23 SES 02 A, International Knowledge Assessment and National Reforms 2
Through large parts of the second half of the 20th century, Sweden was seen as a model in matters of education by reform-minded educators and educational politicians of the political left around the world. This view from the outside was complemented by a Swedish self-perception of being at the vanguard of educational reform worldwide. This perception has changed quite radically in recent decades. Internationally, Sweden is still often viewed in a positive light, but since the publication of the first round of PISA-results, another Nordic country has become the epitome of educational success: Finland (Takayama, Waldow, & Sun, forthcoming). In Sweden itself, the Swedish self-image of an educational model and an exporter of educational reform has been replaced by a discourse of an educational system in crisis, lagging behind other countries in important respects. This change of the perception of Sweden, both from the outside and from the inside, occurred comparatively rapidly within at maximum a couple of decades. Partly, the change is connected to the rise in importance of international large scale assessments and the changes they brought to educational policy-making and the construction of educational “reference societies” (Lingard & Rawolle, 2011).
The presentation will look at this change of image Swedish education went through. It will combine an internal with an external perspective, i.e. it will combine an analysis of the changes of Swedish self-perception with an analysis of the perspective on Sweden from a country in which the Swedish model had attracted a particular amount of attention in its heyday: Germany (Nilsson, 1987).
At the latest from the 1950s, being an international player in the field of education was an important part of the Swedish self-perception (Ruth, 1984). At a national level it was important to show that abroad there existed a general interest in Sweden, and particulary in the Swedish type of modernity. In the field of education, comprehensive schooling and equal opportunity as well as a close relationship between state and policy became ideals to be exported in the Swedish self-image.
This internal perspective is complemented by an external perspective. Nowhere did the Swedish school reforms of the post-war era attract as much attention as in Germany (Nilsson, 1987). For reform-minded educationalists of the political left, Sweden became the promised land, while many observers taking a more conservative stance were highly critical of the Swedish reforms (Husén 1989). The positive traits ascribed to Swedish education concerned particularly its purportedly “child-centred” and “democratic” character. After the publication of the first round of PISA-results, Finland gradually took over as the most prominent exponent of “Scandinavia”. In contrast to Sweden, Finland enjoys almost universal acclaim across political camps in Germany. Arguably, however, certain traits that were admired in the Swedish model in Germany are today projected on Finnish education, even if actually not typical for it. German educational discourse seems to be in need of a country to represent certain ideas not present in German education – if it is Sweden or Finland seems not to matter.
Husén, T. (1989). The Swedish school reform - exemplary both ways. Comparative Education, 25(3), 345-355. Lingard, B., & Rawolle, S. (2011). New scalar politics: Implications for education policy. Comparative Education, 47(4), 489-502. Luhmann, N. (2000). The reality of the mass media. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. Nilsson, I. (1987). En spjutspets mot framtiden: En analys av de svenska enhets- och grundskolereformerna i utländsk vetenskaplig litteratur 1950-1980. Lund: Universitet. Ruth, A. (1984). The second new nation: The mythology of modern Sweden. Daedalus, 113(2), 53-96. Scheufele, D. A., & Tewksbury, D. (2007). Framing, agenda setting, and priming: The evolution of three media effects models. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 9-20. Takayama, K., Waldow, F., & Sun, Y.-K. (forthcoming). Finland has it all?: Examining the media accentuation of “Finnish education” in Australia, Germany, and South Korea. Research in International and Comparative Education.
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