Likely the first attempt to raise professional standards for teachers arose in 1803. The state required teachers to pass a university examination to demonstrate proficiency in academic studies in order to teach. The first teacher-training center was instituted in 1842, coinciding with a perceived need for professionals that would be needed in the classroom with the passage of mandatory school attendance by law. Localities known as parishes were required to engage the services of one or more trained individuals as teachers. Before 1842, most of Sweden's teachers were male and were often priests.
Sweeping changes with regard to the qualifications of teachers took place in 1977. Before that year, the educational institutions for the training of primary school teachers were not a part of the government-run system of higher education. Qualifications for secondary school teachers were more stringent than those imposed on the primary teachers. The secondary teachers were required to obtain a full university degree, almost always majoring in two subjects that often became the subjects they taught their students, plus one additional year while taking required training in education.
In 1977, after the reforms, both primary and secondary teachers took their work in a recognized institution or education institute belonging to Sweden's system of higher education. In addition, potential teachers in specialties such as art, music, and physical education (as they had before 1977) went to special places offering training to those seeking an expertise in order to teach.
Until sweeping improvements in teacher education and certification were introduced in 1988, there were large-scale differences between the amount and quality of training of teachers in Sweden at the three main levels of compulsory schools.
- The first level was the lågstadielärare, or lower-level teachers, requiring 100 credit points for a certificate in primary education, grades one through three.
- The next level was the mellanstadieläärare, or intermediate grade teachers, requiring 120 credit points for a Bachelor of Education in Primary Education, grades four through six.
- The third level was äämneslärare, or teachers for the upper level, also known as lower secondary school. The level required between 160 and 180 credit points. The degree was Master of Arts or Master of Science with a notation as to subject specialty and specialties.
- Outside these levels, there were teaching positions that came under the categories of the arts and practical subjects. These had additional requirements for credit points set by the state.
More changes in the requirements for teachers to successfully gain authorization to teach in Sweden were passed by the state in 1988. These reforms particularly addressed teachers in compulsory schools. Among the requirements, teachers needed to:
- Take and pass one year of education courses to satisfy a 40-point course requirement. Some students take the requirement in a single year or sometimes even longer than one year should unusual circumstances dictate. Some take the required coursework a few points each year while attending an institute of higher learning until the 40-point total is reached. In Sweden, one week of full-time studies earns one poäng or credit point, and 40 points is one year's required work in pedagogy and practice teaching for teacher certification.
- These courses, referred to as praktisk-pedagogisk utbildning, include teacher training, practice teaching, and pedagogy.
Behind all this training is the reasoning that those who seek a teaching career in Sweden must be prepared to satisfy rigorous requirement for teacher certification. Teachers form a sort of professional guild in this nation, and those whose university degrees were earned with a teaching career specifically in mind have traditionally been chosen by the government for teaching positions.
However, with decentralization going into effect in 2001, and earlier reforms in place as early as 1992, the headmasters or other administrative heads of local schools have been the taking control of the teaching profession from government. Thus, regulations need not be so restrictive as to, for example, keep potential teachers out of the classroom who have made this professional decision later in life after already having one successful career. Potential employers can evaluate a teaching candidate's curriculum and determine if this person's experiences and academic preparation make him a good candidate for the position or not.
In 2000, the agency in charge of evaluating the credentials of non-Swedish applicants and applicants for permanent teacher certification is the National Agency for Higher Education (NAHE). Essentially, the NAHE examines the qualifications and Swedish language competency of those who apply for certification, determining whether the candidate roughly measures up to those teachers who obtain teacher certification through standard means of a diploma from an accredited institution offering training for teachers.
Numerous important teacher education reforms were implemented nationwide on July 1, 2001. These were part of a government bill passed by the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) in October, 2000. Of utmost importance for reducing bureaucracy, the practice of awarding eight separate teaching degrees was ended, and henceforth only one degree is to be awarded with two minor exceptions. The separate-degree exceptions are these two only: the Diploma of Education for the Folk High School and the Diploma of Education in Aviation.Although there is one diploma, there are some important differences in the credit points that teachers must take. Preschool, recreation, and compulsory school teachers of lower grades must take 140 credit points, the equivalent of 3.5 years of study. Music teachers take 160 hours. Compulsory school teachers of the higher grades must take 180 credit points.
Those who successfully complete Sweden's teacher education are awarded a diploma specifying specialization and status of qualification. The reforms reflected the desire of state authorities to award a diploma that required all candidates to demonstrate mastery of certain knowledge area in common, including the field of teacher education. To that end, students in common will take a maximum of sixty such credit hours, representing the equivalent of 1.5 years' coursework. The remaining coursework reflects the specialization and/or special study areas, including the requirement that students satisfy either a thesis or special project in order to graduate with a teaching credential.
Teachers already practicing can have access to the new teacher requirements through coursework available through traditional academic studies or through distance education. Rather than lock students into studies for life, the program allows students to qualify for new areas of specialization after taking the requisite additional course-work. The proposed requirements will allow for some individual variances in teacher preparation at the various institutions of study.
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