Many Swedish films and books are trying to make people believe that Sweden is the perfect place for children to grow up. They may not be far from the truth. Parents can take lengthy time off work to see their child grow up for the first year and a half, while the social security provides ample financial aid until children leave home. School yards, even in the big cities, produce lots of lively and happy sounds. But how do the kiddos themselves experience life and how do they spend their days?
Love (14), Johan (14), Isabelle (14), Christopher (14) and Jasmin (13, all in photo from left to right) are on a three-day excursion with their civic teacher Jan (47) and the rest of their class. All of them are pupils in a local school in Stockholm. They have come to Finnhamn without any particular educational purpose, basically just to spend some fun days out of the cities. They get to stay up longer than usual: week day bed time for Jasmin and Isabelle is 22h00 or 22h30. Friday night is used for going out, so they tell me. They are allowed to stay out until midnight, or a little shorter if they go into the city centre. Their parents don`t like the idea of many drunk people in the city centre, and let them stay out longer if they go somewhere else. So what they usually do is hang out with friends or at friends` places. They may go for a walk or just spend some time outside. No pubs and bars allowed yet, and no alcohol until the age of 18. Some of their classmates are not very good at obeying that rule though.
Love (14), Johan (14), Isabelle (14), Christopher (14) and Jasmin (13):
`Friday night is our preferred night for going out`
Beside weekend night life, the kids activities vary by the season. One big advantage of being a child in Sweden: you get very long summer holidays. They start at the beginning of June and last until the end of August. Swimming is the most popular pastime in summer. The weather can be quite hot and the days are long. On the longest days, the sun hardly makes it below the horizon. Favourite sports and games for boys to do and girls to watch are skate boarding and cycling. Love further likes basketball, which suits his 1m85 height. Johan is doing athletics, with 800m as his favourite event. Girls like to go shopping. Jasmin`s parents forward her the child allowance from the social security, from which she buys all her clothes and other necessities. Isabelle gets SEK 400 (~ EUR 45) per month pocket money, serving her to buy sweets and make up.
Although the girls can still go shopping in winter, the rest of their outdoor activities are likely to be different. Winter is cold and dark, but it`s perfect for throwing snowballs. Kids do not easily get bored with that, even while snow-covered landscapes make it possible to throw snowballs at each other for at least a few months per year. Playgrounds and school yards have special winter equipment, and local lakes serve as ice hockey courts. Winter is also more suitable indoor activities.. Internet is wide-spread in Swedish households. Christopher is using it to play a war game called Counterstrike. The girls spend their time chatting and adding photos at profile website Playahead. Jasmin is excited that she will soon have a computer to herself. She is now using her parents`. Off-line entertainment includes poker, monopoly or board games. There is no time for boredom, or it must be those little moments of watching The Simpsons on television. The exposure to English in combination with Swedish subtitles makes even watching TV a useful purpose for youngsters.
Swedish education, in which the schools and the parents both take a central place, is built around producing independent individuals. Pupils can expect to be treated by teachers and parents as their equals. Quite different from the situation in Morocco, where Jasmin`s mum is from. When she was visiting Morocco once, she found the education very traditional, with kids needing to work hard and having very little influence on their own destinies.
Historical facts are not of the highest importance. What counts most is how the matter you learn in school will be useful in later life. Teacher Jan explains: `Thirty years ago, you needed to know when Gustav Vasa died. With the arrival of the internet, there is too much information for children to retain. Facts are not necessarily the most important things in life.`
And so they get not only training in mathematics, Swedish and English but also in Huskunskap, `domestic science`. They learn how to fix things, how to use tools, how to cook and how to take care of laundry. The program is obviously the same for boys and girls.
The main goal of education in Sweden is to teach kids the basic necessities in life. The a combination of skills, independence and sensible behaviour will make them model citizens. But as much as Swedes tend to dislike people who think high of themselves, they equally look down on people who can not keep up. Jan says: `Those who manage to deal with the independence are winners. Those who can not live in so much freedom risk dropping out on society.` Jan`s words are a small yet striking example of how freedom is its own biggest enemy, not only in Swedish education but in any domain and anywhere across the globe.
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