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Education in Sweden

The Swedish education system is ranked among the best in the world. With its emphasis on individual learning and the personal liberty to enroll children in a diverse selection of schools, many perceive Sweden as a country with a phenomenal educational infrastructure. However, Sweden still trails behind other Nordic countries, such as Finland and Norway, in global education rankings. These eight facts about education in Sweden provide an insight into the successes and shortcomings of a unique approach to maximizing the potential of Swedish youth.

8 Facts About Education in Sweden

  1. The Swedish educational system is decentralized. The federal government grants localities autonomy in designing the course curriculum. However, the federal government sets standardized goals and objectives for Swedish localities to follow.
  2. Education in Sweden is divided into four levels of schooling. Children may attend an optional preschool program (förskola) from 1-5 years of age. Children are then offered a place in kindergarten (förskoleklass) when they turn six years old. Following kindergarten is compulsory schooling, which is divided into three levels. Elementary school (lågstadiet) comprises the first three years of compulsory school, then middle school (mellanstadiet) for years 4-6 and finally junior high school (högstadiet) for years 7-9. After compulsory school, Swedish students may attend an optional senior high school (gymnasium) for three years.
  3. Following an amendment to the law in the 1990s, the Swedish government permitted the development of publicly-funded charter schools (friskola) which act independently of the municipality. These schools are defined by an individualized approach to learning, an open-classroom layout, no uniform policy and unconventional teaching methods. Independent schooling is popular in Sweden; in 2010, approximately 12 percent of compulsory school students and 24 percent of senior high school students attended either tuition-based private schools or charter schools.
  4. Sweden has a Sami population of 20,000-35,000 people. The Sami people are indigenous to Northern Sweden and other Nordic countries and specialize in the production of reindeer meat. Along with preserving their right to the development of the Sami language, traditions and crafts, the Swedish government allows Sami children to attend specialized Sami schools (Sameskolan) during the years of Swedish compulsory school.
  5. Play and recess compose an integral part of the early years of education in Sweden. In accordance with the goals of the government, pre-school teachers incorporate the domains of STEM into the classroom curriculum by having the children participate in communal exercises rather than teaching the subjects at the chalkboard.
  6. The Swedish government has been working hard to compete with the educational systems of other European countries. In 2014, Sweden invested a larger share of its GDP on education (6.8 percent) compared to other member countries of the OECD (5.6 percent).
  7. As part of a new curriculum made for all Swedish schools, including Sami language schools, special schools and upper secondary schools, the grading system changed to the A-F scale that is commonly used in the United States. Prior to 2011, the Swedish grading system had four grades ranging from Pass with Special Distinction (MVG) down to Did Not Pass (IG).
  8. According to the World Population Review, Sweden ranks tenth in the world in education, trailing behind its Nordic neighbors, Finland and Norway.  Sweden’s top university, the Karolinska Institute, is ranked 40th in the world.

– Grayson Cox
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Finland
Today, Finland has a reputation for one of the lowest poverty rates in the world, and thousands of Finns live below the poverty level. These top 10 facts about poverty in Finland will help put into perspective the socio-economic issues Finland faces today.

Facts About Poverty in Finland

  1. Finland’s poverty rate is 5.8 percent, based on a 50 percent threshold of the average income from the OECD’s most recent report. In recent years, the at-risk-of-poverty percentage hit its peak in 2008 at 13.9 percent but dropped to 11.7 percent by 2015. Finland’s low poverty rate is right behind Denmark’s and not too far from the other Nordic countries.
  2. In 2016, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) reported approximately 400,000 people — or 8 percent — of the Finnish population live underneath Finland’s minimum budget of 669 euros.
  3. Finland’s welfare system is based on the Nordic model, which emphasizes socio-economic equality. In turn, Finland strives to maintain a financial safety net for its citizens and reduce poverty. Politicians such as Bernie Sanders have used the Nordic model as an example to propose solutions to inequality in the U.S.
  4. Finns hold an unusually high amount of trust in each other, and tend to be more willing to pay high taxes needed for the nation’s welfare system. According to a recent Eurobarometer study, more than 80 percent of Finns say that they trust other Finns; this percentage is higher than in any other country in Europe.
  5. As of 2014, the child poverty rate in Finland was 3.6 percent. Child poverty tends to be lower in countries that spend a high percentage of their GDP on social programs, so Nordic countries including Finland possess some low poverty rates.
  6. The shortage of affordable housing ails low-income people and the homeless. One of the largest contributing factors to poverty in Finland is expensive housing costs, especially in urban areas. However, programs like Housing First help ensure that Finns have someplace to live, even at their lowest, most desperate moments. The program is funded by the government and has housed previously homeless Finns for extended periods of time.
  7. Low-income individuals and families have trouble accessing proper social and health services because of growing customer fees. Finland spends 8.6 percent of its GDP on healthcare, which is below the OECD average of 8.9 percent.
  8. In recent years, the number of unemployed immigrants has reached between 2 to 5 times more than that of the average Finn. As a result, more than 50 percent of immigrant households in Finland live in poverty. To combat immigrant unemployment rates, the European Investment Fund recently allotted 10 million euros for an experiment by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment that aims to provide skilled labor jobs for 2,500 unemployed immigrants.
  9. In January 2017, Finland became one of the first countries to start a universal basic income (UBI) experiment. Each month, they gave a stipend of approximately $680 to 2,000 unemployed people living below the poverty level. In theory, the experiment poses a potential solution to eliminating poverty within the country by providing enough money for each citizen to live frugally — regardless of social class. The experiment is set to end in December 2018, and the results of the experiment have not yet been released.
  10. In line with the Europe 2020 Strategy, Finland aims to lower the number of people living in poverty or social exclusion to 770,000 by 2020. According to Statistics Finland, currently 849,000 people live in poverty or social exclusion.

Poverty & Perseverance

Even with Finland’s success combatting poverty in comparison to other world powers, any trend of rising poverty or other negative living conditions within a nation is a continued concern. Finland will continue to experiment with other social programs for the financial security of its people, and hopefully the number of unemployed and impoverished will continue to decrease as a result of these efforts.

– Jessica Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Iceland
Iceland is a small country in Northern Europe home to about 332,000 people. The nation, which is a bit smaller than Cuba, is a Nordic island nation governed by a parliamentary constitutional republic. Iceland‘s size has not held the country back from becoming a world leader. In fact, the poverty rate in Iceland is one of the best in the world.

Poverty rates help us to understand people’s economic circumstances by looking at the ratio of people whose income is below poverty line and taking that as half the median household income of the total population, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The total poverty rate ratio in Iceland is 0.065. Many of the other Nordic countries, such as Norway and Finland, also post very impressive poverty rates.

Iceland’s unemployment rate, another key economic indicator, is also very low. These successes can be at least in part attributed to the nation’s robust commitment to open-market policies, which result in outstanding flows of trade and investment.

It is important to remember that Iceland’s economy was not always so strong. About 10 years ago, Iceland’s stock market lost 80 percent of its value overnight. However, in recent years, the economy has received a tremendous boost thanks to tourism.

Why has tourism become so big in Iceland? Many indicators point to the hit TV show, “Game of Thrones.” Iceland’s beautiful landscape, which includes volcanoes, is where much of “Game of Thrones” is filmed. According to Newsweek, some locals are even calling it a “tourism boom” due to the show.

Iceland’s economic success is the result of more than just an increase in tourism; government actions have also proven to be extremely beneficial. An example of this includes a government program intended to “stimulate a previously frozen housing market and reduce household debt.” It has been quite successful, as housing debt has dropped from 124 percent of the GDP to 77 percent.

Despite Iceland’s many economic successes, there are still people who are struggling. According to Iceland Review Online, over 6,000 Icelanders live in severe poverty. In order to improve the situation, Siv Friðleifsdóttir, who is the head of the Welfare Watch and former minister for the Progressive Party, wants Iceland to follow the lead of other Nordic countries by paying a base amount in child benefits.

The poverty rate in Iceland demonstrates that the country is a world leader in combating poverty. There is still work to be done, but Iceland is taking the necessary steps to improve the situation.

Adam Braunstein
Photo: Flickr

Nordic Countries Poverty Rates
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines the poverty rate as the ratio of the number of people in a given age group whose income drops below the poverty line, which is taken as half the median household income of the total population. Nordic countries have some of the lowest poverty rates in the world due to a number of factors.

 

Top Reasons for Low Poverty Rates in Nordic Countries

 

  1. Low Unemployment Rates. In Sweden, the unemployment rate has averaged 5.87 percent between 1980 and 2015. In November 2015, Sweden’s unemployment rate declined to 6.2 percent from 6.7 percent in October, the lowest reading since August 2008, according to Trading Economics. Notably, the number of unemployed fell by 55,000 compared to the previous year.
  2. The standard of poverty changes over time as countries become richer. As poverty researcher Peter Townsend notes, “Individuals, families and groups can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the type of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and the amenities which are customary, or at least widely encouraged or approved in the societies to which they belong.”
  3. Transparency. Nordic countries, such as Sweden pride themselves on their honesty and transparency of their governments. In Sweden, everyone has access to all official records. Sweden’s trust for public institutions was at 55 percent compared to Russia’s 25 percent, according to The Economist.
  4. Individual autonomy. Nordic countries have let go of the old social-democratic consensus and presented new ideas from across the political spectrum. They continue to invest in human capital and protect people from the disruptions that are part of the capitalist system, according to The Economist.

According to the OECD, the 2012 poverty rates for Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland stood at 9 percent, 5.4 percent, 8.1 percent and 6.5 percent respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, Mexico had the highest poverty rate at 18.9 percent.

The “Nordic Model” presents a starting point for other countries to develop methods to attack poverty as they work towards sustainable development.

Jordan Connell

Sources: The Economist, The Organization for Economic Cooperation, Trading Economics, Vox
Photo: Vox