“Make School more boring and difficult for Students”
This is an English translation of the article “Gör skolan tråkigare och jobbigare för eleverna”.
It was with a degree of disappointment and sadness that we read the words of both Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren’s and Nima Sanandaji’s paper titled “Make School more boring and difficult for Students” in the Swedish paper; Svenska Dagbladet 20-05-2019.
The authors write a historical account describing what they think has gone wrong with Swedish schools. Their claim is that Sweden’s progressive thoughts on student democracy and self-learning, with a focus on joy has led to a decline in knowledge acquisition compared to other countries, which can be seen in Sweden’s rating in the PISA results.
Simultaneously they make links with how schools were impacted by the changes and attitudes that were occurring in society, where freedom, self realisation and an emphasis on children’s well-being, imagination along with independence had come into focus.
Although the authors are insightful in noting that these are societal changes, and not only changes in curriculum or pedagogical thinking, they still suggest that schools should go back to the days of being more focused on teaching children knowledge and developing their character. In both Sahlgren’s and Sanandaji’s perspective this means taking away the progressive expectations within the curriculum as mentioned above and replacing them with an expectation that students must fulfill the duty of hard work.
‘’It simply means school should be made more boring and difficult for students.’’ Their reasoning lacks any significant arguments and the conclusions they draw has no actual support in educational research.
If we must look back in history, let’s instead start with the work of Tomas Björkman and Lene Rachel Andersen, described in the book The Nordic Secret. The authors tell the story of how leaders in the Nordic countries dealt with our previous paradigm shift, that from farming to industry. They did this largely through “folk schools” with an educational ideal that was born out of the German idealist philosopher thinking, which emphasised the notion that ‘our mind is not a rational machine’. These schools where young adults went to develop not only knowledge but also their self and inner direction, forms the basis of Sweden’s special position in the World Values map (see picture).
This educational ideal, unfortunately, came to disappear in favour of the view of the school as a “factory” for human resources. This “resource factory” is the character-creating school that Heller-Sahlgren and Sanandaji want us to look back at and learn from. The aim is to achieve better results in PISA and gain competitiveness compared to other nations. Today’s children and young people are in their vision a means of achieving the nation’s goals in terms of international trade and growth? The image described is in our eyes not only nationalistic but also dystopic.
We at Teal School see another possible future, where children and young people can develop their personal interests and at the same time contribute to a democratic world where Sweden has the prominent position we are used to seeing us in. Let us not be misguided by the authors’ rhetoric. We see no major tendencies that Sweden is about to lose in innovation or competitiveness. In most measurements and rankings we are very high. Annika Rembe f. DG at the Swedish Institute says:
“Without going into the individual indices that compare countries, we can say that Sweden, like our Nordic colleagues, is in the top when measuring innovation, sustainability, gender equality, nation brand etc.. As it has been for the last 20 years”.
When the big headlines hit the paper saying Sweden had lost its competitiveness, it was referring to Sweden’s move from 6th place to 7th in a global ranking of 137 countries.
We believe that schools should become more progressive. Sweden is at the forefront of social development and can remain at the forefront by creating a school that takes us from external motivation to inner, and from self realization to self transcendence. Self transcendence means that the feeling of personal purpose lies in creating value for others, for society or the world – something we already see happening in younger generations, for example, an increased focus on climate issues and social entrepreneurship.
We are about to leave the industrial paradigm in large parts of the world. New ways of organising work are emerging, which are not based on hierarchies, management and control, but on creating meaning and purpose, on simple principles, on autonomy and flexibility. Organisations that become agile, as a flock of birds, and where adults are not only allowed to control their own day but also receive support in their personal development. New principles and working methods are created that fit people’s needs and our complex world. This also happens in the school world, but we don’t find the most progressive schools in Sweden.
We at Teal School want to see schools like the Dutch Agora school also in Sweden. Schools where children develop the capacity for life-long learning, where they develop empathy, self-esteem, relationship competence, entrepreneurship and a willingness to contribute to a better world. Schools that understand what inner motivation is, and can see that it is linked to joy, development and well-being.
Today our awareness around what motivates humans has developed, we have gained new insights, valuable insights, and we are very conscious of the role internal motivation has over external motivation. We also better understand that duty and exercise of power will be a thing of the past. If schools moved in the direction of Heller-Sahlgrens and Sanandajis article, it means schools would go in the opposite direction to all other societal developments, something that does not lead to high PISA results but, disaster.
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