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.


16 thoughts on “Swedish Schools vs. American Schools

  1. 1. Sir, i don’t know which school you go but i do agree it’s abit to relaxed here.
    when i attended middle school (4-9) i had homework almost every day and the class passes was really fast for most kids to handle in my class, teachers did not have it stressfull because their entire school semester was planned ahead. Just math alone is hard for everyone in the class, we need to finish 5-11 pages in 40-60 minutes lesson and those who do not finish it have to stay after school or attend extra classes start start every tuesday and friday from 160:0 to 18:00 and once finished you’re free togo, that is the school i went to and as i said before the teachers schedule and what to teach is already preplanned by school administration office or whatever the english name for it is, they just need to follow that schedule, there are days where retests are planned, everything here is preplanned, only stress teachers get is from grading our homework and tests.

    2. As for tardiness there is a reason why the teacher doesn’t yell at them or anything. That is because if a student has total of 4 hours absence in the month they won’t get their student pay, the teacher is really careful with timing the late students and registering them, even if they had a legit reason it would still count in absence but it wouldn’t be counted in the 4 hours, it’ll just say legitimate absence, that is pretty hard because there are students living alone and swedish parents usually don’t want to spoil their teens so their teens needs to get a job if they want to live on their own and eat, they’d of course help if it went overboard like they have absolutely no place to stay or havent eaten anything in a long time.

    3. Teachers work on good faith but they can’t be held responsible because their sick. There are not allot of teachers so that we can have spare in case in the morning the teacher calls in sick and a spare teacher is there, Not allot of people nowadays choose to be a teacher because it’s a stressfull job. In my school if a teacher is going to be gone over few days they’ll try to find a substitute and it’s really hard to find, sometimes old teachers that used to work here but retired comes back for a week or even months untill that specific teacher comes back.

    4. About the electronic part i am completly with you, the electronics draw most of the students focus from whats happening in class, In my school we had to sign a contract saying that we would only use school related things on the school laptops and we would not use the phone under the lesson unless it’s for the subject you’re working on, there are people that need translators in english class because they don’t want to bother everyone else asking what does “forward” mean? and there are people like me, we get annoyed by every little sound so we are permitted to listen to music when the teacher is not presenting something in the board.

    oh wow, just noticed that i wrote allot, thanks for your article it was entertaining to see there are schools that are that relaxed :O

  2. I would say that there are big differences between the schools. I live in Jönköping, and we have about 2 tests a week + hand ins + projects to finish. Right in this moment I’m at an english lesson, trying to write my speech about the United States being a developing country, and I can not agree with you at all. If you take the projects for example, they actually give you the opportunity to learn about the subjects on a deeper level. When you study to a test you often just memorize the text, answer the questions on the test, and then erase all the “knowledge”. in Sweden that’s called “Ytinlärning”, which means that you don’t really receive the knowledge. The phone issue, I believe, don’t have to be an issue. Those students who doesn’t care about school gets distracted, while we, ambitious ones, only use it as an aid, in form om calculator, music player etc. All my classes are like lectures, and all our homework (Which are rather many) are to do at home, which I find a very inefficient. I have a friend who lived in America as an exchange student last year, and he told me that in his school he got to choose the subjects he wanted, which in my head sounds quite strange, and that all american students were really behind in math. He was in some sort of advanced math group, which meant doing math he learned like 3-4 years ago. So I would believe that all schools are different, and that your reality probably isn’t everyones.

    Kind regards

  3. Hi …Im Nelly from the Philippines…I am so interested to learn more about the educational system in Sweden…I am planning to visit Sweden for benchmarking purposes…I am a school administrator and I wish I can visit your school and share some good practices to help improve our educational system…

  4. Hello! I’m an American 10th grader and I’ll be going to Sweden next year with Rotary Youth Exchange. This article was really helpful to hear about the education system from what is probably a similar point of view, just wanted to say thank you 🙂

  5. This is very interesting to hear from an American point of view. We are thinking of moving to Sweden with a 13 and 15 year old from the US. I am worried about the schools. My son is going into 10th grade over here after the summer and is scheduled to take AP Calculus BC. Does anyone know what math level 15 year olds are learning? Also I hear you can’t go into secondary school without a knowledge in Sweden. Would my older child need to miss a year of regular school to learn Swedish?

    • Hi!

      Thank you for your comment. In response to your first question, I would say that if you are worried about the schooling, I know that there are many private schools in Sweden that are excellent and get very high remarks. That being said, they also tend to be very, very, expensive. The public schools in some areas may be better too, this was just my experience. Although I have to add that many of the other exchange students I met during my time there said very similar things. Also, the average 10th grader probably is not doing AP Calc. In my class (11th graders) they were still learning basic algebra. That being said, I was a “police” major, so the classes were not as academically challenging as say a science or math major. Swedish High schools are somewhat like American colleges because you pick a certain track or field that you specialize in and then you are placed in a class of 30 or so kids who you will spend all 4 years (or 3 in some cases) with. The same people all day, every day, with little variation. There are pros and cons to this approach, but it is something to be aware of.

      I went to Swedish school without knowing any Swedish. It was challenging because the classes are all taught in strictly Swedish. However, almost everyone in Scandinavia speaks fluent English, so my teachers were able to give me tests in english and help, translate everything. While it was hard in the beginning, I really did start to pic up Swedish fast because I was surrounded by it day in and day out.

      I hope this helped! If you or your sons have any more questions about Sweden, or the schooling, please do not hesitate to ask. My email is patzer.hannah@gmail.com.

      • Hi!

        Even though this post was around a year ago, I really hope you can answer these few questions that I have as i’m also going to be an English student that will soon study in a Swedish high school.

        My first question is what school did you go to?
        The second question is that were notebooks/exercise books provided? as well as were text books provided?
        The third question is that did the students mostly speak English between them or english?

      • Hi Dana!

        I would be more than happy to answer your questions. I went to a small school in Varberg called Drottning Blankas Gymnasieskola. Textbooks were provided, but notebooks, pencils, and other normal school supply was not. I would say that most of the students spoke very good english, but they were very hesitant/shy to speak it to me a lot of the times. When speaking to each other they spoke exclusively in Swedish and all of my classes were taught in Swedish as well.

        Hope this helps!

        – Hannah

  6. Hi! I jist wanted to say that because you chose to study to go directly to work afterwards, that might be a reason that it is so relaxed. If you chose, let’s say the Nature program I think it would’ve been more strict. In Sweden, at least where I live, the “working programs” are known to be a bit easier. I’m not sure though.

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