Sweden has declared a "system failure" in its free schools, prompting the largest revamp in three decades. The Swedish free schools, privately run institutions funded by public money, have long been celebrated internationally.
However, recent declines in educational standards, rising inequality, and dissatisfaction among educators and parents have propelled the government to reassess the model, reports The Guardian.
The move comes after a report by Sweden's largest teachers' union, Sveriges Lärare, emphasised the negative consequences of marketising the education system, advocating for the phase-out of for-profit and marketized schools. Lotta Edholm, the Liberal schools minister, has initiated an investigation, intending to introduce significant reforms.
Edholm aims to "severely limit" schools' profit withdrawals, introducing fines for non-compliance. She stressed that state funding should not simultaneously boost businesses and yield profits. The focus is particularly on upper secondary schools, known as gymnasieskola, where profits have been made at the expense of quality.
With thousands of free schools across Sweden, catering to around 15% of primary and 30% of upper secondary school students, Edholm acknowledged the systemic nature of the problem. She plans to tighten regulations on religious influence and address concerns about school ownership.
Grade inflation is another concern, with free schools accused of awarding higher grades than municipal schools, potentially creating imbalances. Edholm plans to tackle this issue, especially in schools with a low proportion of qualified teachers.
While acknowledging the challenges, Edholm maintains the importance of free schools in offering choice without fees, emphasizing the need to preserve this aspect. However, critics argue that the government's plans fall short of addressing deeper issues like increased segregation and funding inequality.
Beyond educational reforms, Sweden's schools are grappling with security challenges amid a national gun crime crisis. Edholm highlights the need for tightened access to schools to address these concerns. Additionally, she aims to reduce screen time in schools and promote physical books, offering state grants for one book per subject per student.
Edholm's broader vision includes fostering a more peaceful and secure school environment, encouraging interest in engineering among young people, and addressing public health concerns related to excessive screen time in preschools.