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Sweden

Educational System—overview


Structure & Organization: Sweden's school system oversees the state's compulsory schools and voluntary schooling. Until the 1990s, the government directly controlled the schools. Reforms agreed upon by the state began to take place in the 1990s. Instead of governmentrun schools, a system of decentralization was put in place to give local authorities more voice in the running of schools. Ever since, the government has acted in an advisory role as the setter of academic standards for all schools to strive to reach.

Several significant reforms were enacted between 1995 and 2001. All vocational upper secondary schools must offer a three-year program, a full year more than prior schooling. Programs in secondary school and higher education allowed for greater self-sufficiency on the part of schools and less rigidity on the part of the government. Finally, institutes of higher education instituted improvements in choices available to students and in degree system requirements.

Areas under compulsory school are as varied as a statewide compulsory basic school system, schools for the Sáámi native peoples of northern Sweden, special schools for children with impaired hearing, sight, or speech, and compulsory schools for persons adjudged to be mentally handicapped. Sweden's voluntary schools make up such educational units as upper secondary school, education for mentally handicapped adults, and municipal adult education.

State schools do not charge for tuition or expenses related to education. The state assumes all costs for teaching materials, computers, media services, school meals, health care, and transportation to schools.

Sweden is a world leader in the establishment of low pupil to teacher ratios. Swedish primary schools, according to 1993 figures, have a 17:1 preprimary ratio, a 10:1 primary grade ratio and a 9:1 secondary school ratio of pupils to teacher.


Financial Aid to Students: Swedish citizens not only have a fundamental right to an education, but they have the reasonable expectation that the state's central government will do all in its power to pay for much of that education. The philosophy is that a well-educated citizenry is more likely to lead to a prosperous society that is low on crime and benefiting constantly from the fruits of its citizens' labors. Consequently, Sweden spends an astounding 8.3 percent of the Gross National Product on education, far more than most nations do.

Primary through secondary education is fully paid for by the government. At the level of higher education, for example, the government pays the tuition of its students up to approximately the age of forty-five. While it does not pay for living expenses and textbooks, it does make student aid such as grants and loans available—based on the individual student's income, not that of a spouse or parent. There also are certain time restrictions that an applicant must follow. Most aid gets cut off after six years, although exceptions are sometimes made for students pursuing doctoral or professional degrees that often take many years to finish. Students also must show evidence of satisfactory progress toward a degree.

Not all Swedish students wish to attend universities in Sweden. In the event that a student pursues an education at a recognized foreign institute of higher learning, he or she may be eligible for government assistance.


Enrollment: Sweden's figures of enrollment demonstrate the country's great success in enrolling most of its population in classes. For example, 100 percent of all youngsters eligible for compulsory school at the primary level do attend. At the lower secondary level, also compulsory, 99 percent of males and 100 percent of females attend school. These figures are for 1990-1995.

With regard to higher education, according to NAE figures, the total number of undergraduate enrollments in 1997, the last year such figures were available, was 300,400 students.


The Academic Year: The school year at the primary and secondary levels in Sweden is broken into two terms. The two terms combined add up to forty weeks and must total 178 or more school days and twelve holidays. Students attend classes Monday through Friday. The fall term begins in late August and ends just before Christmas holiday season in December. The spring term starts in January and ends in June. There are some variations in the school calendar from one locale to another.

Attendance is compulsory up to age sixteen. Students attend a minimum of 178 days and a maximum of 190 days annually. Students attend the first two grades for six hours daily. Older grades require them to attend eight hours daily.

The academic year at institutes of higher learning in Sweden is divided into two semesters. Although there is no official religious break during the academic year at Christmas, lectures usually are suspended at that time. The autumn semester goes from mid-August to mid-January. The spring semester goes from mid-January to early June.

Courses & Qualifications: After Swedish undergraduate education was reformed, students were empowered to choose their path to graduation more independently and to have greater freedom to take course electives of interest to them. Courses taken in prescribed fashion at many universities are part of an educational program.

In spite of greater freedom, undergraduates adhere to a Degree Ordinance that sets forth requirements for courses to be taken depending upon the area of study. In general, colleges set forth requirements and recommendations when their faculties establish a curriculum that satisfies state standards for a quality education.

Depending upon the program, an undergraduate degree can take a student between two and five-and-a-half years to earn the first degree. A course may be as short as five weeks or as long as eighteen months. In general, students are expected to devote about forty hours per week to full-time study. One week of full-time study equals a single point. One semester of full-time study is the equivalent of twenty points. Many programs require undergraduates to successfully complete either a degree project or thesis.

In Sweden, professional and general degrees are two kinds of first degrees. The professional degrees, upon completion, satisfy requirements for specific professions such as medicine or teaching. The general degrees are these:

  • A two-year Diploma after studies amounting to at least 80 points
  • A three- or four-year degree representing the satisfactory attainment of 120 points or more for a Bachelor's degree. At least 60 points must be in the major subject for this degree. A thesis or major project is mandatory.
  • A Master's degree awarded for at least 160 points, representing at least four years of study, with a thesis and at least 80 points in the major subject.

Education for Ethnic Minorities: Sweden's population of nine million mainly speaks Swedish and is highly homogenous in many respects for centuries except for its pockets of nomadic tribes and Finns, as well as the twentieth century influx of immigrants.

Sweden's ethnic minorities may be divided into those peoples who are native to the land and those who have come to the country in search of a better life and opportunities in a nation long known for the general health of its economy. Ironically, challenges to that economy have come from the admitted immigrant groups.

First to be examined here are the native peoples or Lapps. Lapland is the area made up of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the former Soviet Union's Kola Peninsula where the Lapps or Laplanders live. This ethnic minority only is made up of approximately 65,000 people, perhaps 20,000 of whom live in Sweden, where they are known as the Sáámi. Those that dwell in Sweden make a living as reindeer herders and other occupations. Their native language is one of several related dialects described as Finno-Ugric.

Missionaries in the seventeenth century often forced Sáámi children to attend missionary schools whether the children and parents wanted an education or not. In 1632, for example, a school for Sáámi was established in Lycksele, Sweden. The hope was that natives could learn Swedish, develop as Christians, and that some would serve as missionaries among their people throughout Lappland.

The state established so-called nomad schools in 1913. The aim was to provide a basic education even as the children retained much of their own culture. Children are given the option of receiving an education in a state school or in the so-called Nomad schools.

In 2001, Sáámi children are able to choose between attending government Sámi schools or regular municipal nine-year-compulsory schools where they can also receive instruction in Sámi as well as Swedish. In 1950, a high school was constructed in Jokkmokk that offers courses in Sámi culture to natives and non-natives. Since 1974, offerings in Sámi were made available at the University of Umea and the University of Uppsala.

Owing to the influx of immigration that has led to the settlement of more than one million foreigners in Sweden, the Swedish for immigrants program is intended to provide a knowledge of Swedish as a second language—as well as a good introduction into the state's customs and society. All municipalities must make sure Swedish for immigrants' classes are made available to new adult immigrants. Often, one or more municipalities will combine their services to offer multiple class choices.

The National Agency for Education has taken a strong interest in the education and vocational training of immigrants and refugees, always stressing the rights of the child and a respect for native and immigrant cultures. The curricula stresses a respect for the values present in other cultures even as it prepares students to exist in a society different from their own.

While stressing the need to learn Swedish as a second language, the curriculum also stresses the need for non-native speakers to learn about and respect the culture of Sweden. Fluency in Sweden is stressed so that the non-native speakers can benefit fully from educational opportunities presented to them in the Swedish system of secondary education and higher education. The National Agency for Education takes a supervisory role to assure that municipality schools and private schools educate non-native-speaking children in accordance with all NAE rules and recommendations.


Technology in the Classroom: To assess the usage of computers in primary and secondary schools in Sweden, the National Agency for Education has conducted biannual surveys since 1993. According to the 1999 survey, the last year for which information is available, the number of computers purchased for use by administrators, faculty and pupils increased dramatically in the late 1990s, owing perhaps to the widespread use of the Internet. By 2001, many schools put up web sites that explored some of the educational programs and student extracurricular interests at these institutions.

In 1999, for example, the NAE reported the purchase of nearly 40 percent more computers compared to 1997, reducing the number of students sharing a single unit. Less dramatic but still impressive increases in computer purchases were also reported in 1999 by municipal and county upper secondary schools—a 22 percent increase from 1997. Independent upper secondary schools increased their number of computers by 91 percent from 1997 to 1999, making one computer available for every three students.

Sweden also has come closer to the goal of assigning a computer to every schoolteacher. According to the NAE, six primary-secondary teachers share every computer, while only two upper secondary teachers share a computer. All teachers at the independent upper secondary schools are assigned their own computer.


Textbooks: At the higher education level, students assume the cost of their textbooks, which may be written in Swedish, or in some subject areas, in English.


Curriculum & Evaluation: Sweden has opted to standardize what is taught in its preprimary classes and in its compulsory schools up to the ninth year. This is done through the adoption of a formal curriculum for preschools and compulsory schools. The state approves a national syllabi and sets forth its formalized educational objectives.

Each school and municipality has a certain freedom in determining how those objectives are to be carried out, but accountability is ensured by evaluation of all pupils in their fifth and ninth years in compulsory school. For example, in rural areas, schools may consist not of single classes but rather several grades in a single school facility. There is no single teaching method preferred by the state.


Private Schools: In the eighteenth century, the general public had grown dissatisfied with church schools. A need arose for the formation of private schools, including specialty private schools for female and vocational education.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, however, the growing excellence of public primary and secondary schools caused private schools to lose some of the popularity they had enjoyed.

In the twentieth century, private schools received the benefit of a voucher system that has drawn interest from private school educators in the United States. The National Board of Education in 1991 took the responsibility for direct school management under the control of municipalities, and it gave parents a choice (in many urban locales) of either state schools or private schools for their child's education.

Of the some 850,000 pupils in Sweden, one percent attend one of only about 200 private schools in Sweden. These mainly are situated in the large urban population centers. The National Agency for Education grants these schools accreditation and makes sure they conform to the same regulations adhered to by public compulsory schools.

Students are not compelled to attend state schools if they attend a private, parochial school with comparable standards and requirements to state-mandated education.


Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSweden - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education