Making Connections. Early Childhood Education in Sweden
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Early Childhood Education in Sweden
By Rhian Evans Allvin
On a recent trip to the Middle East, where I encountered early childhood educators from around the world, I met Ina Furtenbach Lindén. After many years as an area manager for preschool in Gothenburg, Sweden, Ina was transitioning to educational director for the city. In conversations, I was struck by the substantial commitment Sweden has made to ensure all young children in that country have access to high-quality early learning. There are many lessons we can learn from their experiences. In that regard, I asked Ina if she would share her perspective with Young Children readers. She graciously agreed.
The Best Interest of the Child
By Ina Furtenbach Lindén
It’s an honor to share thoughts and ideas about the Swedish system with YC readers.
Our educational system provides preschool for all children ages 1 through 6 years. As a transition to Compulsory Comprehensive School (for ages 7–16 years), the preschool class for children age 6 is an introductory year. As the playful didactics of preschool meet the requirements of primary school, it’s a way of softly introducing children to life in primary school.
The preschools were opened in the 1970s as part of Swedish family policy. The links remain strong, as the National Agency for Education describes the purpose of preschool:
- To make it possible for parents to combine parenthood with employment and/or studies
- To support and encourage children and help them grow up under conditions conducive to their well-being
The preschools are publicly funded and complemented by smaller income-related parental fees. The preschools are organized by the municipalities, and by law, they have to offer places to children whose parents work or study and to children in need of special support within 4 months of application. The preschools offer services from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Governance and goal setting
Governance on the national level is by Parliament and is based on the Education Act, the Discrimination Act, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is a national curriculum for preschool. Our National Agency for Education creates materials and tutoring for development and support, and the National School Inspectorate supervises and performs quality assurance evaluations of preschools every three years, in each municipality. Preschools that the inspection finds do not live up to the goals in the curriculum lose their licenses.
Local government on a municipal level is responsible for budget, funding, development, organization, and so on. The municipality issues licenses. Not only are there preschools run by the municipality, but there are also preschools run by religious bodies, private schools, cooperatives, parental groups, and more. Each preschool is responsible for fulfilling the educational act and the curriculum; municipalities ensure that preschools fulfill the requirements in order to receive funding.
In 1998 the first national curriculum was issued. It is based on the Education Act and a binding ordinance. It has a sociocultural perspective and an experience-based approach that make up the theoretical ground, with a focus on dialogue and communication. The curriculum for preschool was revised in 2010, and the learning dimension was strengthened.
Education in the preschool aims at children acquiring and developing knowledge and values. It should promote all children’s development and learning and a lifelong desire to learn.
—Sweden’s Education Act, 2010
Each municipal educational organization has a director of education in charge. A preschool director is responsible for each preschool’s quality assurance, staff responsibilities, and such. The preschool teachers safeguard quality in the preschool.
Preschool teachers have a university degree, which takes three and a half years to earn. To get a permanent contract, teachers have to be licensed by the Ministry of Education. Teachers can lose their license for misconduct. The teachers are responsible for creating routines, following up, and evaluating the children’s learning to determine how well the pedagogical activities meet the goals in the curriculum. Teachers also create new routines and activities to meet children’s developmental needs, based on the conclusions they draw from their systematic review of the quality of teaching and learning.
Child care workers have upper-secondary vocational training for three years. They are responsible for execution of routines, with the leadership of the teacher. The curriculum has separate goals for the teacher and the child care workers that define the different levels of responsibility.
More than 85 percent of Swedish children 1 to 2 years old and 95 percent of children 3 to 5 years old attend preschool. Sweden has welcomed many new citizens, largely from the Middle East and north Africa, in recent years and significantly increased the population in a relatively short time. Many of them have a background of only brief schooling and a different view of public schooling. Since we know from research and experience that attending preschool is important for future school results and social integration, there is a strong political will to encourage these families to send their children to preschool. The municipalities go through significant efforts to reach these families by home visits, information campaigns, and economic agreements connected to the social welfare system.
A holistic approach
The preschool system is based on a holistic approach in which education interacts with nutrition, health, social care, and child protection. All preschool meals are free of charge, and the teachers eat for free, as we consider the meal part of health education. The preschools collaborate closely with medical care and training for children with special rights. The staff collaborate closely with the social services in education, support, and prevention as well as in cases of child protection.
I would like to end with quotations from our educational act that sum up the intention and approach of the Swedish educational system.
All children and youths shall have equal access to education. All children shall enjoy this right, regardless of gender, social, and economic background.
—The Education Act (2010:800), §8,9
The best interest of the child should be the starting point for all education.
—The Education Act (2010:800), §10
Photographs: 1, © NAEYC; 2 © Getty Images; 3 courtesy of the author.
Rhian Evans Allvin is the chief executive officer of NAEYC. She is responsible for guiding the strategic direction of the organization as well as overseeing daily operations. Before joining NAEYC, Evans Allvin was a guiding force in Arizona’s early childhood movement for more than 15 years, including serving as CEO of Arizona's First Things First.
Ina Furtenbach Lindén is educational director for Gothenburg, Sweden. She previously was an area manager for preschool education in West Gothenburg, overseeing 50 preschools. Ina led the development of a sustainable organization that trains directors, teachers, and other staff, increasing educational quality and improving communication. She follows the Reggio Emilia approach. [email protected]