Updated on May 29, 2017
Internationella Engelska Skolan
After teaching in the American school system for five years then moving to Sweden, I can say without a doubt that the two education systems are miles (or kilometers) apart in many, many ways. I will try to explain some of the differences, as I see them, through several blog entries; there is just too much to talk about in one post. However, I must mention that I am constantly told how different my school system, Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES), is from typical schools in Sweden.
A little history on IES: It was founded by Barbara Bergström, a headstrong woman from America who moved here to marry her first husband. She felt that discipline and a calm atmosphere were lacking from the Swedish school system and wanted to crate “a calm and safe learning environment where teachers can teach and students can learn.” In 1993, she opened her first IES school in Stockholm. Since this time, the system has grown exponentially year after year.
In fact, Bergström’s school system became so successful that in 2012 she made $81.5 million, making her the highest paid person in all of Sweden that year. Making so much profit off of a school system raises few eyebrows in Sweden, but she doesn’t seem to care. She feels she is worth the money, doesn’t live a life of luxury, puts her kroner to good use, and always pays her taxes. As of 2015, IES operates 26 schools in Sweden with 17,500 students. Each school also has a very, very long waiting list of students wishing to get in.
From the start in 1993, Bergström, put into place three core values which still characterize International English Schools and set them apart from other schools in Sweden. First: all classes, except Swedish and social studies, are taught in English by native English speakers (mostly from the US and Canada). Bergström insisted that students should develop a “command of English” since it has become the world’s most common language, or “the key to the world” as IES calls it. This is obviously different that other Swedish schools that only teach in Swedish (with the exception of language acquisition classes). Imagine going to a school in America that had 70% of its classes taught in a language other than English.
IES’s second major conviction calls for high academic standards and rigor. Students who choose Internationella Engelska Skolan do so knowing that they will be challenged and expected to work hard. Teachers are also expected to push all students to reach their potential. As a result, IES scores on the Swedish National Exams are always at the top of the chart.
Other than having most classes in English, the thing that most sets my school system apart from other Swedish schools is its determination to provide its third and final promise: a safe and calm learning environment. In the Swedish culture, kids have A LOT of rights. These rights are taken very seriously. Though many of these social norms are very much alive in IES, some are challenged in the system. For example, students who would call me Kevin in any other school are expected to refer to me as Dr. Buckley. Also, in other schools, students are allowed to have their cell phones in class; at IES phones must be kept in lockers at all times. In IES, not only must students be on time to a lesson, they must line up quietly outside the door and wait to be invited into the classroom by the teacher. After quietly entering class, the students stand behind their chairs until the teacher asks them to sit and begin the lesson.
I have talked to several of my students who came from typical Swedish schools and they all say how much more they enjoy the calmer learning environment. They tell stories of unruly classrooms where teachers have a difficult time teaching because they can not control the classroom. They also talk of busy and loud corridors with students going in and out of the school. I am encouraged that each time I have one of these conversations and ask the students which school the prefer, they quickly and definitively state ours.
Once again, I have not taught in or even visited any Swedish schools outside of the IES system. These comparisons are made with my knowledge of IES and conversations with other teachers and students. It is important to understand the differences between my school system and other Swedish school systems as I compare my teaching experience in Sweden to my experience in America. Click here for more information on IES, or feel free to reach out to me through our “contact us” page with any questions.