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Education

State financed non-confessional free education for all

Education at all levels of the public school and universities is state financed and regarded as part of the public welfare state. It should be non-confessional and is without fees for all Swedish (...)

Education at all levels of the public school and universities is state financed and regarded as part of the public welfare state. It should be non-confessional and is without fees for all Swedish citizens, as well as for citizens of other Nordic countries, Switzerland and countries within EU/ESS.

10 years of school are compulsory by law for all children; preschool for 6-year olds and primary school for age 7-15 (SFS 2010:800). Most young people continue three additional years at secondary school (Sw: gymnasium). Around 45% go further to universities.

D 15 March 2021    APer Pettersson

Deregulation of welfare sector – expansion of private schools

Historically all schools and universities have been managed by the state. However, the education system has gradually opened up for other agents, although still financed by the state. The (...)

Historically all schools and universities have been managed by the state. However, the education system has gradually opened up for other agents, although still financed by the state. The responsibility for the public schools moved from the national state level to the local municipalities in 1991. One year later, in 1992, a deregulation reform made it possible to establish private schools financed under the same conditions as municipality-managed schools. Pupils became free to choose school, and a certain amount of state money is set out for each individual pupil that goes to school (SFS 2010:800). Around 70% of private schools are owned by profit companies, some are owned by foundations or cooperatives and some by associations linked to ideological profiles like Montessori pedagogics. Only a minor part of private schools are linked to faith communities. There is no special law or regulation for private schools or confessional schools apart from some formal parts of the general School Act applied to private schools (SFS 2010:800).

Most part of preschools and schools are still managed by the local municipalities. In 2020, 20% of children went to private preschools, 15% of all primary school pupils went to private schools and 28% of all pupils at secondary schools attended a private school. Most of the private schools are very small. In 2020, there were 823 private primary schools and 438 private secondary schools, altogether 1261 schools. 71 of these have officially declared being confessional private schools; 59 Christian, 11 Muslim, and one Jewish (2017). There is, however, no official registration or obligatory declaration of the ideological or religious profile of private schools, which mean that other private schools may also have a confessional connection.

There has also been a deregulation of the university system (SFS 1993:792). However, most universities including all major ones are managed by the state, that is around 35 universities. There are presently around 20 private universities managed by foundations or voluntary organizations and financed with state grants according to the number of students in subjects for which they have permission to issue academic degrees. A few of these private universities are linked to faith communities, and have some kind of confessional profile.

All parts of the educational system that are financed by the state have to be open for any child or adult regardless of political views, religion, etc. (SFS 2008:567). All primary and secondary schools have to follow the same non-confessional curriculum set by the state School Authority (Sw: Skolverket), regardless of if the school is private or managed by the local municipality. Even education about religion is a compulsory non-confessional part of the curriculum for all municipal as well as private schools. Municipality-managed schools must by law be secular and non-confessional in all respects. Private schools may express their profile by adding extra teaching or activities. However, such added teaching or activities must be voluntary for the pupils. There should be no ideological or religious profile added to the compulsory general curriculum.

Confessional schools have been repeatedly questioned in the public debate since they were introduced. The critique has especially been focused at Muslim schools, arguing that they hinder immigrants’ social integration. There is presently (March 2021) a majority in the parliament in favor of limiting or reducing the number of confessional schools, although the issue is still under investigation.

D 15 March 2021    APer Pettersson

Non-confessional education about religion in public schools

Non-confessional education about religion has for a long time been a compulsory subject in the Swedish public school system, named “Knowledge of Religion”. It consists of objective and neutral (...)

Non-confessional education about religion has for a long time been a compulsory subject in the Swedish public school system, named “Knowledge of Religion”. It consists of objective and neutral education about different religions, life-views and ethics.
The historical background goes back to 1842 and the establishment of a national compulsory school system for every child. Teaching in Christianity was the dominating school subject and had the function of being a preparation for confirmation. One major aim was to make children able to read the Bible and the hymnbook. The Church had control both of the school and the teaching through the local school council, which was chaired by the local priest.
The close connection between school and church persisted more than one century but weakened gradually. A non-confessional approach was first introduced in 1919 as part of a general discussion on the relationship between the dominant Evangelical Lutheran confession and minority Christian confessions. A new education plan replaced the catechism of Luther as teaching book, although the education still focused on Christianity. Not until 1951 were school teachers not belonging to the Church of Sweden allowed to teach the subject “Knowledge of Christianity”. In the 1962 the curriculum opened to teaching about other religions and life-views, and it was declared that it should be taught in an objective non-confessional way. The curriculum of 1969 changed the name of the subject to the still existing “Knowledge of Religion”.
The purpose of the compulsory school subject “Knowledge of Religion” is a combination of learning about and learning from religion. It should inform about different religions but also help the students develop existential skills. These skills are supposed to be developed through knowledge and encounters with other people’s understanding of life, their religion, tradition and worldview. The education is based on the pupils questions of life, while the religious traditions are used as different possible answers to these questions. An underlying motive is to promote tolerance and understanding of other people, and thereby contribute to integration. The classroom with several views of life and religions represented provides an arena for common discussion and reflection about religion. It makes it possible for the child to shape its own interpretation of life beyond the limits of the family tradition.

For more information, see:
- Lars Friedner, "Religion in public education - Sweden" in Gerhard Robbers (Hrsg.), Religion in Public EducationLa religion dans l’éducation publique, European Consortium for Church and State Research, Trier, 2011, 493-502.
- Jenny Berglund, "Swedish religion education: Objective but Marinated in Lutheran Protestantism?", Temenos 49/2, 2013.
- Linda Vikdahl, “A lot is at stake: On the possibilities for religion-related dialog in a school in Sweden”, Religion & Education Volume 46, 2019, Issue 1, p. 81-100.

D 15 March 2021    APer Pettersson

Confessional religious education provided by faith communities

Since religious education in the public school system is non-confessional, the place for religious confessional education in Sweden is within the different churches and other religious (...)

Since religious education in the public school system is non-confessional, the place for religious confessional education in Sweden is within the different churches and other religious organisations. The largest type of confessional religious education is the Church of Sweden’s confirmation teaching, consisting of a 60 hour Christian confessional course. In 2019, it reached 22% of all Swedish teenagers of the age of 15, which means that 26.000 young people participated and were confirmed. Additionally, the Church of Sweden runs many other activities for children, young people and adults. Some of them have explicit educational aims while others have a more implicit educational function. The minority faith communities have different forms of educational activities according to their respective traditions.

D 15 March 2021    APer Pettersson

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