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COVID-19

What Sweden’s foreign residents think of the country’s plans to re-open

After the Swedish government announced plans to go ahead with the fourth step of its five-stage re-opening plan from the end of September, The Local asked our readers what they thought of the move to lift most remaining restrictions.

What Sweden's foreign residents think of the country's plans to re-open
Restrictions are being lifted for restaurants and events, but our readers said the return to the office would be the most significant change. Photo: Alena Darmel/Pexels

“My first reaction to this question is, what restrictions? From the moment I arrived in Sweden, in August from my home in California, I was shocked that no one in Malmö where I am staying wears masks or practises distancing,” said Robin, a reader from the US.

“We are extremely careful in northern California, even with 80 percent vaccination rate. We never go inside someone’s home, a store, or ride in a car without a mask. I have been back and forth to Denmark several times, including when I crossed into Sweden after arriving at CPH, and never encountered any Covid checkpoints. Covid protocols seem symbolic at best (a neglected bottle of alcohol here and there, a few plexi barriers). For a time I wore a mask inside stores but I was usually the only one. I soon concluded there was no point, as wearing a mask is to protect others. I now put trust in my Moderna vaccine and pray I don’t get Covid while I am in Sweden,” said Robin.

William, an Irish engineer, was another of our readers who felt the remaining restrictions were lax. “From a public health perspective it feels premature [to remove the rules on events and restaurants], but the restrictions here were so tame that I don’t think it will make much of a difference to people’s behaviour. During the pandemic I rarely saw masks or social distancing,” he commented.

“Having come from a country with much more restrictions [than Sweden] I feel lucky to be able to move around as much as I am already. Lifting restrictions further seems premature and unnecessary given the economy seems to be doing OK, all things considered,” a reader from the Philippines, who asked to remain anonymous, told the survey.

Mia, a reader from Spain, wrote: “In Sweden, specially the youth population, has lived a very unreal approach to this traumatic event. My Swedish neighbour told me ‘It’s horrible what’s happening in your country; we’re very lucky Sweden has chosen not to act so dramatically’. As if Covid wasn’t hitting Sweden alike.”

The rules being removed from September 29th include limits on numbers of attendees permitted at public events (currently set at 300 for indoor seated events and 3,000 for outdoor seated events) as well as all restrictions for restaurants (such as a limit of eight people per group, and one-metre minimum distance between groups). Sweden was one of few countries not to use mask-wearing as a significant component in its strategy, but did recommend their use on public transport during weekday rush hour between January and the start of July.

A reader who asked to remain anonymous said they felt exhilarated, saying: “I will have the possibility to return to the office, enjoy public gatherings, bars and shows. It feels like we are seeing the light at the end on a too long tunnel.”

And Jeremie, originally from France, wrote of the changes: “It’s about time! About 80 percent of the population [over the age of 16] vaccinated, hardly any deaths anymore, only cases… what are we trying to prevent? We will probably never know exactly, but I am curious to know how much long-term damage the restrictions for the past year and a half will have done… It might be bigger than the damage from Covid-19 itself. I am not talking about Sweden in particular, which had some of the lightest restrictions.”

When we asked our readers how the changes would affect their day-to-day life, the most commonly mentioned change was a return to the workplace full-time, with one reader saying the lifting of restrictions left her scared of “infection from colleagues”. Since spring 2020, a recommendation has been in place for workers who can do so to work from home as much as possible, though this has not been legally enforced. This recommendation will also be lifted from September 29th.

Of those who were feeling anxious about the change, several raised concerns about having large events without a requirement for a negative Covid-19 test or vaccine pass.

“If they implemented a vaccine pass to some of these events, it might work, but a crowded venue or stadium is hardly a good idea right now. Just because we all want the pandemic to be over, doesn’t mean it is,” noted Andrea, from Canada.

“I would feel better about it if there were some kind of safety measures in terms of rapid testing or showing a vaccination certificate to enter events or restaurants, like other countries, eg Germany are doing,” added a student in Uppsala who asked to be anonymous. She was concerned that without this precaution, cases could spread quickly, including due to unvaccinated groups and children.

“Even if they do not end up in hospital they can develop long Covid, which I think is not taken into account enough in this decision. Personally, even though I am fully vaccinated I still wear a mask in all shops and also when sitting in class at university (where I am the only one doing so),” she added.

She was one of several readers who mentioned concern over current and potential future variants of the virus. “I feel concerned regarding new variants like Delta, but I guess it is like [Swedish state epidemiologist, Anders] Tegnell said once: we need to learn how to live with this disease,” another reader, a Brazilian developer, said.

Meanwhile, several of our readers pointed out that while most restrictions will be lifted in autumn, one key area has remained strictly regulated throughout the pandemic: travel. While Swedish citizens and residents can travel to and from the country with no requirement for isolation, people from many non-EU countries are banned from entry.

“The government should look into allowing those who are fully vaccinated into Sweden. A lot of people’s family members especially from outside the EU cannot visit because even though they are vaccinated they are banned from entry, yet people from Sweden can go there,” said British reader Rachel. 

The Local’s survey was not scientific, but we received responses from people from a range of ages, nationalities, locations in Sweden and professions. We closed our survey when we reached 70 responses and the quotes included in this article were chosen as representative. Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond. Even if we did not include your comment, your response helps guide our future reporting.

Member comments

  1. I am a little bit disappointed with this compilation of opinions as it contains many sceptical and critical opionions but but hardly any greatful and optimistic ones. I wrote a very positive statement which was not included and wonder if other positive statements were ignored on purpose too so that the article rather reflects the optionion of the author and editor and not the majority of people asked.
    And there is something like a proof for this: just look at how many people willingly wear masks in if they are not mandated: hardly anyone. Therefore I believe that the vast majority strongly appreciates re-opening steps that are clearly justified through low numbers in hospitalization and deaths.

    1. Hi Markus,

      We can’t include every comment we receive on our surveys due to volume, but we do make sure that the comments included in articles accurately represent the range of comments we received overall. We also made the survey paywall-free to aim to reach as wide a range of people as possible.

      Usually we include at least one compulsory multiple choice question in each survey so we can give a summary of the overall breakdown of views (see paragraphs 2-3 in this article: https://www.thelocal.se/20201204/readers-reveal-how-do-swedens-international-residents-feel-about-the-coronavirus-response/), but unfortunately that didn’t work this time (we used a new survey tool) so we couldn’t include this type of breakdown.

      As the article notes, it’s not a scientific survey. It’s possible that people who have stronger feelings might feel more motivated to fill out the survey, for example.

      I hope that addresses your concerns and helps explain how we work with reader surveys.

  2. All content of this article come from only the people who scare from this imaginary virus 🦠 and they can’t see what damages these unnecessary restrictions will have to our children and many generation to come. If we don’t stop all this nonsense we will end up in a very difficult situation. Please read the real statistics and facts and don’t follow and listen to media who is run by devil minded elites.

        1. Good advice.

          I am surprised it’s not yet censored on youtube. They mostly delete the videos with the critical voices.

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READER INSIGHTS

What schools do foreigners in Sweden send their children to and are they happy?

Most foreign parents in Sweden told The Local's survey they take advantage of the country's school choice system and send their children to international schools, or to private or non-profit free schools. Here's what they think of the quality of teaching.

What schools do foreigners in Sweden send their children to and are they happy?

Our survey was not scientific, but out of the 157 people who responded before we closed it, 65 (41 percent) sent their child or children to a standard municipally-run school which did not offer an international programme as part of their teaching. More than a third (34 percent) sent their child to an international school offering the International Baccalaureate diploma (which could be municipal, private, or non-profit).

Almost a quarter (39 respondents, 24.4 percent) sent their children to a profit-making free school. And almost a fifth (29 respondents, 18 percent) sent their child or children to a free school run by a non-profit organisation.

The survey was carried out as part of The Local’s investigation into schools in Sweden. We’ve previously published interviews with foreign teachers at the IES (Internationella Engelska Skolan, International English School) free school chain herehere, and here, and are now looking into other schools as well.

Since the “free school reform” in 1992, private and non-profit companies have been able to run schools in Sweden, with the state paying them for each pupil educated. 

The system has come under growing criticism over the past ten years.

This has partly been due to a decline in the performance of Swedish pupils compared to those of other countries in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The system of school choice has been blamed for increasing segregation. 

In the run-up to September’s election, schools are likely to be one of the big issues. 

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson looks set to campaign on a pledge to ban free schools – dismissed as marknadsskolan, “schools driven by market forces” – from siphoning off profits. 

“The school system we have in Sweden today, which is unique in the world and no other country has chosen to imitate, is a system which essentially drives increased segregation,” she said in an interview in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper at the end of last month. 

“Researchers are pretty much unanimous about that. Pupils with the worst prospects are collected together in one school and those with better prospects in another.”  

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of the centre-left Social Democrat party. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Swedish schools too slow 

The most common complaint from parents who answered the survey was that the pace of education at municipality-run schools was too slow, and the level of academic demands placed on their children too low. 

“[It’s] very slow-paced,” complained a US mother living in Uppsala. [The] education is several years behind grade level in the US.” 

Mangla Sekhri, an Indian mother and IT director based in Stockholm, said she had pulled her children out of the local municipality school after a year and moved them to a school run by the IES chain.

“[I] just couldn’t continue due to [the] slow pace there. It was very slow, but now at IES things are much better-paced.” 

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“The only thing which bothers me is lower expectations on the kids, compared to Poland where we come from,” said a Polish respondent. 

“She’s ahead of the other children because she’d already finished two years of school in Guernsey. They don’t give her learning materials of a high enough level without us asking them to,” complained a father from the British Isles. 

Better integration at municipal schools 

For those who had chosen to send their children to a standard, municipality-run school, the big attraction was better integration, both in Sweden and in their local neighbourhood. 

“Their peers and friends at the school are generally their neighbours as well, [so it’s] easy to hang out with school friends,” said an American living on Sweden’s northwest coast, whose four children all went through the local municipal school. 

“My now eight-year-old daughter learned Swedish within months. One year on, she’s completely fluent. She has also made many Swedish friends and has playdates several days a week,” said a British father living in Gävle. 

“If you are an immigrant and planning to settle down in Sweden then municipal schools are good options for your child to learn Swedish quickly,” agreed a dad from Bangladesh, living in Malmö. 

More flexibility and better discipline at private schools

Many of those who had chosen to send their children to a privately-run free school seemed to prize the additional flexibility and better discipline they offered. 

“My child was already three years ahead academically and was very bored in lessons (had already learned everything in maths and science in the UK), so IES let him attend higher years group classes in these subjects,” reported an English respondent living in the middle of Sweden. 

“Free schools have stricter discipline and they focus more on studies,” said a mother from Sri Lanka whose child went to a school run by the Kunskapskolan chain. 

“I like the discipline and all the support that teachers give to the students,” said a mother whose child goes to a school run by IES. 

A parent whose child went to a school run by the AcadeMedia chain, said they were drawn by the additional subjects, such as music and theatre, on offer. 

Better possibilities to study internationally and move schools if posted elsewhere

Those who chose to send their children to schools running the International Baccalaureate programme did so either because they liked the programme’s more demanding curriculum or because they were only on a short or medium-term posting to Sweden and wanted to make it easier for their children to shift their education to a new country. 

One parent, whose child went to the British International School of Stockholm, cited the “ease of transferring to a new school when moving to a new country”, and “exposure to different cultures and points of view” as advantages. 

“I love the IB. It’s one of the best but also most challenging educational systems in the world and this is widely recognised,” said one parent, whose child goes to the international school run by the Bladins Foundation in Malmö.

“Here in Malmö, the big risk is that there are no options for the final years outside the one school. If your child doesn’t achieve the academic standard required, then you are screwed.” 

Who was happiest with their choice of school? 

There was little variation in parent satisfaction between those who sent their children to a municipal, private or international school. 

The parents who sent their children to standard municipal schools rated their school on average at 7.7 out of 10. Those who sent their children to a privately run free school rated their school at 8.2, while those who sent their children to a school run by a non-profit organisation rated their children’s school the highest at 8.6. 

Those whose children went to a school running the International Baccalaureate programme rated the school on average at 8.3. 

There was slightly more variation between types of schools when parents broke down their ratings, with standard municipal schools falling further behind on the level of discipline parents perceived at their children’s schools, and also on the quality of extra-curricular activities.

  Overall Teaching Happiness of child Discipline Extra-curricular
Standard municipal 7.7 7.4 8.3 7.1 6.6
For-profit 8.2 8 8.5 7.9 7.4
Non-profit 8.6 8.6 9 8.5 7.1
International school 8.25 8.2 8.8 8 7.3

Which individual schools/chains came out tops? 

The schools which won the highest approval rating tended to be the international schools run by non-profit foundations, such as British International School Stockholm, Bladins International in Malmö, The English School Gothenburg, Sigtunaskolan, and Stockholm International School (although note that there were only one to three respondents for each of these schools). 

When it came to the for-profit free school chains, there was more variation, with some parents loving their children’s schools and others disappointed. 

Four parents sending their children to the IES chain gave the school ten out of ten, but two IES parents gave their school four or five out of ten. It was a similar story with the Kunskapskolan chain, where one parent gave an eight, another a four.

“The best thing about my child’s school is how respectful the children are towards each other,” send one parent who sent her child to an IES school. “There is a culture of the children being kind and supportive of each other. The teachers have all been amazing, and it’s been really interesting for my child to meet teachers from a huge variety of different countries.” 

Several IES parents also praised how well organised their child’s school was, with high standards of cleanliness and discipline. 

“I chose IES because the school inculcates the right values that I would like my children to have – discipline, respect for teachers, diligence in studying, academic excellence,” one wrote. 

“The staff seem genuinely interested in our concerns. The kids enjoy being there and enjoy learning,” wrote another. 

On the negative side, one noted that “teachers are not paid as well as [at] public schools”, another that “teachers are very often changing”, and another that “no proper curriculum [had been] followed”. 

In general, the most dissatisfied parents had children at municipal schools, perhaps because they were less likely to have actively chosen them. Ten respondents gave their municipality-run school a four or five overall. 

“[There is] nothing to do in their free time and an extremely low level of teaching,” complained one parent, while another complained of “incompetent staff with a lack of social-emotional intelligence”, and another of “extremely large classes”. 

“I’m not entirely sure of the quality of the education,” wrote one Irish parent. “At least one of the teachers seems to think the Republic of Ireland is part of the UK.” 

A particular complaint about municipal schools was the way teachers seemed unwilling to use imaginative and engaging teaching methods. “Some teachers are not able to engage the class with interesting teaching methods,” complained an Australian father. 

Given the level of variation in answers to The Local’s questionnaire between both the best and worst municipality-run schools and the best and worst schools run by the free school chains, it is clearly important to talk to local parents about which school in your area of Sweden seems best. 

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