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Vesna Prekopic: The migration does not inhibit the children’s reading ability

“Sweden is in a reading crisis”, commented education minister Lotta Edholm (L) when Pirls 2021, the OECD measurement of students’ reading ability in grade 4, was presented and we found out in black and white that the reading comprehension of Swedish ten-year-olds has become worse since the last survey in 2016.

Lotta Edholm is right, we are in a reading crisis. But also a writing crisis. And don’t forget that we have a gigantic teacher crisis. We are thus not only in a school crisis, but also in a democracy crisis with a society that selects children and their future prospects.

The border is razor sharp. The children with books on the bookshelf and a room of their own at home do well. The children who live in areas where the Swedish language belongs do well. The children with parents with a high level of education do well. And they will continue to do well in life outside of school.

This is the great scandal, that the Pirls survey reinforces the image of a country where it continues to do well for the children of the resource-rich and continues to do worse for the resource-poor, and that the differences between these student groups and schools have become greater.

There is no doubt that migration and socio-economic background play a role in the results. The equation is simple: Housing segregation + school segregation = language segregation.

Director General of the Norwegian School Board Peter Fredrikson means that one explanation for the Swedish results is the demographic changes that have taken place in recent years, and which have resulted in an increase in the number of students who do not speak Swedish at home. But it is not migration that inhibits language development, it is segregation.

Many have since years ago there have been alarms about preschools where the children do not learn enough Swedish to then pass school, because both Swedish-speaking children and staff are too few. How can one learn Swedish in an area where hardly any Swedish is spoken or heard?

This segregation must be broken, otherwise we will not only have hidden parallel societies where migrants and the undocumented are exploited, we will also have state-sanctioned parallel societies where some Swedish children will grow up to be adults without being able to read, write or speak properly.

When it is now said in Pirls times that the school must invest in the students learning the basics of reading, it needs to be reminded where this should take place – at school and nowhere else. Sweden cannot have a school system that relies on basic skills such as reading, writing, arithmetic to be taken care of by parents or homework help organizations, be they non-profit or profit-driven.

Pirls does not show that we need more investment in reading holidays or other reading promotion projects. Pirls shows that we need quality teaching time for the students with trained teachers in the classrooms who can devote themselves to reading and writing training.

And if the school is now in a practical crisis, and not just a rhetorical one, it is time that every single school politician at the local, regional and national level comes up with a concrete plan for how to get out of it.

Read more comments and other texts by Vesna Prekopic.

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