Cutting-Edge Inclusive Education in Preschools, as Seen in Sweden
Scandinavia, in recent years, has come to be known for its advanced educational systems. And amongst them, Sweden—the land of social welfare—is known especially for its efforts in the very first stage of children’s education, the preschool level of education. In Sweden’s preschools, children from all walks of life spend as much time as possible playing together, learning together, and being immersed in inclusive education, regardless of their ethnicity, impairment, etc. The educational systems at these preschools teach children the learning techniques they need to survive and thrive in an increasingly diverse society, and in doing so cultivate the kind of children—future adults—needed to support the country’s extensive welfare system. In this article, we will introduce you to the cutting-edge preschool education currently being implemented in Sweden, through the key word “equal.”
Sweden’s Preschools, Attended by About 50% of One Year Olds
Compared to Japan, with its various types of preschools (yochien, hoikuen, kodomoen), the Swedish preschool system is fairly streamlined. In most families, children begin attending public or private preschools, called “förskola,” at one and a half years old. These förskola are open from 6:30 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., with children coming and going according to their parents’ work schedules.
Children may begin attending preschool as early as when they are one year old, with statistics showing that about 50% of one year olds in Sweden attend preschool, with the number jumping to about 85% when they turn two years old. These Swedish preschools generally have all children spending their time together, regardless of ethnicity or impairment. And in fact, these preschools are said to offer the most inclusive education of any other stage of education, even in Sweden.
A System that Adjusts to the Diverse Needs of Each Child, Without an Emphasis on Age
Sweden’s preschools are generally divided into two stages—“småbarn,” for children about one to three years old, and “storabarn,” for children three to five years old. Since child development tends to vary greatly at such young ages, these stages are not determined strictly by age, but by the development of the individual child. Classes for the former are comprised of 13-15 children, and 16-18 children for the latter.
Each class is overseen by three staff, either preschool teachers or staff members certified to oversee these preschools. There may also be additional assistants or specialized staff assigned to classes where there is a child with an impairment.
In Sweden, a country that accepts many refugees, it is normal for there to be children with different eyes and skin tones, or speaking different languages, in the same class. There is no “correct” or pre-determined way in which these children, with their diverse needs, are to play and learn amongst one another. Instead, classes are adjusted to the needs of all of the children. There are some schools where there are only one or several children with impairment, and others where there is a whole class of these children within the same grounds, with them interacting with other children at fixed times during the day.
Education on Democracy and Equality Starts at One Year Old
Sweden’s preschool is under the sole management of Skolverket, an organization similar to Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which means that children in all preschools throughout the country learn the same curriculum. This system, in which children—the workers of the future—receive the same childcare and education, all under the same philosophy and starting at only a year old, is very unique, even on a global scale. And what is taught thoroughly and comprehensively throughout this system are the fundamentals of democracy and the view that all humans are equal.
Children in Sweden learn, in their förskola, at the very first stage of their education, that all human beings have equal value, whether it be themselves, their friends, or the people around them, regardless of what country the person is from, what language they speak, and whether or not they have an impairment.
Swedish preschools also place an emphasis on learning through play, which requires the staff to keep a close eye on the students in their classes. The children—even those who cannot speak Swedish, or who have impairment—are able to spend time together naturally and recognize each other’s inherent value, all while learning, because the learning happens within the scope of so much play.
Sweden’s Unique, Year-Round “Equality Plan”
This education, through which children learn the fundamentals of democracy and the importance of equality, continues into elementary school. Compulsory education in Sweden starts at 6 years old, and goes on for 10 years. All schools are obligated to implement “Likabehandlingsplan,” or a plan that teaches children to treat others as equals.
These plans are not something that is implemented only after an issue occurs, whether it be discrimination or bullying. They provide a structured education regarding the treatment of people based on common points of discrimination, including gender, age, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and impairment, and are unique in that they provide preventive measures for this kind of discrimination.
For example, some schools will have a “Children’s Rights Week” in conjunction with United Nations Day on October 24, where students are able to learn about children’s rights. Others will learn about indigenous peoples on February 6, a day that commemorates the Sami people, a minority group in Sweden. Through this educational system, which places emphasis on diversity throughout the year, children learn—gradually, in a natural process—that they themselves and the others around them all have the same inherent value, and are all equal. To say that everyone is equal is easy—to act on it may not be so easy. As such, it is very important for there to be this kind of structured education in place, where children have the opportunity to learn about such things on a day-to-day basis.
In recent years, “diversity” has become an important theme on a global scale. We live in an age that will, more and more, require from us the skills to communicate with all different kinds of people. In this kind of age, it is worth spotlighting the inclusive education currently being implemented in preschools in Sweden, and their thorough education as to the fundamentals of democracy and the importance of equality. In this educational system, we may find the secret to their status as one of the happiest countries in the world.
Writer: Reiko Sallinen
Currently works as head teacher/special education teacher at a special education school in Sweden, while also doing research on special education in graduate school. Writes about social welfare, childcare, and education from the perspective of human rights and equality.
text by Reiko Sallinen(Parasapo Lab)
photo by Shutterstock