The Swedish government wants to put an end to the state-run Swedish for Immigrants courses (SFI), proposing on Tuesday that the courses get taken over by the municipal adult education programme (Komvux) instead.
“By moving SFI into continuing adult education, it will become easier to adjust Swedish language education to each student and combine the studies with work and internships,” Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag stated in the proposal.
The government also proposed three different study paths based on the student’s prior knowledge, and the right to choose class times which suit their schedule. Municipalities would be required to offer evening classes – an opportunity currently only offered by about half of Sweden’s municipalities.
Ullenhag added that dismantling SFI would make it easier to accommodate other educational needs among immigrants to Sweden.
A doctor with a licence and education from another country would be able to take language classes at the same time as taking supplementary courses to be able to practice in Sweden.
“Under the current system, if you want to study at college you have to finish SFI first, and then take Swedish as a second language at Komvux,” Ullenhag said. “But with these changes you could start off on the right path from day one.”
A survey on early school leaving finds that, except for newly arrived migrants, dropout rates are similar between native and migrant students. Social and economic factors, such as coming from a single-parent or low income household, seem to be more important factors in determining school outcomes than being from immigrant descent.
99 percent of the 800 students at the school Ronnaskolan in Södertälje, a city southwest of Stockholm, are pupils with a migrant background. With most of them born in Syria and Iraq, the numbers of new arrivals remain high: at least one fifth of the students has been living in Sweden for less than two years. A situation that can easily exceed school capacities, especially when considering that many pupils do not speak Swedish when arriving at school, have experienced war and expulsion in their country of origin or come from a low socio-economic background. Despite these challenges, Ronnaskolan has been remarkably successful in preparing its students for secondary education and providing quality education.
Principal Lina Axelsson Kihlblom has recently shared her vision of inclusive education in an interview with Lärarnas Nyheter, a Swedish magazine on education. When she started working for the school, only about half of the pupils were able to transition to secondary education, which in Sweden starts in grade 10. Two years later, already 76 percent of pupils had the sufficient grades to move up to higher education. Asked how such an “at risk” student population can perform that well, the prinicpal explained how the school was able to steadily improve their educational outcomes.
According to Axelsson Kihlblom, this process begins with defining concrete goals and having a clear idea of what the school should look like in the future. Convinced about the value of learning with and from each other, they stopped putting newly arrived students in a separate preparatory class. Instead, everyone is taught together in the same classroom to avoid segregation from the start. Newly arrived children then also follow one full day of learning Swedish as a second language. Although it does slow down teaching sometimes, Axelsson Kihlblom assures that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks; it sends a strong message that every student is equally valuable and that the school has high expectations and confidence in their newcomers. To ensure that slower learners receive the support they need without at the same time under-challenging other pupils, Ronnaskolan has introduced a two-teacher model. This means that in most classes two teachers are present to respond to the different needs of pupils. In addition, the school offers individual support for underperforming pupils. In regular meetings with both the student and his or her parents, teachers discuss the pupil’s goals and jointly work on a step-by-step plan on how to achieve them. Apart from closely involving parents, the school is also cooperating with the municipality, health care facilities and social services. Furthermore, the school has been working towards diversifying their staff and mostly employs teachers with a migrant background themselves.
A remarkable example of how to reach out to different stakeholders and jointly work towards advancing education for migrant children in Sweden.
In the coming budget proposal, more hours of education in Swedish are proposed, equal to three hours more a week, for newly-arrived students in order to raise their results.
In the autumn of 2014, newly-arrived students in secondary school will during four semesters get more education hours in Swedish or Swedish as second language. The government has proposed that newly-arrived students in elementary school also should be included in the proposal.
The Minister for Integration, Erik Ullenhag, says that to succeed in school, learning Swedish is central for newly-arrived students and through extra education in Swedish more students will be given the chance to faster reach the education targets.
The Swedish Government has earlier presented several actions to enhance the schooling for newly-arrived students. For example the Swedish National Agency for Education has been given missions to develop material for mapping of newly-arrived students’ knowledge and to develop materials for assessment and follow-up of newly-arrived students’ language development in Swedish.