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Suburban students are positive to their school

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Students in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are positive in their view of their school and their education. They describe a strong sense of community and belonging at the school, while also being critical of how schools are often portrayed in the media. This is indicated by a new thesis that is based upon observations and interviews with students over the course of a couple of years.

Doctoral student Jonas Lindbäck spent a whole school year following Year 8 and Year 9 students at a high school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood in Gothenburg. He attended their lessons, spoke to the students during break-times, ate lunch in the canteen, spent time with them after school, and interviewed both students and teachers.

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Portrait of Jonas Lindbäck.
Jonas Lindbäck.
Photo: Evelina Westergren

“The conditions for those growing up vary significantly between different parts of Gothenburg – not least with regard to schooling. There are equivalence failings, with increasing differences between the schools. I wanted to study how students in a school with poor results feel about their school, their education and the place where they live”, explains Jonas Lindbäck.

Positive view of school and education

Schools in  disadvantaged neighbourhoods often receive a negative portrayal in the media: the premises are described as being run-down, the students are poorly behaved, and the results are poor. The students are also aware that their neighbourhood and their school are considered to be worse than others, and that certain elements of society look down on them as students.

“But it is not the case that the students uncritically regurgitate this image of their school. On the contrary, they have very positive views of their school. They talk about the strong sense of community and togetherness that exists at the school, as well as the trusting relationships they have with their teachers. It is clear that the school is an important place for them, and it is not uncommon that the high school students long to return after school holidays. In certain cases, the school represents a kind of sanctuary from an otherwise difficult life.”

There is a similar positive attitude towards their teachers and their education.

“The students want to be at school. They want to learn, and they want to get good grades. Many of them say that they see how hard their parents work for low pay, and they want to avoid following in their footsteps.”

Students affected by shootings

During the school year that Jonas Lindbäck spent at the school, there was an escalation in the conflict between rival gangs in the area. This had an effect on the students.

“There were several shootings, and the effects of these could be felt at the school. The students distanced themselves from this, and felt no attraction at all to a criminal lifestyle. The desire to avoid criminality and to avoid following in their parents’ footsteps were two things that motivated the students to achieve good grades and to pursue their education to further studies.

For many, however, it is hard to live up to these ambitions. A large proportion of the students at this school leave without having achieved the grades necessary for continued study at upper secondary school.

“Some of the children have a negative perception of themselves as students. They don’t believe that they are able to achieve good grades. This mode of thinking leads to the acceptance of the idea of failure at school. However, there are also those who say that, with the support and help of teachers and classmates, they have managed to overcome their self-perception of being a badly behaved or poor student, as well as those students who have always been extremely ambitious and well-motivated.”

Teachers are critical of failings at the school

Jonas Lindbäck also interviewed teachers at the school. They raised the point of the strong sense of togetherness.

“Many of the teachers say that they get a lot out of their work, but that it is also very demanding. They place great importance on professionalism, but also on social and emotional engagement. They also state that they are not provided with the right conditions, and that there are shortcomings in both management and organisation.”

Jonas Lindbäck is currently participating in the Mellan resignation och framtidstro research project, one of the objectives of which is to study how school students in  disadvantaged neighbourhoods perceive themselves and what support they need.

The worst or best school?

Jonas Lindbäck is publicly defending his dissertation 17 June. The title is The worst or best school? – On disadvantaged urban youth, schooling and segregation.