Updated on May 29, 2016
Student Life in Sweden: Lunch and Stuff
In my previous blog post, I wrote about some of the differences between being a student in America vs being a student in Sweden and concluded that students in Sweden have far more rights and responsibilities. In addition to these student rights, there are several other differences that make going to school in Sweden much different than going in America.
One of the most shocking contrasts that I have observed is the school’s stance on junk food. In America, students are regularly given opportunities to eat junk food provided by teachers as incentives for good behavior or rewards. Also, students are constantly encouraged to purchase junk food as fundraising opportunities for the school. This became a very concerning topic for me during my last year teaching in America. Multiple times a week, I saw students spending money on PTA “munchie carts” or school-wide bake sales, sharing sweets at lunch to celebrate a classmate’s birthday, or indulging at a class party. I am happy to say that I absolutely never see this being done in Sweden. Don’t get me wrong, Swedes LOVE sweets. BIG TIME. However, schools here know that using unhealthy treats as an incentive or to raise money is not in students’ best health interest. In Sweden, the schools (by means of the government) provide all materials and services that students need – including field trips and sport days – making it unnecessary and against policy to have fundraisers.
School lunches are also much healthier and tastier in Sweden. The meals at my school are prepared from scratch using fresh ingredients. Every day, students line up and walk through a buffet that offers the following options: salad bar; a meat, fish, or vegetarian entree; plus fruit and soup. Don’t forget about what I call the IES desert: a cracker smeared with butter (maybe not so healthy). As a teacher that eats these meals every day, I can testify that they are not only healthier but tastier than the frozen and prepackaged meals offered in my previous school system.
Grades and Testing
Right now in America, standardized testing is king. Students spend a great deal of the school year preparing for, administering, and stressing out over national standardized tests. Compared to this, students in Sweden rarely take national tests. This means that children spend more time learning valuable skills and information instead of drilling facts for a test.
In addition to this, younger students in Sweden are not even assigned traditional grades. The students in year six begin the year stressed out because they begin receiving a report card with grades for the first time in their school career. In Sweden, students have a limit on how much homework they can be given in one week (one assignment per class). Additionally, students must be given at least one full week to complete any homework that is assigned. A Swedish student will also never be expected to take more than three tests on any given school week.
Though students in Sweden have lots of free time in the day to make choices and develop social skills, they do lack the after school extracurricular activities provided in American schools. Most schools here do not have bands or sports teams (or the cheerleaders and pep-rallies that come along with them). If a student wanted to participate in these activities, they would be expected to take part in them through a third party, at a different location, after school hours. Or, if they were very serious about the hobby, they could attend a specialized school that included this activity in its curriculum.
Once a semester, Swedish students get to take part in a sports day. For me as a teacher, this is the most fun day of the year. On sports day, students choose an activity and spend the day learning outside of the classroom. Since I am very nonathletic, I chose to take students bowling. Other options include skiing, skating, and swimming.
Each semester in my new school is capped off in a really nice way. All students and staff gather outside of the school in a large auditorium for the end of semester ceremony. Performances by students and teachers are given, awards and acknowledgements are called, and final speeches are made. It is a really nice way to bring the entire school together and end things on a positive and communal note. When the ceremony is over, students line up to receive their final grades from their mentor. This hanging out physical copies of grades in a sealed envelope really adds a level of pomp and prestige to the grades which I enjoy.
They don’t exist in Sweden. Students are free to express themselves how they see fit. Since I am used to uniforms and American modesty standards, I often see students wearing clothes I am certainly not used to seeing.