|HOME SCHOOLING / INTERNATIONAL|
A Fundamental Difference: Home Education in Sweden and Finland
By Mischa Hammarnejd
We have home educated our children since 2005, in two different municipalities in Sweden. After a few months in the nursery (a carefully chosen private school) my wife and I noticed that the school had changed drastically since we went to school ourselves, a generation ago.
We participated in the classroom with our then 6-year-old boy for a month, and we observed with both grief and indignation what the school had become today; to say the least, it is very difficult for kids to “fit in.” “Why is it this way today?” is an extremely multifaceted and complex question. We concluded that there was no use in trying to change the system, especially in our current “political” climate, where it seems the school department and all of the agencies under it are completely deaf to suggestions for change—many, many in Sweden have tried that, and failed.
We chose to begin to home educate, in fact, after a “tip” from the school’s special education teacher. The independent school board was in favor of our beginning to homeschool. And when our son began first grade, the local public school was also in favor of our home education, so they granted our request. (In Sweden, parents have to be granted the right to home educate on an individual basis.)
We were most surprised at how fast and how well our son acquired knowledge and how incredibly easy it was to home educate. Classroom teachers from the municipality took care of the statutory “insight” into our homeschool program. They, too, noticed how quickly our son was learning. Regarding socialization, things also went just fine. He has developed very rapidly in all areas, and we noticed that the less we “interfered,” the better he learned—by himself. He learned more deeply than if he had been sitting in a classroom.
He completed the first grade material in the beginning of the spring semester. Since we were always together—he, dad and his sister—we were able to participate in many “real life” activities. His education was very much reality-based and a general education. As parents, we were amazed, as were the adults in our circle of friends.
At the beginning of his second grade year, we moved to another municipality. The new municipality seemed really positive about our home education, and both the second and third grade went by in the same way as in the former municipality. Everything was wonderful, and he learned fast and deeply, and it did not require that much effort from us parents. Since he was not tired after school, he and his sister attended all of the children’s activities in the municipality, and thus made a lot of friends. Probably more than if they had only met the children in the school environment. Unfortunately, the schools nowadays are overloaded with bullying and discrimination, which all too often lead to sad, depressed, and unmotivated children.
Sweden: State Knows Best
The summer of 2009 was unlike any other. With ROHUS, the Swedish Association for Home Education, we worked frantically to write a review of the proposed education bill that would eliminate home education completely. All private projects ceased, and instead, during the last week of September, I wrote. Together with two others in ROHUS I worked to compose all of the materials that would constitute our official review of the bill.
That fall our son started the fourth grade, and our daughter, the first grade. Two new teachers who had no experience with home education were assigned to “monitor” our homeschool. They were of the opinion that our kids should do exactly the same things, in the same order and pace, as what the school kids do. We raised a concern about this, and now things happened quickly: The principal of the school called for a meeting with the head school official in the area. We were told that if we did not comply with the teachers’ ideas, they would deny our home education application. The school officials also expressed fear of inspection from the federal school inspection authorities, and stated that we only had “permission” to home educate until March 2010—no longer!
We assessed our options. We could stay and fight. Or, send our kids to school in March. Or ... move from our homeland. Other families we knew had already left Sweden and moved to different countries. They had no problem home educating, as long as it was outside Sweden. So we decided to move to Finland, more specifically, to the Åland Islands (an island in the Baltic Sea that belongs to Finland.) Though only 15 miles and a two hour ferry-ride from Sweden, things were drastically different—and better!
Finland: Parents Know Best
After relocating to the Åland Islands in January of 2010, the Finnish school officials felt it best that we continue our home education “unchecked” throughout the school year. We continued homeschooling. In meetings with school officials, we expressed how we would use the national curriculum as our “guide” and that we would let the school know about our children’s progress.
But later on, toward the end of 2010, the school that would provide the “testing of the children’s progress” (as stated by Finnish law), felt they needed to change our plan. To our big surprise, they wanted our kids to do exactly the same things, in the same order and pace, as the school kids! Their reason for this was that it would be asking too much of the teachers to test our kids differently than the school kids.
Since the law is different in Finland than in Sweden, and since Åland Island is almost independent from Finland, we needed to investigate thoroughly what was required of us, and the school, in matters of home education. We had already joined Suomen kotiopettajat, the Finnish Home Education Association. Together with them, we visited the Finnish National Board of Education, highest school ministry in Helsinki, Finland. Later, we visited the Åland Island government as well, to find out exactly how the law regulated home education (we had already learned that school officials do not necessarily know the law).
Representatives from the Finnish National Board of Education met with us for a scheduled one-hour meeting. Due to the sympathetic and understanding general director, our meeting lasted for one-and-a-half hours. I presented our family’s case, and the three officials unanimously stated that we could not be subjected to the public school curriculum and pace, since Finnish law protects “education otherwise” than the public system.
We took meticulous notes at this meeting and then scheduled a meeting with Åland’s district government. Early in November 2010, we met with the Education Minister, the head of the school office, and the principal from our local school. The outcome was basically the same as that of the National Board: if the method of “testing the children’s progress” suggested by the school did not suit the way we home educated, we were free to find another method. The local government also expressed how they would like our input on new legislation regulating home education in Åland.
Very well-informed after these two meetings, we wrote to our local school board about it all. They did not make an immediate decision in the matter, but rather decided to wait for the new legislation on home education.
We expect the process of creating new legislation regarding home education will begin in spring 2011.
We have now lived in Åland Islands for almost a year. It is so interesting to see how two nations so close geographically and culturally, and with such similar history, can be so different.
One of the biggest differences, when it comes to legislation about family and children’s education has become very clear—and dear—to us:
In Sweden, most legislation presupposes that the state and/or municipality has the direct responsibility for the education of children—not the parents.
In Finland (and the Åland Islands), it is the opposite: Whether you send your kids to a local public school or home educate, the responsibility always remains with the parents.
This difference is fundamental, and has important consequences where home education is concerned. In Sweden, if there is a discrepancy between what the parents and the municipality feel is the best education for a child, the municipality is deemed to know best. In Finland, the parents have the authority and natural right to direct the education of their children.
Also, in Sweden and in many other countries, parents must fight for the human right to home educate. In Finland, this is unnecessary. Parents do not need to fight for something they already have, something that the state cannot remove from you. Historically, this is because the Finnish population never gave this right to government, whereas in Sweden, the population failed to oppose laws that effectively removed parental responsibility for the education of children. This is known as the Swedish state’s “school-duty,” and it continues to provide the basis for disgraceful actions such as the new Swedish education law or the continued separation of Dominic Johansson from his parents.
Mischa Hammarnejd is a board member of Suomen kotiopettajat, the Finnish Home Education Association. He and his family live in Finland.
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