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Article

The Swedish Assessment Reform of 2011: A Reform in Constant Need of Ad Hoc Adjustment and Clarification  

Christian Lundahl

Curriculum and assessment systems are tightly connected, both in theory and practice. However, this is not always the case when it comes to curriculum and assessment reforms. This has created major problems for teachers and in the implementation of the reforms from a governing point of view. Sweden was one of the first countries to adopt a management-by-objectives curriculum and assessment system. The case of Sweden illustrates some of the problems that arose as a consequence of not seeing the close connection between curriculum and assessments when reforming the educational system. The ongoing reform of management by objectives that started in the early 1990s has been adjusted several times since and has most recently been considered as a parallel curriculum and assessment reform. Teachers have not been involved throughout the shaping and implementation of this reform, but they have instead been seen as troublesome learners of how to work in a management-by-objectives system. This has led to constant revisions, production of supporting materials, and ad hoc policies. However, in 2018 there was a shift in reform strategies in relation to curriculum, syllabi, and grading revisions, where teachers became much more involved in the reform than they had in the preceding decades. So far it is inconclusive how these changes will affect the work of the teachers and the pupils’ learning; there has evidently been a case of “system’s learning.”

Article

Imaginaries of Inclusion in Swedish Education  

Gunnlaugur Magnússon and Daniel Pettersson

Traditionally, Swedish education has been built on, and enhanced by, notions and priorities of democracy, equity, and inclusion. In fact, Sweden’s education system has often, during the 20th century, been raised as a beacon of inclusion. However, from the 1990s onwards Swedish education is gradually transmogrified into a heavily marketized system with several providers of education, an emphasis on competition, and an escalating segregation, both as regards pupil backgrounds, need for special support, educational attainment, and provision of educational materials and educated teachers. This shows that traditional educational ideals have shifted and been given new meanings. These shifts are based on desires to improve performance and new ideas of control and predictability of educational ends. The historical development of education reforms illustrates how priorities have shifted over time, dependent on how the public and private are conceptualized. In particular, education reforms from the 1990s and onwards have gradually been more attached to connotations on market ideals of competition, efficiency, and individualization, making inclusion a secondary and de-prioritized goal of education, creating new educational dilemmas within daily life in schools. An empirical example of principals’ experience—seen as mediators of educational desires—illustrates these dilemmas and how the marketization of education affects both the political understanding of how education is best organized and the prioritization of previously valued ambitions of coherence and inclusion.

Article

Network Ethnography as an Approach for the Study of New Governance Structures in Education  

Catarina Player-Koro

Network ethnography was first developed for the study of organizations built around digital media, and is an amalgam of different research methods derived from traditional ethnography and social network analysis. It was then further adapted to study contemporary policy mobility and governance structures, and could be summarized as an adaptation of ethnographic methods to the way contemporary organizations and associations are working due to the globalization and digitalization of society. Network ethnography involves a mapping of the policy field under study using techniques from social network analysis. Data production and analysis of mobilities and interactions within the network are conducted with network ethnography, a method that shares the fundamental principle of ethnography as a tradition. This allows the researcher to analyze network activities and evolutions, how social relations are established and performed, and how policy is being moved—and fixed—through these activities.

Article

Sweden and Education as a Market  

Lisbeth Lundahl

Since the late 1970s, the relationship between the state, the public sector, and the economy has undergone a profound transformation globally toward privatization, commercialization, and market organization. Pronounced marketization of education has occurred even in the Nordic countries, traditionally characterized as having social democratic/universalistic and egalitarian welfare systems, but with considerable national variations. Sweden has caught international attention by introducing unusually far-reaching, state-supported privatization of educational provision and strong incentives for school choice and competition. Central issues addressed include the factors associated with the exceptionally swift and far-reaching market reforms in Sweden, as well as the persistence of the resulting system and its consequences according to current research. A hasty reform decision, paucity of envisioned alternatives, and the appeal of school choice for an expanding middle-class contributed to the neoliberal turn in Swedish education politics. Generous rules of establishment and possibilities of profit-making attracted big businesses, particularly after the decision in the mid-1990s to fully tax-fund independent “free” schools. Within a 10-year period, substantial proportions of the schools were owned and run by large, profit-making companies and chains. Research has shown that the school choice and privatization reforms, besides providing parents and young people in the urban areas with a vast smorgasbord of schools, have fueled growing educational inequity and segregation since the 1990s. Despite increasing criticism of the design of school choice and profit-making in education from many sides, recently even from conservative–liberal media and politicians, the Swedish “market school system” persists and flourishes.

Article

Urban Inequalities in Swedish Schools  

Nihad Bunar

Segregation, aspects of school choice policy, and symbolic representations are principal structural traits, although not the only ones, that generate and sustain the system of differences and urban inequalities in Swedish schools. Pertinent to all three traits are objectively and symbolically constructed boundaries between places, institutions, and groups. Segregation in an urban context means not just a physical separation of groups with unequal access to material resources and the means of their acquisition (education, network), but also a symbolic collapse of a society into place-making dichotomies: we and them, Swedes and immigrants, suburbs and inner-cities. Assets ostensibly appreciated in the school market, such as a good school and a positive school culture, express the arbitrary nature of their symbolic construction. What is recognized as a good school is equally a matter of statistical figures proving its competitiveness and the assumed qualities of its student composition. Major policy interventions for reducing urban inequalities in schools could be divided into two segments: (a) the reinforcement-oriented policy provides additional support to schools and students in structurally disadvantaged areas, for example, more school personnel, higher salaries for teachers, more teachers in Swedish as a second language; (b) the close down and disperse-oriented policy identifies the very existence of schools with persistently low results in urban contexts as an inequality generating factor. Consequently, in the name of integration and reducing inequalities, those schools are increasingly being closed down and their students dispersed elsewhere. Neither policy has proven its capacity to unwaveringly address urban inequalities in Swedish schools.

Article

The Origin and Development of Comprehensive School Reforms in Sweden and Other Nordic Countries  

Ulf Blossing

The Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) have all based their school systems on a vision of inclusive and comprehensive schools with no streaming and easy transition between the levels. In Sweden, “A school for all” was the concept and vision for school reforms during the postwar period from the 1950s to the 1980s. This vision originated in egalitarian philosophy and the development of the welfare state. The implementation and reforms have gone through three phases: (a) implementing and supporting enactment of the comprehensive school reforms from 1950 to 1980 approximately; (b) decentralizing and implementing new public management and local accountability from 1980 to 2010 approximately; and (c) evaluating, correcting, and considering new measures from 2010 onward approximately. Political and economic premises have changed the prospects of implementing “school for all.” There are diverse developments in Nordic societies and schools, which, however, are not as dramatic as those in some other countries currently in 2021. Nevertheless, the question of equity in the school system and its importance for a democratic society needs to be raised.

Article

Educational Leadership, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Swedish School  

Eva Hjörne and Roger Säljö

In the early 21st century, school leaders play an important role—mediating between political ambitions and policies on the one hand and local conditions in schools and classrooms on the other. Mediating between general policies and local needs and constraints becomes increasingly challenging in diverse and complex societies. One interesting element of this dilemma is how to handle the balance between inclusion and segregation of children who have difficulties following mainstream teaching. In such cases, educational policies have to be interpreted in the context of the needs and prospects of specific individuals; that is, school leaders have to close the gap between the general (policy) and the specific (students and their capacities). When engaging in such decisions, school leaders as mediators rely on categories that characterize students and their abilities. In recent decades, neuropsychiatric categories, especially attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD), have played an increasingly prominent role when such decisions are made, and this is an international phenomenon. An interesting set of problems that has not been the focus of much research is how school leaders perceive such dilemmas of deciding on the educational futures of children. In addition, we know little about what happens when children, after being diagnosed with ADHD, are placed in special educational groups. Important issues at this level concern what the teaching and learning situation they encounter is like, and what the likelihood is that participation in such special educational groups will improve their opportunities for the future. In other words, what are the gains and losses of such placements for students, and does the placement in a special educational group contribute to a successful educational career? Swedish school leaders emphasize the dilemmas they perceive in such high-stakes situations when the diagnosis ADHD is invoked as the main explanation for learning difficulties, since the most frequent outcome is segregation and placement in a special teaching group. In addition, research shows that the instructional strategies dominating these segregated settings are highly individualized forms of teaching, where often one teacher is instructing one student. Despite this arrangement, it is found that the students do not actively contribute to the instructional activities and dialogues; rather, it is the teacher who dominates the instruction. The question raised is whether exposure to such special educational practices will prepare children for a return to their regular classroom. If this is not the case, the dilemma is that the educational solution offered risks being counterproductive in the sense that the student will be even further away from reintegration into mainstream classrooms.

Article

Interdisciplinary Expansion and the History of Education in Sweden  

Johannes Westberg

The field of the history of education in Sweden has distinct features, yet also shares common characteristics with the history of education in other countries. As elsewhere, it has developed from being a field mainly occupied by schoolmen in the early 20th century to a research field firmly entrenched in the humanities and social sciences from the 1960s and onward. Like in other countries, the topics and theoretical frameworks have multiplied, making the history of education into a broad field of research. There are, however, several features that stand out in an international context. Most important, the history of education in Sweden has expanded in terms of active researchers and output since the early 2000s due to the favorable conditions in Swedish higher education presented in this article. It has also never developed into a discipline of its own but instead has remained multidisciplinary, with a strong base in the disciplines of education and history. As a result, the history of education in Sweden has remained quite independent from the international field. While it is certainly possible to identify the impact of various international trends, including those of the new cultural history of education, the history of education in Sweden is marked by the disciplines that it is part of. From this follows that this national field is less determined by international associations, conferences and journals, and the so-called turns that one might identify in these. Instead, it is the Swedish context of educational research, Swedish curriculum theory, social history, economic history, history education, sociology of education, and child studies that provide the history of education in Sweden with a character of its own—that is, a field with research groups, conferences, workshops, and a journal that encompasses several research fields.