8 Major Differences Between Swedish & American Schools
After attending school here in Sweden for a little over two months now, I have noticed some distinct key differences in how the schooling works here compared to America. The news here in Sweden is, to be honest, quite the snooze fest. However, the past few weeks one of the main stories has been how the test scores in Swedish schools have been significantly dropping the past few years. Once a country that was said to have some of the best schooling in the world, now finds themselves struggling to keep up.
I am not saying that I think the schools here are bad, not by any means. In fact, I think there are a few things that Sweden does a lot better than America with regards to the education program. This post is to help all of the kids who are thinking of studying abroad in Sweden, as the most common question people ask me is, “What is school like?”
Disclaimer: I would like to reiterate that this is based on my experiences and schools I attended. Each school is different, I am sure there are some schools in Sweden that are the complete opposite of what I am going to describe. That being said I have now gotten to know over 20 exchange students that all attend different schools, and we ALL agree on the major points that I will discuss. Due to this, I feel as though it is safe to say that in general this is what the schooling in Sweden looks is like.
The first major difference I noticed on the first day was the use of cell phones/electronics in the classrooms. In America, if a teacher sees you using your phone in a classroom you are dead meat. Here in Sweden, kids have their phones out from the beginning of class to the end. Most text, go on Facebook, even listen to music all while the class goes on. I have even seen a kid answer a call and walk out of class right smack in the middle of the lesson. The teachers here do not say a thing. After two months this is something I am not used to, and quite frankly I think this could be a big reason why the Swedish schools’ test scores are suffering so much. The kids are so busy are their phones they have no idea what is going on in class.
In America we take tardiness pretty seriously. You get 3 free tries then its detention time. All classes start on time and we have bells to signify this so there are no discrepancies. In Sweden, there are no bells because everyone has such different classes, so they use somewhat of an honor system for being on time to class. An honor system which people completely take advantage of if you ask me. I would say about half the class arrives on time. The rest trickle in 10, 15, 30, minutes late. Basically whenever they want, as there is no punishment. The teachers do not even get mad. When a kid walks in late and disrupts the class the teacher merely nods, smiles, and says hello.
This one is also very strange to me. When a teacher is gone in America, we have “substitute teachers” to take their place. In Sweden, they just cancel class. I would say on average I have 2 classes canceled a week because a teacher is gone, at an appointment, etc. In America, I have never in my life had a class be canceled.
The dreaded tests. Back home I would say I had about 3 a week with 1 or 2 quizzes mixed in. I would spend hours studying, trying to get the coveted A. Tests in Sweden are basically nonexistent and when they do happen the kids are so unprepared/do not care almost all fail. While here I have only experienced two tests – one in Spanish and one in math. During the Spanish ones kids had their phones out comparing answers, and even then most turned the test in half blank. As a whole kids just do not seem to care here. The Swedes do not want school to be a stressful place and I guess tests=stress. They mostly have “projects” which I will talk about in the next section. In America, I hated tests. I thought they were dumb, pointless, and beyond stressful. However, after experiences what school without tests is like, I now realize that they are imperative to learning and really help solidify knowledge.
Or lack thereof I should say. Two months, not a single sheet of homework. The only thing you could say was homework would be these “projects” that the teachers assign. The way most classes here work is you talk about a subject, then rather than taking a test, you do an at home “project” which you will then turn into the teacher. In theory, this is a good idea, but I feel like the kids are given a ridiculous amount of time to do them. For example in my English class we watched the movie The Help then we were told to write a 1-2 page paper about how racism was portrayed in the movie. In my school in America, this would have been a two-day project at most. Here in Sweden, we had three weeks to do it.
Okay, enough with the negatives. One thing that I feel Sweden does better is the way the scheduling works. I compare it to college scheduling in the states. We have longer classes (an hour – hour and a half), but not every day. This also means that we have fewer classes each day. I prefer this much more to the overwhelming seven class, five days day a week schedule we use in America. This way I feel like the teachers are not as rushed to squeeze everything into a 40 minute class and we get more in depth knowledge. Likewise, in America, this would also be nice for studying for tests, doing homework, things like that because we would be able to plan according to when we have the class.
Another thing I feel like Sweden does better is the classes the students take. They are way more geared to what profession they would like to be when they get older. For example, because I am in the firefighter/police program now I take a lot of gym, psychology, and law classes, but no history or science because it is not needed for the profession. I think that this is very beneficial and can save a lot of time and money for when they go to university because they will have already taken some classes needed.
Most classes in America are every lecture like. The teacher has a PowerPoint, and talks for most of the hour while kids take notes. In Sweden it is the opposite, the classes do not even feel like really classes to me. They are more just like giant discussions. I find this to be more entertaining and really enjoy hearing everyone’s point of views; however, from a strict learning standpoint, I feel as though the lecture way works better.
There is good, and there is bad. Overall, I like my school here in Sweden, but if I was going here for a long time I would be a little concerned that I was not learning enough. For example, I am at least 3 years ahead in math compared to my fellow students. I feel like while it is nice to have such relaxed classes and little outside of school work – I wish there was more. It can get quite boring having so much free time and my mind misses learning lots of new knowledge everyday like I did in America – even if it was very stressful at the time.
Which brings me to the point in America schools, I feel like while I learn more, there is SO much pressure on grades that it is to much. It can be very overwhelming having 3 hours of homework a night, doing a sport, studying for tests. It has felt so good to just take a break from it all while being here. I feel like I have been able to find myself again, and my mind and body feel amazing and free of stress.
I wish there could be some sort of happy medium combing the two schooling systems. Sweden’s is too relaxed, but I love the way the scheduling/classes work. America is too stressful, but I feel that some tests and homework is needed to retain/learn material.
FUTURE EXCHANGE STUDENTS: Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below!