, although students who begin grade 9 that year (or grade 10 in schools for those with special educational needs) may complete their grundskola education according to the existing syllabuses.

You can read more on Skolverket's website (in Swedish only) and submit your feedback to the agency here.

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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.