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Bilingual schools give kids the edge

Bilingual schools give kids the edge
How do you raise a bilingual child? The most effective method is to immerse them in the language from the youngest age possible. As Nic Townsend discovers, this is exactly what Futuraskolan, a company operating seven Swedish schools and preschools, strives to do.

Since its creation in 2001, Futuraskolan’s innovative approach to education has taught many bilingual children throughout greater Stockholm. “The majority of our students are Swedish who have often lived overseas or have a parent from abroad,” says Marie Burman, Head of Schools of Futuraskolan, “Others are students with parents from other cultures, or are here temporality with a company.”

Having started with a single preschool, Futuraskolan have since expanded to five preschools and two high schools, teaching over 1200 students. Each school follows the standard curriculum as set out by Swedish law, but what makes them unique is their greater emphasis on languages and Natural Science, and their introduction of English at an earlier level. While most Swedish schools do not teach English until grade three, Futuraskolan starts immediately and thus fully harness a child’s susceptibility to learn a second language quickly and effectively.

Futuraskolan also offers different levels of English throughout its various campuses. Futura International, Futuraskolan’s preschool in Östermalm, is entirely English speaking. In 2010 they’ll open up another two preschools both of which will be completely bilingual. By the end of the year they also hope to open an international school with an international curriculum.

“Language is what we believe is going to be valued in the future job market”, says Burman, “Actually being bilingual, and not just knowing or understanding another language, will be integral.”

As the name suggests, Futuraskolan aspires to be forward thinking and innovative. Classes typically encourage learning through playing and various hands-on activities, particularly in the preschools. “We strive for energy, progressiveness and quality in our programmes,” says Marie Burman, “We make sure we’re first with the latest research on education and how the brain develops.”

Nor is education limited to the classroom, and even lunchtime has been harnessed as an opportunity to enhance students’ physical and intellectual development. Futuraskolan is immensely proud of its eating program where all student meals are made from scratch with fresh ingredients. With dishes such as French Fish Soup and Fillet of Plaice with Remoulade Sauce, the school menu reads more like something from a holiday resort than a school, and much healthier than a Big Mac.

As part of the Swedish ‘free school’ system, Futuraskolan is both privately owned and government funded, giving students and parents the advantages of both private and public schooling. “As we are government funded we do not charge fees,” says Burman, “But we can still choose our own teachers like a private school and take a more direct route to filling positions.” As a school with very distinct values and ideas on education, this is particularly important for Futuraskolan. “We establish with our staff our values and principles so that all staff across all our schools are on the same platform.”

The freedom to employ their own teachers is also vital in their attempt to create a truly bilingual environment. “In our English programs we only have native English speakers. We ensure all our teachers are fully qualified in their respective areas and ideally have experience in an international school.”

Overall the biggest measure of Futuraskolan’s quality of education is their rapid expansion. By the year’s end they’ll hopefully have seven preschools and three high schools, and this is only possible because of Futuraskolan’s proven methods.

“We’ve grown very rapidly over the past three years predominately through word of mouth. People have reported good things about the quality of our education.”

Nic Townsend

This article is sponsored by Futuraskolan

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