Swedish Schools vs. American Schools

After attending school here in Sweden for a little over two months now, I have noticed some distinct key differences in how the schooling works here compared to America. As I have stated before, the news here in Sweden, is well to be honest, quite the snooze fest. However, the past few weeks one of the main stories has been how the test scores in Swedish schools have been significantly dropping the past few years. Once a country that was said to have some of the best schooling in the world, now finds themselves struggling to keep up.

I am not saying that I think the schools here are bad, not by any means. In fact, I think there are a few things that Sweden does a lot better than America with regards to the education program. I feel as this post will also help a lot of the kids who are thinking of studying abroad in Sweden, as the most common question people ask me is often “What is school like?”

Last disclaimer, I would like to reiterate that this is based off of my experiences and schools I attend. Each school is different, I am sure there are some schools in Sweden that are the complete opposite of what I am going to describe. That being said, I have now gotten to know over 20 exchange students and after talking with all of them, who come from all over Sweden, and attend all different schools, we ALL agree on the major points that I will discuss. Due to this, I feel as though it is safe to say that in general this is what the schooling in Sweden looks is like.

  1. Cell Phones

The first major difference I noticed in my Swedish school was the use of cell phones/electronics in the classrooms. In America, if a teacher sees you using your phone in a classroom you are dead meat. Here, in Sweden kids have their phones out from the begging of class to the end. Right on the table, most even text, go on Facebook, listen to music, all while the class goes on. I have even seen a kid answer a call and walk out of class right smack in the middle of the lesson. The teachers here do not say I thing. After two months this is something I am still not used to, and quite frankly I think this could be a big reason why the Swedish schools test scores are suffering so much. The kids are so busy are their phones they have no idea what is going on in class.

  1. Tardiness

In America we take tardiness pretty seriously. You get 3 free tries then its detention time. All classes start on time and we have bells to signify this so there are no discrepancies. In Sweden, there are no bells because everyone has such different classes, so they use somewhat of an honor system for being on time to class. An honor system which people completely take advantage of if you ask me. I would say about half the class arrives on time. The rest trickle in 10, 15, 30, minutes late. Basically whenever they want, as there is no punishment. The teachers do not even get mad. When a kid walks in late and disrupts the class the teacher merely nods, smiles, and says hello.

  1. Absent Teachers

This one is also very strange to me. When a teacher is gone in America, we have “substitute teachers” to take their place. In Sweden, they just cancel class. I would say on average I have 2 classes canceled a week because a teacher is gone, at an appointment, etc. In America, I have never in my life had a class be canceled.

  1. Tests

The dreaded tests. Back home I would say I had about 3 a week with 1 or 2 quizzes mixed in. I would spend hours studying, trying to get the coveted A. Tests in Sweden are basically nonexistent and when they do happen the kids are so unprepared/do not care almost all fail. While here I have only experienced two tests – one in Spanish and one in math. During the Spanish test kids had their phones out, were comparing answers, and even then most turned the test in half blank. As a whole kids just do not seem to care here. The Swedes do not want school to be a stressful place and I guess tests=stress. They mostly have “projects” which I will talk about in the next section. In America, I hated tests. I thought they were dumb, pointless, and beyond stressful. However, after experiencing what school without tests is like, I know realize that they are imperative to learning and really help solidify knowledge.

  1. Homework

Or lack there of I should say. Two months, not a single sheet of homework. The only thing you could say was homework would be these “projects” that the teachers assign. The way most classes here work is you talk about a subject, then rather than taking a test, you do a at home “project” which you will then turn into the teacher. In theory this is a good idea, but I feel like the kids are given a ridiculous amount of time to do them. For example in my English class we watched the movie The Help then we were told to write a 1-2 page paper about a racism was portrayed in the movie. In my school in America, this would have been a two day project at most. Here in Sweden, we had three weeks to do it.

  1. Schedule

Okay, enough with the negatives. One thing that I feel Sweden does better is the way the scheduling works. I compare it to college scheduling in the states. We have longer classes (an hour – hour and a half), but not every day. This also means that we have fewer classes each day. I prefer this much more compared to the overwhelming seven class, five day a week, schedule we use in America. This way I feel like the teachers are not as rushed to squeeze everything into a 40 minute class and we get more in depth knowledge. Likewise, in America this would also be nice for studying for tests, doing homework, things like that because we would be able to plan according to when we have the class.

  1. Classes

Another thing I feel like Sweden does better is the classes the students take. They are way more geared to what profession they would like to be when they get older. For example, because I am in the firefighter/police program now I take a lot of gym, psychology, and law classes, but no history or science because it is not needed for the profession. I think that this is very beneficial and can save a lot of time and money for when they go to university because they will have already taken some classes needed and will not waste time/money learning things they do not need.

  1. Classroom setting

Most classes in America are taught using lecture form. The teacher has a PowerPoint, and talks for most of the hour while kids take notes. In Sweden it is the opposite, the classes do not even feel like really classes to me. They are more just like giant discussions. I find this to be more entertaining and really enjoy hearing everyone’s point of views; however, from a strict learning standpoint I feel as though the lecture way works better.

There is good, and there is bad. Overall, I like my school here in Sweden, but if I was going here for long time I would be a little concerned that I was not learning enough. For example, I am at least 3 years ahead in math compared to my fellow students. I feel like while it is nice to have such relaxed classes and little outside of school work – I wish there was more. It can get quite boring having so much free time and my mind misses learning lots of new knowledge everyday like I did in America – even if it was very stressful at the time. Which brings me to the point in America schools, I feel like while I learn more, there is SO much pressure on grades that it is to much. We are still just kids, and it can be very overwhelming having 3 hours of homework a night, doing a sport, studying for tests. It has felt so good to just take a break from it all while being here. I feel like I have been able to find myself again, and my mind and body feel amazing and free of stress.

I wish there could be some sort of happy medium combing the two schooling systems. Sweden’s is too relaxed, but I love the way the scheduling/classes work. America is too stressful, but I feel that some tests and homework is needed to retain/learn material.

I hope this gives everyone a little more insight on the schooling. FUTURE EXCHANGE STUDENTS: Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below! Or email me! I truly love hearing from you guys and answering all of your questions – so ask away!

Swedish Word of the Day: Tåg (Tah-Geh) – Train. I have ridden more trains in my time here in Sweden then ever before – I love it! At first they were really confusing, but now I have no problem navigating my way to wherever I wish to go.

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