One of Littlebearabroad’s most frequently asked questions is, ‘can you recommend the best preschool to go to?’, or ‘can you recommend an area with a good school to live in?’. Sadly, the answer to both of those questions is ‘no’. It is impossible for someone to answer that question, constructively, without knowing your families needs, wants and desires. No one school, curriculum or method of teaching suits everyone. It is impossible to say that just because your preschool is the best preschool for you, it will offer the same experience to someone else.
Apologies if this comes across as a bit mean but I really can’t stand the implied assumption that everyone is the same as each other and values the same things. As I get older, as I meet more people, listen to more lived experiences, put myself in other people’s shoes, the ignorance of assumption baffles me. But this doesn’t help you, the person who is seeking the advice, I digress…
Instead of me telling you all the best schools in Stockholm (because there are many), I’m going to give you a list of all the questions you should ask yourself before choosing a school. Because at the end of the day it is your personal circumstances that will determine the best possible outcome for you. By doing the research and reading, you can find the best school FOR YOU.
- What values do you and your family prioritise? Are you environmentally conscious, do you value healthy food choices, or is time a precious commodity?
- If your child was in school before arriving in Sweden, what sort of school was it? Your expectations will be very much determined by your previous experiences.
- Do you and your family have specific lifestyle requirements? Are you vegetarian/vegan, spiritual or outdoorsy. Is sport and creativity important? (none of these are mutually exclusive by the way)
- How far are you willing to travel to take your child to school? If it’s not far then I suggest a local school. If you’re willing to go further a field for a specific type of school, well, there’s your answer.
- Does your child need additional support needs at school? This may sound a bit obvious but dependent on the level of need you may be looking for a grundsärskolan or want classroom support at förskola or förskoleklass.
- Do you already have a specific method of teaching in mind? (note: most schools in Sweden follow the same pedagogical curriculum, but there are various styles of teaching method available, i.e. Montessori, Waldorf Steiner etc) If you are looking for an alternative curriculum i.e. International Baccalaureate, your options will be significantly reduced.
- Possibly the most difficult question to answer is. What is a ‘good school’ to you? A proper deep dive into what a ‘good school’ means to you might reveal some home truths.
What is a ‘good school’?
I’ve gotten into the habit of parroting this question back to people who ask me where the ‘good schools’ are in Stockholm. Firstly, I’m genuinely interested in their answer, but mostly because it stops people in their tracks and makes them think about that statement. Well, what is a ‘bad school’? Is it a failing school? Is it a school that has poor standardised testing results or too many immigrants(yes, some people really do believe this)? Is it a school that doesn’t offer a rigorous physical education programme or a poor arts and creative programme? Really think about it, in your world view, what is a bad school. Then you’ll have your answer to what a good school is.
Is the Swedish education system as bad as everyone says it is?
I recently had an experience at the Littlebearabroad International Playgroup that was frustrating. A couple attended who were teachers at an International School in Stockholm. It was lovely to meet them and it was great to have two people who were so happy to chat with other parents. However, I was appalled to over hear them bad mouthing the Swedish education system to a group of newly arrived, new parents to whom they were validating every single fear they’d ever heard rumour of.
Let me set the record straight. There are some really great things about the Swedish education system. It’s free; it has some of the highest efficiency levels in education; there are strong academic results compared to the number of hours of homework and classroom work. The 2015 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) by the OECD declared that despite years of declining performance (Sweden still met the OECD Pisa average amongst other European countries), Sweden had begun to show progress in math, reading and science. According to the report, “Sweden spends USD 110 733 on education per student from the age of 6 to 16 years. This is the seventh highest level of expenditure per student among OECD countries, close to the level of expenditure per student in Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands and United Kingdom, above the level in Denmark and Finland, but below the level in Norway.” Average time spent learning, in and out of school, is about 40 hours (including homework) a week, below the OECD average of 44 hours. But, like many, many countries all over the world, there is a constant shortage of teachers, resources and time. Evident cuts in resources for children needing additional support have also impacted the quality of special education, too. Additionally, since the 2015 migrant crisis, Sweden’s education system has witnessed the equality gap widening amongst students of advantaged and disadvantaged social backgrounds.
Things are looking up for schooling in Sweden. But, the widening gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students is a worrying trend. Ironically, this divide is being driven by the privilege of choice.