News Analysis: Sweden primary education reforms at crossroads


by Sun Zheng
STOCKHOLM, Feb. 12 — Sweden’s decentralization of the primary educational system over two decades is considered to have “failed”, a recent report presented to the Swedish government said, arousing heated debates in the election-year.
The decentralization of school system that started in the early 1990s is an “intervention” of the country’s development from the politicians’ side and it is a failure, said Leif Lewin, political scientist who led a government inquiry into the issue, was quoted as saying by Swedish television SVT.
The decentralization left all the responsibility for schools to the municipal governments, which lead to that “none of the municipalities, principals or the teachers completed the tasks,” said Lewin.
According to the report of Lewin, direct consequences of the decentralization are the tumbled pupils’ study results, equivalence and teachers’ status, which has caused mistrust in the present educational system.
Concerning that, the consequences were reflected on the latest global Pisa education ranking published last year, when Sweden ranked below the OECD average of all 33 countries in mathematics, reading comprehension and natural sciences, the Swedish online daily the Local reported.
“BRUTAL” REFORM
“The reform was too brutal,” Lewin was quoted as saying by the Swedish online daily the Local, adding that the present school system created “mistrust rather than confidence”.
When the decentralization decision came under the Social Democrat-led government in 1989, according to Goran Persson, the Minister for Education back at that time, was the central government’s intention that the state would cover some part of the responsibilities for the school system.
However, after a short period when the right wing bourgeois government came on the stage the reform became much more than what had been planned. And the municipalities started to take full responsibility for the school systems, when the teachers had to make their own teaching plans and had to decide and define by themselves on what to teach to the students.
“Although no one wanted the old system any more, I think it was a mistake for the bourgeois government to remove the instruction instrument that Goran Persson wanted to maintain, ” Lewin was quoted as saying by SVT.
That could partly give answer to why the publish of the Pisa education ranking was followed by criticism from the Swedish society against the decentralization reform, as Eva-Lis Siren, head of the Swedish Teachers’ Union, claimed that “the teachers were too overwhelmed with administrative tasks.”
Lewin also supported Siren’s opinion by stating that “regardless of who’s in charge, the state’s job is to support teachers’ professional development.”
The consequence was that the teachers were not prepared for the change and the students suffered from the fact that they were not getting enough time of the teachers’ teaching, said the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter (DN).
Furthermore, despite an increase in salary in the beginning, the teachers’ income has been affected negatively, with a descending social status, while academic performances of students in different areas vary a lot and the gap is being enlarged, especially in the big cities.
REFORMS AT CROSSROAD
“The Pisa results show that we are in need of further reforms,” said Jan Bjorklund, Swedish Minister For Education, who has been an advocate of renationalizing the schools in Sweden.
However, there is no scientific evidence to prove that Sweden’s failure in the Pisa ranking is completely due to the decentralization of primary education system, said the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter (DN).
The report of Lewin neglected one aspect that it didn’t count in the other reforms and social changes that had taken place in over the years while he only attributed everything to the decentralization, argued Per-Arne Andersson, from Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, in the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet (SVD).
What’s more, it ought to be noticed that the central government has already made efforts to tighten the control by introducing school inspection and several national exams together with both teaching plans and course plans, which are meant to give more concrete instructions from the state.
By these reforms, the government tries to reverse the current trends and to help Sweden into the global top ten when it comes to education, explained the Minister Bjorklund.
It is argued as well that whether centralization means the key to success or not is still unknown, and the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt also remains skeptical about renationalizing schools.
Rather, it is more critical to consider the responsibility division between different levels in the whole system. To the principals, teachers and students, the least basic stability and predictability is required. Otherwise, the “freedom” is just chaos and “own responsibility” actually means evasion from responsibilities, said DN.
Meanwhile, it is also pinpointed that no matter how responsibilities are divided between the state, the municipalities and individuals, the principals of the schools should always give the teachers the very support for them to make adaptations on teaching for each student.
According to the Minister Bjorklund, the nature of the reforms would be presented in the spring this year. Which path Sweden will talke when the primary education reforms are at a crossroads in the election-year remains undecided. And no matter what the outcomes might be, it shall be of great significance.[db:内容2]