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EDUCATION

Explained: What Sweden’s new curriculum will mean for your children

Sweden's government today approved a new school curriculum which will come into force next July. Here's what parents need to know about the plans.

Explained: What Sweden's new curriculum will mean for your children
Sweden's Education Minister Anna Ekström announcing the new curriculum on Friday. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

What is Sweden's school curriculum? 

In the Swedish school system, what is taught at primary and lower secondary school, grundskola, is governed by 'course plans', kursplaner, and 'teaching plans', läroplaner, while what is taught at upper secondary schools is governed by 'subject plans', ämnesplaner.

Why was there a need to change the curriculum?  

The curriculum currently in place is little changed from that brought in under the previous centre-right Alliance government in 2011.

That curriculum has been criticised by teachers, students and their parents for having confusing and complicated criteria for grading and guides for teaching that can be hard to interpret.

Imprecise and confusing curriculums and lessons plans make teachers' jobs more difficult and reduce the possibility of pupils to understand what they're supposed to learn,” Sweden's education minister Anna Ekström said at a press conference announcing the changes. 

She also said that both parents and teachers had long complained that the previous curriculum demanded and unrealistic level of analysis from pupils of an early age. 

“I know that there are many parents who have been astonished when they have seen what demands are made on the ability to analyse at low ages for children,” she said.

At the press conference, Ekström complained that the existing curriculum also failed to make clear enough differences between what knowledge was required in subjects at different levels, leading to repetition and a lack of clarity. 

She said that the previous curriculum also led to what she called stoffsträngsel, or 'contents congestion' – that it included so many details and requirements that it was impossible for teachers to get through in the hours provided. 


Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

So what's been changed? 

The new curriculum, announced in a press release on Friday, is more concise, with a greater emphasis on factual knowledge and understanding, and less emphasis on pupils' ability to research and analyse themselves.

Back in 2011, some educationalists felt that near-universal access to the internet had made factual knowledge less important than the ability to research and assess information.

Ekström said the new curriculum brought a renewed emphasis on factual knowledge and understanding.   

That knowledge is a good in and of itself is put forward much more clearly than it was the former curriculum,” she said at a press conference announcing the changes. “There is a clear focus from the government that it should be knowledge and understanding which is the focus of Swedish schools.” 

She said that the new curriculum was also clearer and more concise. 

“We have tried to concentrate the contents, take out the unnecessary examples — that’s something teachers can and do provide themselves,” she said. 

The requirement for students to carry out their own analysis will increase with age, while the knowledge requirements have been made less detailed and extensive, making them easier for teachers to use. 

In addition, the content will now differ more clearly between different year groups and courses. 

Who is responsible for changing the curriculum? 

The curriculum has been written by the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket), but the change in focus was demanded under the January agreement struck between the Social Democrat, Green, Centre and Liberal parties

This stated that “course and teaching plans should be revised to strengthen the emphasis on knowledge and factual knowledge, and to encourage diligence and ambition”. 

The decision to approve Skolverket's final proposal, which was submitted in December, was made by Sweden's two-party red-green coalition together with the Centre and Liberal parties. 


Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

What was the criticism last year about? 

When Skolverket submitted its first proposal last autumn it was sharply criticised for the decision to leave out ancient history, the bible, the psalms and the national anthem. 

There was also concern that the curriculum required pre-teens to do “advanced literary analysis”. 

Both of these criticisms have been met in the final curriculum agreed between the four parties, with ancient history and the bible back in and the level of required literary criticism scaled back. 

Requirements for grades clearer and less specific 

The grading system itself will 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.
 
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.
 
What happens now? 
 
Skolverket will now look at the amount of hours assigned to each subject and analyse how this needs to be changed to allow teachers to teach the new curriculum, with history, in particular, likely to require more hours than given to it at present. 
 
Rather than increase the total number of hours of tuition, hours are likely to be trimmed from other subjects to make way for topics like ancient history and the bible. 
 
Skolverket has been asked to provide the new teaching timetable, with the hours assigned to each subject by March. 
 
The new curriculum is then set to come into force at the start of next July, with pupils beginning to be taught under it the following August.

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EDUCATION

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. 

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