Inclusion - the european commission and the declaration of the new Swedish government

Inclusion - the european commission and the declaration of the new Swedish government

It is interesting, and not least, puzzling, to compare how the European Commission looks at the role of education in a democratic society in a recently adopted policy document compared to the picture that appears in the declaration of the new Swedish government.

Both the policy document from the European Commission and the declaration from the new Swedish Government take their point of departure in the threats that exist towards democracy from populism and extremism but end up in quite different conclusions regarding the role of education in counteracting these threats.


The European Commission and inclusion

The European Commission's position is that inclusion is an essential part of the solution to the above-mentioned problems. By including students with different backgrounds and prerequisites in the school, a breeding ground is created to maintain and develop a democratic society. Inclusion is here a plus word, that is, it is not an empirical question whether inclusion is good or not

Inclusion is given a significant importance by the European commission and is seen as encompassing society as a whole and not only schooling. In terms of the school, the concept concerns all students and not only students with disabilities. The European commission also refers to the fact that Member States can (voluntarily) contact the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education to develop a more inclusive school system. European Agency writes on its website: “Our ultimate vision for inclusive education systems is to ensure that all age groups are provided with meaningful, high-quality educational opportunities in their local community alongside their peers”. Thus what comes close to an understanding of inclusion as building communities is proposed.

In this context, it may be interesting to note that the European Commission has also staged a program for the development of cooperation in the classroom. How then does the Swedish government see the role of education in countering the threat scenario described above? Before embarking on this issue, it may be important to put it in a historical context.

The Swedish education system has gone from being seen as an international forerunner, not least because of its earlier high degree of equity in combination with good performances in international comparisons of learning. Today, considerably more modest performances are interspersed with an alarming degree of decreasing equity. It should be added that confidence in the system, not least in the important link of politician-teacher, is at a very low level.


The declaration from the new Swedish government statement

Against the background that has been outlined, it will of course be of great interest to look at how the Swedish government views the role of education in society when one now gets the opportunity to formulate a governmental declaration.

The focus of the statement is that the school's most important task is to "restore our country as the foremost knowledge nation". This is to be done by improving the fulfillment of the knowledge goals by the students. It is also stated that the equity that has been eroded will increase (unclear how) and that all pupils should get "an honest chance".

Here is not the place to go through everything that is said, but the text can be said to emphasize the importance of all students reaching the knowledge goals and that the school should be a safe environment. It is not at all wrong with these requirements, but the document is not least interesting for what it does not mention. Words such as democracy, citizen and inclusion, which come back many times in the form of plus words in the document of the European Commission document, are absent.

However, we can find a reverberation of the recent political discussions that "inclusion has gone too far". It is stated in declaration from the Swedish government that: "It will be easier to get special support in smaller teaching groups" and further: "Resource schools should be developed and special program for students with intellectual disabilities shall be strengthened".

Such a statement about an increase in the proportion of segregated education in the Swedish school system comes a little bit unexpected, not least in the light of international declarations signed by Sweden (e.g. the Salamanca Declaration) and in view of how the European Commission approaches this issue.


Concluding comment

The Swedish educational researcher Tomas Englund has said that the policy of a part of the Swedish bourgeois has been involved in a striving for "the paradise lost". The paradise lost is in this case the school as it looked before the internationally renowned unit school was introduced. To a large extent, one has succeeded in implementing such an education policy as by now.

The Swedish school has increasingly taken the form of a parallel school system where pupils with similar backgrounds meet each other in the classrooms and where the focus is on strengthening the nation and the labor market's needs and not on citizenship and democracy. In that light, it seems logical to also exclude the students who, late, if ever, have gained access to the regular classrooms.

The outcome when students in different types of difficulties are placed in ordinary classes depends on how this placement is arranged. One can choose to try to develop more inclusive environments or to pass certain pupils to special groups and it is the latter solution that is presented in the declaration from the government.

No one (at least very few) believes that it is possible to place all students in the usual classroom. However, one way to get as many people as possible to be there requires that municipalities and schools have a well-thought-out work to meet the diversity of students. David Mitchell's definition of inclusion can be a benchmark here:

Inclusive education = V + P + 5As + S + R + L V = Vision; P = Placement; 5As = Adapted Curriculum, Adapted Assessment,Adapted Teaching, Acceptance, Access, S = Support; R = Resources; L = Leadership.

Those students who do not function in the ordinary classroom, even when there is a vision of inclusion, good leadership, support, resources and more are probably difficult to include in a genuine sense. Today, however, special educational groups and resource schools are filled by students because the regular classroom has failde to provide the conditions mentioned by Mitchell.

I believe there is a risk that a dust hatch will be opened with the new declaration from the government and that we will witness a substantial growth of segregated education in the Swedish school system. Creating smaller teaching groups is probably a far less challenging task than making the usual teaching more inclusive.


Mitchell, D. 2008. What Really Works in Special Needs and Inclusive Education: Using Science-Based Teaching Strategies. London: Routledge.



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