Can we maintain the life-work balance that we cherish?

Jennifer Claywood, an American teacher who now resides and works in Skellefteå, worries that Swedish education is increasingly mirroring the high-stress model found in her native United States.

Engelska 10 september 2023 16:00
Det här är en krönika. Åsikterna i texten är skribentens egna.

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I taught biology and science in Florida. And yes, before you start laughing, the U.S. actually DOES have science education. Even in Florida!

It was easy to design lectures and assignments because of standard-based targets. One example of a standard in Florida  is, “Describe and investigate the process of photosynthesis, such as the roles of light, carbon dioxide, water and chlorophyll; production of food; release of oxygen.” 

American students would show, through the completion of assignments, that they understand the subject. 

If they did not hand in assignments, it wouldn’t matter if they actually understood the subject or not, they would just fail. Grades depended largely on student effort. If they worked hard, they completed assignments. If they studied efficiently, they did well on the tests.

The requirements of what to teach in Sweden used to feel a lot more nebulous. But as the current Swedish government continues to expand and emphasize the importance of grading things are changing.

Marking my first exam as a teacher in Sweden, I wrote the percentage, along with a letter grade based on that percentage, at the top of the students’ papers. I had a few students who received a very low grade on the assignment and the experience was so traumatic for one student, their parents came in to discuss it. 

Teachers and students are being asked to focus more on grades.

I haven’t assigned a letter grade to an assignment since.

The climate around education and grading was different here than in the U.S. There it is taken for granted that students will be stressed about their grades. Their scores affect which colleges and universities they can attend. 

In Skellefteå I received a lot of pushback from parents on assignments that stress out their children. Grading, and justifying those grades, is no longer a black-and-white numbers game. 

And now we come to the heart of the issue.

The Swedish work-life balance that is an integral part of the adult world here, is also evident in the education system.

Schools used to focus on play but grading has been introduced to younger and younger children.

Play has been prioritized and student stress minimized. While final year 9 grades have an impact on which programs and schools students can attend, after year 9, students don’t have to attend school. 

There are a lot more avenues for teenagers and young adults to pursue as they finish their basic education. Because of this, the importance of grades varies hugely from family to family and student to student. 

But as the Swedish government continues to place more importance on grading (schools can now choose to assign grades in year 4), I have to wonder how this will affect Swedish society. 

It wasn’t until 1990 that students could be assigned failing grades in the Swedish school system and 2011 saw the implementation of required grading from year 6 instead of year 8. So, why the shift? 

As teachers, we assess students in order to better assess those who are struggling. The sooner we can establish “deficiencies”, the sooner we can implement strategies that will, in theory, help the student.

Are we in danger of stressing out our kids?

But this shift from a culture of not caring about grades at all to caring about grades a lot concerns me. 

It seems as though Sweden is moving away from the societal ethos that silently says, “It’s okay to have deficiencies; there is still a place for you”.

Now the emphasis is moving towards, “If Sweden is to compete in the global market, our citizens need to be better prepared.” 

How do we balance these imperatives to make sure our students, parents, and teachers maintain their mental health in the face of mounting societal pressures for increasingly higher achievement? 

How will we maintain the life-work balance that we so cherish?

This is a column and the views are the author's own.

This column was originally published at, the English part of

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