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Swedish Public Education

- a brief historical overview

The history of public education in Sweden is long and varied. This short introduction is not complete and since I'm not an expert on this subject it may not be a selection of facts that a professional historian would use.

The first schools

The first schools were organized by the church (katedralskolor in the dome parishes) and some monasteries (klosterskolor) in the late middle ages. These were only for the privileged students and mainly for education to become a priest.
The first national law about school organization is from 1571 and major additions were made in 1649 and in 1724..

Early school forms

Trivialskola, from Latin trivialis = common and trivium = a 3-road-crossing. The 3 "roads" were the 3 subjects taught: Grammar, Rhetoric and Dialectics. The school form was first used in 1649 and ceased in 1820.

Skrivarklass, a school form, created in the school law of 1649 but with roots back in the middle ages, where writing and mathematics for every-day use was taught. In the law of 1724 this was renamed
, (from apologist = master of mathematics, from Greek apologizesthaj = accounting books, klass = class).,In the school law of 1820 developed into apologistskola and in 1849 incorporated in elementarläroverk, later transformed into reallinjen (the mathematical side of realskola and gymnasium.

Public Education

The education on a wider scale and accessible to most people was evolving as from the beginning of the 18th century, The church law of 1686 (again emphasized in the law named konventikelplakatet in 1726) gives the local church a responsibility to organize education in reading. The klockare (literally "bell-ringer", an employee of the parish) was tasked to teach all children in the parish to read and the basics of Christian faith. The institution of husförhör "encouraged" development of reading skills and basic knowledge of the Christian faith for all people. In fact the literacy in Sweden (reading skills) is assumed to be about 90 % already in the 18th century !

Early "school books"

The books that were available to a broader public was the book of hymns and Lilla Katekesen (The Small Catechism). The importance of "Lilla Katekesen" in the old Swedish society can hardly be overestimated. It was used not only as a source of religious knowledge but was equally important as the first "reader" - texts used for learning to read. It also served as a small dictionary and most editions had a "väggtavla" section at the end - a number of general advice to different people like the husband, the wife, the child, the labourer etc - advice and rules for "good and righteous living".
Even after the creation of the public schools
(1842 - see below) it was one of the basic books until about 1919.
The Holy Bible was much more expensive and not common in most homes until late 19th century.
Read digital versions of M Luther's "Lilla Katekesen":
1874 edition, 1994 edition.

Småskola and Folkskola

The creation of a regulated school for all children, covering many subjects beside the Christian faith, named folkskola (literally "people's school or school for the people") was created by a law of 1842. This states a compulsory school attendance from the age of 7 (no later than 9) and the responsibility for all socken (parish) and towns to arrange and fund the schools. As from 1878 (normaltimplanen = standard schedule) every child was entitled, as well as required, to a total of 6 years at school.
The law requires each school to have at least one teacher with formal training but for the first decades there was a shortage of properly trained teachers so the klockare often became the school teacher as well. This person had been the teacher in the previous education system arranged by the church (see
The first two years were called småskola (junior school), the remaining 4 years were named folkskola (proper). In the period 1936-48 a 7th year was added.
Do not confuse the translated term "Public schools" with systems in other countries. The term is here used about a school run by the state, without fees for the students and the students do not live on a "campus".

Other schools

The compulsory education was given in the folkskola for 6 - 7 years. Higher education was given at several different types of schools. The most common were the läroverk, early named lärdomsskola, created in the 19th century, usually 4-5 years and then the next level, the gymnasium (not to confuse with the English word) of 3-4 years. The next step is the University.

Current school system
In the latter half of the 20th century this has changed radically but the basic structure of a uniform public school for all for 9 years, named grundskola and then higher education of 3-4 years before university level still holds.

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Last updated by F Hae 2005-05-23 00:36 © Fredrik Haeffner, 2001-3