What are the inequalities in Sweden

Inequality is growing in Sweden's schools

Equality is a principle upheld in the Swedish welfare state and often invoked by politics. But children are increasingly being left behind in the immigrant suburbs. Finding a fix is ​​difficult.

Bergsjön, an eastern suburb of Gothenburg, Sweden's metropolis on the west coast. Even the trip there by tram gives an idea of ​​the character of the quarter: it feels like 70 to 80 percent of passengers have a migration background. In fact, Bergsjön, a satellite town made up of numerous tenements eight kilometers from the city center, is one of the roughly two dozen residential areas in Sweden that are classified by the police as "highly socially exposed". Gang crime is rampant there; State institutions are met with suspicion, and parallel societies have been able to establish themselves.

Dark numbers

Bergsjön recently appeared in the media in another context as well. Bergsjöskolan, one of the public primary schools in the district, was at the top of a national statistic with a value of 69.8 percent, which examined how many 15-year-olds left primary school after compulsory schooling without a valid school leaving certificate. Sufficient final grades in mathematics, Swedish and English are the minimum requirements for further education, be it in the context of a three-year grammar school or a vocational school.

The situation in the other Gothenburg suburbs, which are considered to be “socially exposed”, is just as gloomy as in Bergsjön. In the majority of the primary schools located in these districts, the proportion of school leavers who do not receive a recommendation for further education is over 50 percent. The situation is analogous in comparable districts in Stockholm and Malmö. The national average, on the other hand, is the proportion of young people who leave nine-year elementary school without a leaving certificate and thus have little prospect of a qualified job in their later professional life at 17.5 percent.

As a general trend, the situation has deteriorated over the past five years, as noted by the Swedish radio. For Anders Trumberg, an educationalist at Örebro University specializing in school choice and segregation, Sweden is heading towards a low point in terms of equal opportunities in education. Skolverket, the Swedish education authority, found that the differences in quality between individual schools were growing and that it was increasingly important whether students came from families with an educational background or an educational background.

The requirement of the incumbent red-green government in Sweden is that the education system must offer students equal opportunities regardless of the family environment. The researcher Trumberg, however, states that the teaching staff at certain schools are less and less able to deal with pedagogical tasks because the attention is increasingly being drawn to the social problems that the schoolchildren bring with them from outside.

The role of free school choice in Sweden is therefore increasingly being discussed again in educational policy circles. This allows parents with the necessary mobility and the necessary resources to avoid schools with a bad reputation - which then pushes such schools into a downward spiral. In the existing system, says Trumberg, it is difficult to counteract increasing inequality when individual schools have almost no motivated students.

The so-called free schools are also part of the dispute. Since a radical reform in the 1990s, these have existed on an equal footing with public schools, and like these, they are financed from tax revenues that are paid out per student. If a student changes from a public to a private school, he or she takes the state subsidy with him to the new location.

Controversial school election system

The independent schools are subject to supervision by the state school authority and have to implement an approved curriculum, but have leeway with regard to curriculum design and priorities. The places at the successful private schools are particularly popular at grammar school level; there are sometimes lists with waiting times for years. Some politicians, especially left-of-center, see this as another element of inequality. Because if the parents did not take care of their offspring's future schooling in good time, they would hardly have a chance of attending a school other than the public school to which they belonged in terms of the catchment area.

A special commission set up by the government therefore looked for ways in which the coveted schools could be made accessible to a wider group of students. The proposal for a lottery was also made. Furthermore, the government wanted to limit the amount of profit distributions for the profitably working independent schools, since they are financed from taxpayers' money. However, it did not get through in parliament.

The basic problem of inequality in the school sector, however, lies elsewhere, namely in the development of specific immigrant suburbs that has grown over decades. It is a segregation that was anything but intended in the script for the development of the Swedish welfare state, but it was able to develop unhindered for too long. Manne Gerell, a criminologist from the University of Malmö, sees the social structure of such suburbs, the poor learning success of young people and their frequent slide into crime as a vicious circle that is difficult to break. And Anders Trumberg also says that school is just the arena in which deeper social problems are particularly evident. Unfortunately, there are no quick solutions.