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Only in Sweden primary school remained open

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The social value of schools, shortcomings with distance learning and the need to be prepared for future pandemics. That is a few lessons learned in the wake of the school closures, shows an analysis of the political discussion in eight European countries among which only Sweden closed primary school.

A group of researchers at the University of Gothenburg have analysed the way eight European countries handled the first wave of the pandemic in winter and spring 2020, and the motivation they gave for closing (or not closing) compulsory education. The research team included people highly knowledgeable about the political systems and languages of the countries concerned, and the researchers examined official documents from governments and government authorities, public information about the pandemic, press conferences and media reporting.

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Porträtt på Sverker Lindblad.
Sverker Lindblad.

“In all of the countries, it was the government that made the decision as to whether or not schools should close. The significance of political considerations and medical grounds in making that decision varied. While political considerations were most important in Denmark, Finland, Italy, Norway and Poland, medical grounds were most important in Germany, Sweden and Greece,” says Sverker Lindblad, Emeritus Professor of Education.

Sweden’s decision to keep schools open was unique

In the eight countries compared, Sweden had the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in relation to its population. Despite this, Sweden was the only country in which schools were not shut.

“The main reason why Sweden did not close its schools was the Swedish Constitution, under which government agencies are independent and governance by ministers is prohibited. This meant that the Government was unable to overrule the Public Health Agency of Sweden, whose judgement formed the basis for the Government’s decisions,” Sverker Lindblad explains.

“Another important aspect is that the Swedish strategy largely rested on trust rather than regulation. In other words, relying on citizens acting on the recommendations issued in a spirit of solidarity.”

Important experiences for future pandemics

In the wake of the school closures, in many cases a discussion arose regarding society’s preparedness for pandemics, the social consequences of closing schools and difficulties with remote learning. Sverker Lindblad highlights four important lessons learned:

  • Society and schools need to be prepared for a pandemic and for being able to cope with the requirement for distance, hygiene and other measures to slow transmission.
  • Distance learning has proved to have a downside in terms of shortcomings in social care and in terms of effectiveness.
  • The pandemic revealed the importance of schools as a social institution –  for socialisation and upbringing, but also the importance of classroom teaching for the students.
  • The pandemic demonstrated the need for education initiatives to school citizens in how to tackle the pandemic sensibly and responsibly.

“Developing and examining ideas and strategies for how citizens tackle a pandemic is an urgent task for education research,” says Sverker Lindblad.

Text: Carl-Magnus Höglund

School lockdowns

The article “School lockdown? Comparative analyses of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in European countries” is published in the scientific journal European Educational Research Journal. It compares how Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland and Sweden handled the pandemic with a focus on school closures.

The article was written by eight researchers at the University of Gothenburg: Sverker Lindblad, Gun-Britt Wärvik, Inger Berndtsson, Elsi-Brith Jodal, Anders Lindqvist, Giulia Messina Dahlberg, Dimitrios Papadopoulos, Caroline Runesdotter and Katarina Samuelsson.

The article can be read here.