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The fundamental democratic values held by Swedish schools are described in the governing documents for schools: the Education Act (Skollagen) and the Curricula (läroplan). These values include the sanctity of human life, individual freedom and integrity, the equal value of all people, equity and solidarity between people.
The Education Act contains general provisions for all school years and the basic provisions for the different school forms. What specifically relates to upper secondary education is set out in Chapters 15–17. The Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) decides on the Education Act.
The upper secondary school ordinance contains regulations on upper secondary education and makes the provisions of the Education Act more specific. The Government decides on the upper secondary school ordinance.
The curriculum for upper secondary school forms describes the fundamental values, tasks, as well as goals and guidelines of the school. The government decides on the curriculum.
Each programme has its diploma goals. These goals provide the foundation for planning education and teaching from the student’s first day in the programme. They should steer the education and the organisation of upper secondary work and its contents, setting out the goals and the orientations in the programme, as well as the goals of the diploma project.
Each subject has a syllabus that describes the courses included in the subject. The Government decides on subject syllabuses for the foundation subjects in upper secondary schools on the basis of proposals from the National Agency for Education (Skolverket). The National Agency for Education decides on the subject syllabuses for the other subjects.
According to the Swedish Education Act, all education should be carried out in accordance with fundamental democratic values and human rights, covering the inviolability of people, the freedom and integrity of the individual, the equal value of all people, gender equality and solidarity between people. A school should actively and consciously influence and stimulate its students in embracing the shared values of the society and encourage their expression in practical daily action.
Learning to participate
Student participation and influence is a common thread throughout the chain of governance that provides guidelines and conditions for how learning to participate should be organised in schools. The core of these directives is the Education Act. For the Education Act, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has served as guidance.
The curriculum for the upper secondary education (Lgr11) emphasises the importance of student participation and influence as follows (p.11):
'As laid down in the Education Act, students should be able to exercise influence over their education. They should be continuously encouraged to take an active part in the work of further developing their education and be kept informed of issues that concern them. Students should always have the opportunity of taking the initiative on issues that should be treated within the framework of their influence over their education.
The goals of the school are that all students individually:
- take personal responsibility for their studies and their working environment
- actively exercise influence over their education and the internal work of the school
- on the basis of knowledge of democratic principles further develop their ability to work in democratic ways
- develop their willingness to actively contribute to a deeper democracy in working and societal life
- strengthen confidence in their own ability to individually and together with others take initiatives, take responsibility and influence their own conditions.'
The quote above illustrates that high expectations are imposed on Swedish schools in terms of student participation that should cover all students. The challenge is realising the intentions of the governing chain through concrete work on participation in schools.
Citizenship education in Sweden is imbedded in the subject of social studies. All students at upper secondary school have social studies as an obligatory foundation subject, both those following higher education preparatory and vocational study programmes. The scope varies though between vocational programmes and higher education preparatory programmes.
The subject of social studies is by its nature interdisciplinary. It has its roots in political science, sociology and economics, but also includes other disciplines from the social sciences and humanities. Using concepts, theories, models and methods from all these disciplines, complex social issues can be understood and explained. The subject also has a historical perspective.
Teaching in the subject of social studies aims at helping students broaden, deepen and develop knowledge of people’s living conditions based on different social issues. Teaching should give students the opportunity to develop knowledge of issues relating to power, democracy and gender equality. Human rights, including the rights of children and young people in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child is naturally an important part of social studies.
Students should also be given the opportunity to develop an understanding of issues concerning working life, resources and sustainable development. Students should also be able to develop a scientific approach to social issues and an understanding of scientific work on social issues. In addition, teaching should contribute to creating conditions for active participation in the life of society.
According to the Education Act ch. 4, § 9, students have the right to influence in schools. They shall continually be encouraged to take an active part in efforts to develop education and remain informed on issues that concern them. Students should always be encouraged to take the initiative to discuss which issues are to be addressed during lessons, in the context of their influence over education.
Forum for consultation
According to the Education Act ch. 4, §13, in every school unit, there shall be one or more forums for consultation with students and guardians. Such questions that are important for a school’s activities and that may be significant for students and guardians should be brought up at the forum. In the forum, the headmaster has the duty to inform on draft decisions and give students and guardians a chance to comment before decisions are made.
Student councils and student bodies
Different forms of student councils and student bodies are described in section 5.3 Youth representation bodies.
In grades 7–9 and in upper secondary school, a student safety committee must be in place. The committee provides the opportunity to discuss the school’s work environment with the school principal. This could relate to issues such as deficiencies in sanitation facilities, indoor air quality or overstretched timetables. Student safety representatives (elevskyddsombud) are entitled to training in their role and free time to do their job. They should be invited into work environment management under largely the same conditions as the staff safety representatives, represent the pupils and work for a good work environment at the school. In the Work Environment Act (Arbetsmiljölagen), there are special regulations about student safety representatives and their participation in the safety committee.
Supporting non-formal learning initiatives focusing on social and civic competences - School elections
School elections have been held in Sweden in many compulsory and upper secondary schools since the 1960’s, but were first compiled nationally in 1998.
Ahead of the 2018 elections for the National Parliament and the 2019 elections for the European Parliament, the Government has instructed the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society (MUCF) to carry out school election projects for students in years 7–9 of compulsory school and in upper secondary schools. The aim is to promote young people’s interest in democracy and participation in political processes, and to stimulate political discussions in schools.
During the 2018 school election, 1 528 schools reported results, with totally 391 045 students voting. The voter turnout was 79.8%. The authority is responsible for the web site Skolval 2018 where the results are presented.
The Government considers that there is still a need to stimulate higher voter participation among young people. School elections give a concrete experience of the voting process, as school elections are arranged in the same way as regular elections, with ballot papers, voting lists and polling stations. The arrangement also gives an opportunity for schools to discuss democratic governence and the principles of democracy.
School elections 2018 and 2019 build on previous experience, and special emphasis is given on making school elections available for schools in socio-economically weaker areas.
There is no specific system of quality assurance for non-formal learning initiatives in Sweden. The general rule is that the responsible authorities report their main results to the Government when a task is completed.
The National Agency for Education (Skolverket) ensures that Swedish education maintains a good standard of quality. The agency achieves this with the help of national schools development programmes and in-service training of the staff. The agency distributes grants and arranges head-teacher training programmes. Democracy and fundamental values are included in this responsibility.