Finding humorous examples of student work is rarely challenging; suggesting that one example represents underlying problems in Swedish schools is harder.  Having shown how my views about Swedish schools have changed, I want to begin explaining why, by showing how low student results are and how much they have fallen.  I hope the rest of the post will justify beginning with an image of a student who has rubbed everything out, realising: “F**k”.

According to the OECD, PISA scores in Sweden have:

“declined over the past decade from around average to significantly below average. No other country taking part in PISA has seen a steeper fall.”

Since 2003, The proportion of low-scoring students in reading comprehension has risen dramatically.

Sweden 21.png

Isak Skogstad emphasises (in Swedish) that this level of reading comprehension makes it difficult to understand the meaning of a newspaper article.

In maths, the percentage of low-scoring students has risen in the same way.

Sweden 22

If we mistrust PISA, and turn instead to TIMSS, we find that results for 8th grade students have “deteriorated markedly” since 1995 and Sweden is one of a handful of countries whose results fell throughout the 2000s, according to Skolverket (the National Agency for Education, 2012. p.8 [Swedish]).  Sweden finds itself over 100 points below South Korea, and significantly below the EU/OECD average (p.33).

The silver lining

Perhaps we could clutch at the unfair straw that Swedish education has focused on supporting higher-attaining students.  The graph below shows however, that as the percentage of low-scoring students in maths has increased (red), that of high-scoring students has almost halved (green).

Sweden 24.png

Another possible straw is the claim that PISA tests fail to capture the essence of Swedish creativity.  A headteacher interviewed by the BBC argues:

“I think they fail to capture our innovativeness. Look at Skype, Spotify for example, they’re all from Sweden. We weren’t born that way, it comes from somewhere. “

“Sweden has a lot of internationally successful companies”, Isak Skogstad emphasises, “since we actually had a top perfoming school system a decade ago.  People seems to forget this often.”  By its very nature, its hard to quantify a decline in innovativeness, but Skogstad has suggested a couple of ways:  Sweden has fallen to seventh in Bloomberg’s rankings for the most innovative countries, which South Korea tops.  In PISA’s score for ‘digital-creative problem solving, 23.5% of Swedish pupils are low-scoring, compared to 6.9% in South Korea, 8.8% of Swedish pupils are high-scoring, compared to 27.6% of South Korea’s.  OECD indicators on ‘soft skills’ show Sweden eclipsed in creativity, curiosity and critical thinking, rankings again topped by South Korea.

Sweden Soft skills

There may be more to education than what can be tested, but when all the test indicators are going in the wrong direction, it’s time to question what these untestable qualities are and when exactly their value is going to manifest itself.


In my next post, I will begin to explain why results have fallen so far.

The full series:
I: How my impressions of Swedish schools have changed over time.
III: Are Sweden’s educational reforms down to disastrous policy reforms?
IV: Chaotic behaviour in Swedish classrooms
V: Constricted curriculum, problematic pedagogy
VI: False ideas, weak training, limited support
VII: Comparisons with England, conclusions, suggestions

The vast majority of the data and graphs in these posts is from blogs by Isak Skogstad (in Swedish):