Greater differences in study results between schools, and increased segregation. These are examples of what the marketisation of the education system in Sweden has led to. In a new book, researchers describe the development of the Swedish education system, and how it affects teachers, pupils and school leaders.
Sweden has long been recognised abroad for its good education system, which has helped increase equality and social mobility. However in the book "Neoliberalism and Market Forces in Education", researchers from various disciplines present a darker picture of the Swedish education system.
"The OECD has criticised Sweden for its education system being too market oriented and that it leads to segregation and inequality", says Andreas Fejes, editor of the book and professor of adult education research at the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Linköping University.
In particular the book shows how our view of the role of education has shifted - from a fundamental social right to a commodity on a market. This view shift has changed how the school as an institution is perceived. In addition to planning, organising and delivering services, schools also must follow up and evaluate the services provided. And the results have been varied.
The book's various chapters discuss topics such as the free school choice, the ability of private entities to start independent schools and to make a profit on publicly funded schools, and the consequences this has on pupils, teachers and school leaders. Among other things the book describes how the free school choice is actually not particularly free - that it in fact excludes many pupils. For the pupils who live in cities or can commute there are many opportunities for choice. But the pupils who live in the country or who are studying an introductory programme have no choice. Moreover, it is more common that certain groups actively select schools.
What can the rest of the world learn from what has happened in Sweden?
Although Swedish pupils nowadays rank low in international comparisons of education such as the PISA test, the idea of a good Swedish education system remains. The book's authors believe the world should learn from the Swedish example.
"Here we have evidence of how quickly market reforms can transform an education system, and contribute to deteriorating school results, segregation and inequality. And the long-term effects aren't even visible yet. What sort of society will we have, when pupils who have been taught from an early age to be customers, become adults?" asks Andreas Fejes.
Book: Neoliberalism and Market Forces in Education (2019), Magnus Dahlstedt, Andreas Fejes (editors) Routledge.