A thesis from the University of Gothenburg on school policy documents shows that the ideal pupil and the ideal teacher are supposed to be naturally curious and have an inherent will to learn as a means of increasing Sweden’s economic competitiveness. “The argument that education should contribute to democracy or solidarity has taken a back seat,” says author Lena Sjöberg.
Lena Sjöberg, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and lecturer at University West in Trollhättan, has critically reviewed various types of policy document from the 1940s through to today. These include government reports and bills, European Commission texts, Swedish Teachers’ Union campaign materials, and student teachers’ examination assignments.
“A relatively consistent, and so powerful, picture emerges of the ideal teacher and the ideal pupil today,” says Sjöberg. “They constantly want to learn more and be mobile, creative, flexible and productive.”
Sjöberg notes the large number of systems and techniques created since the 1990s to steer pupils and teachers in the right direction, such as national testing, teacher licensing, developmental dialogues and personal development plans.
“These systems and techniques have come at the same time that schools have been deregulated and decentralised. There is much talk about the competent student and the professional teacher, but in practice there is a big gap between the rhetoric and the extensive control that has been built up.”
The policy documents also reveal a lack of consensus on how the teaching personality is formed. From the mid-1960s until the early 1980s, the documents suggested that teacher training could actually mould the teaching personality, and this view is still around today.
A competing view is that a teacher needs certain inherent personality traits, as expressed in the 2007 government report on teacher training HUT 07, which argues that teachers need to have an aptitude for the profession: “However good the training is, it cannot create the good teacher that children and pupils need if he or she does not have the essentials for successfully pursuing the profession,” the report says.
“This is an echo from the mid-20th century,” says Sjöberg. “It was also said back then that teachers need to have a certain natural predisposition.”
“This is probably part of the personal characteristics that cannot to any great extent be influenced by teacher training,” states a bill from the 1950s.
There are therefore parallels between the mid-20th century and today – but there is also a big difference:
“Back then, schools were considered first and foremost to have a democratic role. Today, there is instead an economic rationality that prevails – the aim of education is now primarily to increase our competitiveness in the global economy and ideally take Sweden to the top of the class. This change in how the role of education is perceived can be seen not only in the Swedish documents but also in the European Commission texts.”