Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Preschool in Sweden - an infowrap

From time to time I will feature different countries and how they approach their Early Childhood Education programs.  It's always fun (and educational) to see the varied approaches used.  Today I am featuring Sweden.   

In North America Sweden is known for Abba, Ikea and its delicious meatballs.  This modern-day little Nordic country is famous for its openness and welcomes people with all sorts of different views and backgrounds.  So how do they conduct their preschool education programmes?  Let's take a look shall we? 

Sweden has a comprehensive system for children from ages 1-6.  Here are some documented facts that are very interesting.


* They have very well trained teachers.  Preschool teachers have an average of three years university and are valued as important educators.

* There is a low teacher to student ratio. They ratios are about 1:6 (can you even imagine that in North America... sounds like heaven to me. I used to have 20-25 per class and two groups a day ( one morning and one afternoon) when I taught Kindergarten in Canada). This lower ratio allows teachers to observe, interact, and focus on each child's style of learning and development.  Amen. 

* Play.  Swedish preschools spend much of their day playing inside and outside.  Integrating the outdoors with all of its rich learning materials is very important to their curriculum and to the overall health of the children.

* They implement universal curriculum with local interpretation.  The curriculum lays out goals and guidelines with no specific benchmarks or standards.  The Swedish system trusts their educators to use these goals and guidelines to be a framework, not a checklist.  

* They focus on fundamental values. One of the focuses is on norms and values.  This is stressed to respect to all children and their families.  It teaches children conflict resolution respect for everybody's intrinsic values, and for the environment.  Gender equality and fighting against gender stereotypes is a concerted effort as well.  Here is one of their quotes:

"An important task of the preschool is to impart and establish respect for all human rights and the fundamental democratic values on which Swedish society is based.  Each and every person working in the preschool should promote respect for the intrinsic value of each person as well as respect for our share environment. The inviolability of human life, individual freedom and integrity, the equal value of all people, equality between the genders, as well as solidarity with the weak and vulnerable are all values that the preschool should actively promote in its work with children."

* Free preschool and affordable care is offered there. Preschool starting at age three is free for everyone for up to 3 hours a day, including stay-at-home parents.  For working and studying families the hours are extended. Then, at age six all children can attend "Preschool class" which is a pre-primary year designed to get children ready for the start of compulsory education at age 7.  94% of children between ages 3-5 are enrolled in the preschool system. 

* The program is evaluated, not the child.  There is no formal testing of children in Sweden until third grade.  If you read the national curriculum document you may have seen this under the preschool teacher's responsibilities:

"that each child's learning and development is regularly and systematically documented, followed up and analysed so that it is possible to evaluate how the preschool provides opportunities for children to develop and learn in accordance with the goals and intentions of the curriculum." 

The child is not being tested.  The aim is to respect each child's development and therefore evaluate how the school and the program meets their needs.  This is a great example of child-centered learning.  

* Strong ties to family is greatly emphasized.  Parents are expected to be participants in their child's care when they are not present.  Teachers are expected to be responsible for creating the bridge to make that happen.  This is interwoven with the focus on respect because each child's home life should be respected and, therefore, incorporated into their preschool experience. The low teacher to student ratio mentioned above helps with this aspect greatly.

Learning more about preschool programs in other parts of the world is important and may help preschools in our own countries.  

If you have taught in Sweden I'd love to hear your thoughts on your experience.  I would value input from someone who has been there and done that.  North America struggles with the importance of Preschool to this day and the battle is still going on as to what is best.  Hopefully we can learn from others as to what works... not only for the good of our children but our eventually for the good of our country.  

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