This teaching method is revolutionising Swedish schools

The world is changing faster than ever now in 2022, and new teaching methods are needed in order to prepare children and young adults for the future. One of these teaching methods is 'active learning', a research-proven method that is motivating even the most passive and shy of students to take control of their own education.

This teaching method is revolutionising Swedish schools

Christina Peters is a languages teacher at Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL), a coeducational independent boarding school set in the countryside north of Stockholm, and a confirmed proponent of ‘active learning’ .

She sometimes even uses the school’s bucolic setting as a teaching tool. “Especially in spring, I like to send the students out into the grounds with their phones to take a picture of something that inspires them. A leaf or a flower perhaps.”

When the children return to the classroom Christina sets them short exercises. “They need to talk about the object in German.Okay, what is it? Check in the dictionary for the correct word. Where did you find it? Why did you choose this to photograph? What colour is it?’ Then they will write a short text – or maybe even a poem – about the object to accompany the photo, and we’ll have a little exhibition about it so that others can see it, and maybe they can write something too in German.”

Enables shy students to engage more in lessons

Active learning is a teaching method that focuses on how the students learn, not just what they learn. The technique ensures students are actively engaged in learning and encourages more complex thought processes.

In essence, the student is almost seeing the subject they’re studying in 3D – they’re processing it as a whole rather than as a flat ‘you speak, I listen’ construct.

It has been proven that using active learning, which engages students through discussions, forums, problem solving, case studies, role plays and other interactive activities, results in improved academic performance compared to traditional lessons or lectures. Research shows that active learning stimulates more holistic thought processes and encourages shy students to engage more in lessons.

Learn more about the benefits of sending your child to a school which practices ‘active learning’

Christina Peters in the classroom.

Ejike Onwueme, a science teacher at SSHL, is a big fan of approaching subjects ‘in the round’, but he’s not such a big fan of using the outdoors to teach unless his students need to collect samples. He likes his students to be active in a different way.

“I like to see my students arguing passionately in the classroom,” he says. “I ask them to research the advantages and disadvantages of something like the use of stem cells. Should we continue to use them or not? I give them 20 minutes and then I ask them to debate. But I generally don’t let them argue for the side they believe in – I tell them which side of the debate to argue for. So that even if they, for instance, disagree with the use of stem cells, they have to argue for the use of stem cells. It’s a wonderful way to get them to see all sides of an issue and it builds their confidence and critical thinking.”

Using personal history to inspire

Christina Peters regularly uses her own history to submerge her students in the German language but using a real-life context. “I often tell them about my own history growing up in the old East Germany,” she says. “When we discuss that, I bring in a box with objects from my past. Could be my East German ID card, for example or a report card from my teacher or even a flag. Then I ask a few students to work out what these objects are in German. Then they need to present this information, in German, to the other students. Then they will all discuss my cultural and historical background.”

Ejike believes the advantages of active learning are very obvious. 

Ejike Onwueme teaching in an SSHL classroom.

Learn more about how your child can benefit from attending a boarding school like SSHL

Active learning is very child-centred because the students themselves have to participate in the process of their learning. They have to make the effort.”

You don’t see bored students in class

Furthermore, in a “traditional” class, it’s common for the same few students to always participate by asking or responding to questions. By contrast, a class that uses active learning activities provides all students in a class with the chance to think and engage with course materials and practice skills for learning and applying that knowledge. In short, active learning coaxes along shy students in a way that’s just not possible in conventional classrooms.

Shy kids rarely want to stand up in front of a class, according to Ejike. “But active learning slowly builds confidence by getting shy students to work in very small groups, so they can still fully participate in the class.”

But it’s also about engagement, says Ejike.

“With active learning you don’t see bored students in the classroom. You see the students being more mentally agile. You don’t see sleepy students or students drifting off, because they’re so much more involved in their own teaching process.”

And the benefits don’t end there, according to Ejike. “Another great thing is that you don’t have to wait until the end of the year exams to assess what the students have learned. You see it now, right now in the classroom, right in front of you. Active learning makes assessment immediate and continuous!”

Active learning is just one of the many benefits of sending your child to SSHL. Learn more about the innovative school north of Stockholm – applications are open now.

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Why Sweden should protect its fantastic popular education organisations

When the computer programming class Richard Orange's son had loved was cancelled, he got in touch with the local branch of ABF, a Swedish public education organisation, and started it up on his own.

Why Sweden should protect its fantastic popular education organisations

The course in Scratch, a block-based computer programming language for children, was the only extracurricular activity I’d ever found that my son had shown any enthusiasm for and I was disappointed it had been cancelled.

The Covid-19 pandemic had bankrupted CoolMinds, the company that ran it, and the course was called off half-way through. I collected the email and phone number of Fabian, the teacher, and also of some of the other parents, but a plan to move the course to the offices of a parent who ran a startup went nowhere.

Months later, I wandered on impulse into my local branch of ABF, the non-profit organisation founded more than 100 years ago to educate workers, knocked on the office door and found the people there immediately willing to help.

Yes, they could host a course teaching computer programming to children. Yes, they had a computer room upstairs with 10 PCs and a projector. No, I didn’t need to pay anything to rent the room.

All I had to do was start a so-called “study circle” and do a short online course to become a so-called “circle leader”.

After asking around among the parents of my children’s classmates and making a few posts on neighbourhood Facebook groups, I soon had the 10 children I needed, and the course started a week later. 

ABF, launched in Stockholm in 1912 by the Social Democrat party and unions, is just one of Sweden’s studieförbund, or popular education organisations.

There is also Vuxenskolan, which was started in 1968 by a fusion of the Liberal Party’s Liberala studieförbundet (founded 1948) and the Centre Party’s Svenska landsbygdens studieförbund (SLS), founded in 1930.

And finally, there is Medborgarskolan, founded in 1948, by members of what became today’s Moderate Party. 

ABF remains the biggest, according to Statistics Sweden, with some 83,000 study circles run across the country in 2022, compared to 74,234 at Vuxenskolan and 30,169 at Medborgarskolan. 

They are all fantastic resources for foreigners. 

Some 42,871 people born abroad took part in events organised by Sweden’s study circles last year. 

At the same time as my computer course, the ABF centre in Malmö gives Swedish lessons to a group of Ukrainians, and ABF centres across Sweden have since 2015 been teaching Swedish to refugees who do not yet have access to Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) courses. 

Worryingly, Sweden’s study organisations are struggling. The government is reducing state funding for them by some 250 million kronor next year, 350 million the year after, and 500 million in 2026, cutting their funding by about a third.

At the same time, participation has still yet to fully recover from the pandemic. 

Below is a graph showing the total number of people partipating in study organisations, study circles and other types of popular education. 

Source: Statistics Sweden

As a foreigner who has come to the country and been impressed by its strong tradition of free adult education and self-improvement, I feel it would be a terrible shame if the studieförbund began to be dissolved. 

I found ABF such a help in setting up my children’s computing course.   

Once I had the personal numbers of the children and their parents, I loaded them up onto the ABF web portal for circle leaders, and could then tick off whether they attended or not.

When I realised the course was going to be too time consuming to teach myself, I got back in touch with Fabian, whose teaching at CoolMinds my son had liked so much. 

All Fabian had to do was report the hours he taught and his rate. ABF’s administrators then divided the total between each parent and, once I’d signed off that the course was over, sent each of them a bill. Neither Fabian nor I have ever had to deal with any of that ourselves.

The course is now well into its second year and is – given that it’s basically an extra school lesson – surprisingly popular with the children. We’ve started two more courses, one where Fabian teaches Java programming to older children and another teaching a new group Beginner’s Scratch. 

The Local has used ABF’s free podcast studio several times. Photo: ABF

It’s not the only way I use ABF. 

When the studio The Local usually uses to record our podcast in Malmö is booked, we use theirs. ABF used to host the choir my daughter is in. 

Alongside all this, there are all the eclectic events like Tai Chi, embroidery, or even on how to cook Finnish pirogi pies.  

But what is best about Sweden’s studieförbund system is that if there’s something you as a foreigner want to learn about or do, some event or activity you think should exist, all you need to do is get in touch and they will help make it happen. 

Long may they last.