Visiting a School in Karlskrona
By: Hussein Samatar
Thursday, May 26th was a very special day for me as a newly elected Minneapolis Public Schools Board member. One of the things I wanted to do during my trip to Sweden was to visit a school and to assess and understand how Sweden educates its children – including the new arrivals. Professor Benny Carlson was very kind in organizing a meeting with the head of Karlskrona’s board of education. Unlike Minneapolis Public Schools, Karlskrona does not elect board members to oversee the school system. Educators and bureaucrats run the school system. They have also introduced in the last 5 years or so, privately run but publicly funded schools. They are the equivalent of our charter schools.
I was surprised to see that they are dealing with a similar set of issues to ours, such as opportunity gap and achievement gap between traditional Swedes and the community of color (although nobody calls themselves a community of color in Sweden – this term seems uniquely American). Swedes are also seeing young black boys struggling in the school system as well as the boys of immigrant parents. One big difference is that they do expect all of their children to perform, regardless how long they have been living in the country or if they are categorized as low income or not. The expectations are a little bit higher in Sweden.
After we met with the official, we headed to visit lower and middle school. This school goes up to 9th grade. Then the students are divided into different tracks based on the outcome of their tests. Some are college bound and others go to technical schools, with nearly all of them going to some sort of college after graduation. Their college is essentially “free” as it is largely paid through taxes. As a father of four, and with higher education tuition and living expenses currently out of control, this is a very attractive system I wouldn’t mind to implement in the United States!
The Principal of the school was waiting for us, along with a Swedish-Somali teacher, science teacher, and 16 year old Swedish-Russian who spoke perfect English – with a midwestern American accent no less! She told me she learns American English through Youtube, Facebook, and other social media. She said she was part of the web-generation!
The school was very calm, clean, and extremely quiet. We visited almost all of the classes of the school. They had science, technology, engineering, and a math wing. It was awesome! They also had an English immersion program within the school. This program was meant for students who want to study some of the subjects all in English They was a lovely theater and an unbelievably huge sports facility. I was envious to see their sports amenities and facilities. I wish we could have something like this for our middle schools. My son attends Seward Montessori and his school does not have nearly as much space for science, art, and athletic facilities. I was jealous – sorry!
I saw the future of Sweden in front of my eyes again. 95% of the students in this school are foreign born and together speak over 50 languages. They teach Somali as native language literacy. They have more books in Somali than most of our Minneapolis public high schools combined, Can you believe this? They are very serious in retaining the Somali language while the children are learning Swedish and English simultaneously. I have no idea how we will compete with these children in a global arena. I was certainly impressed by this school in Karlskrona and wish them all the best!
After the tour, we saw a play performed by the 8th and 9th graders of the school in a local theater. It was a musical about a Soviet submarine that surfaced near Karlskrona in 1985. This was big news then and the children were having fun interjecting the story with humor and a love relationship between a Soviet soldier and Swedish woman. Although I did not understand one word of it, I still thought it was funny and that the music and songs were great.
Around 6:00 p.m. we headed back to Benny’s summer house, and I called home talk to Ubah and the children. Afterwards we had dinner and I worked on my blog. It was a very relaxing and rewarding day for me. Thank you all for making this day happen!
The next day (May 27th), I was off to Vaxjo to stay there until late Sunday. I have lot of very interesting and joyful stories to tell about the “Greenest European City”. Stay tuned!
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