by Krischa Esquivel
The school system here in the United States is in crisis, this is a fact. The constant budget cuts, unequal access to quality education and the continuing debate and call for accountability for government funded early education programs such as Head Start. Over the decades a number of different programs have been implemented to not only get children learning the same content at the same time, but to also bring the education rating of children in the United States up to the level of other countries.
Even with all of the money being used, programs being implemented and tests being administered, the United States continues to fall short. We continue to have low test scores, especially in Math and Science. We continue to have a very real and obvious gap within socioeconomic classes when it comes to the quality of education received.
So what are some possible next steps for the United States? How can we achieve the goal of equal education for all while raising the standards and possibly bridging the gap between the U.S. and other countries? One idea is to begin to look at what other countries are doing. The educational systems vary from country to country. Some have seemed to figure out a formula which allows for free, accessible education for all. One such country is Sweden.
Sweden’s educational system possesses a democratic mission. This mission, along with the Swedish Education Act, states that all children and young people are to have equal access to education, regardless of gender, where they live or social or economic factors. Schooling is free in Sweden, except for nursery schools and higher education (although these are partly funded by the government). Swedish government also supports the idea of independent schools (also known as school choice) and funding.
To date, schools operate as an open market and the right to for parents to choose any school for their child to attend is recognized by the government. Because of this, each child is allocated funding for the years of school that are mandatory. Below is a breakdown of schooling by age:
Nursery school and preschool are open to children from one to five years of age. Sweden has made it mandatory for facilities to be provided for children if the parent works or attends school. The Swedish tradition of nursery/preschool emphasizes the importance of play in a child’s development and learning. In the nursery/preschool curriculum, the interests and needs of children are essential parts of their education.
All children are offered a place in a preschool class starting in fall of the year they turn six until they start attending mandatory schooling. The preschool class is designed to stimulate each child’s development and learning, and provide a platform for their future schooling. Preschool is followed by elementary school for years 1—3, middle school for years 4—6 and junior high school for years 7—9.
Children between six and twelve are offered daycare before and after school hours. Daycare can be at an after-school center, a family daycare home or an open after-school program.
Senior high school
Senior high school is not mandatory and also free of charge. Students who have completed junior high school with at least a pass in Swedish, mathematics and English will qualify for a space at senior high school. Practically all students who finish preschool, middle school and junior high school will start senior high school.
Senior-high-school programs run for three years. Students can choose from 17 different programs leading to qualifications to study at colleges and universities. All programs include eight core subjects: Swedish (alternatively Swedish as a second language), English, mathematics, science, social studies, religious studies, arts and crafts, physical education and health.
Students in the Swedish system are evaluated through regular meeting and constant communication with parents and caregivers. However, a formal grade is not issued until the 8th year of school using the same A-F (pass/fail) system used here in the United States. The continual communication between teachers and parents ensures children are progressing and learning the content needed to advance to the next level.
The test scores in Sweden continue to rise, children are passing grade levels and advancing to senior high schools and parents have the right to choose which school their child will attend. Can the rate of success be linked to the parent’s right to choose the school, coupled with the teacher and parent’s collaborative effort to ensure the child is successful? This system seems to be working, and the government has committed funds to ensure the system continues.
If the U.S. government implemented the same or a similar system, would we experience the same success? With the way things are looking in much of the school systems, why not try?
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