Tja! Well, the past weekend it was, as promised, practically summer in Sweden. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration – but I’m pretty sure at some point over the weekend thermometers were definitely reaching that ultimate high of 6°C! Definitely shorts and t-shirt weather, I think you’ll agree. My best friend was returning from a short break in Berlin, where he’d been having a sort of ‘reunion’ with the other teaching assistants he met whilst doing a Comenius placement in France (Comenius being the equivalent of Erasmus except the EU aids language teaching placements instead of university places), and so we decided to make the most of the warm weather in Stockholm instead of heading straight back to Uppsala.
Whilst we were wandering around the up-market area of Östermalm, the conversation turned to the differences between all the education systems we had encountered in our lives. Something which quite starkly highlights the differences, we felt, is the ways in which pupils address their teachers; for example, in Sweden it is entirely normal to call teachers by their first name, something pretty much undreamt of in Britain and certainly in France. In Sweden, schooling is compulsory from the age of 7 (compared to 6 in France and 5 in Scotland), although children can be enrolled in a dagis or förskola (preschool or nursery) from as early as 1 year old. Like in the UK, Swedish schools operate on a two level system, that is to say you find grundskola, which is the compulsory “primary” school between the ages of 7-16, with the vast majority of pupils electing to go on to gymnasium, the three-year “secondary” school. In a slight similarity with, for example, the French system, pupils at gymnasium will choose a program and orientation to follow, some more vocational, some more academic, to prepare them better for högskola (lit. “high school”, although the closest British equivalent is “college”), for university or for work.
During this discussion, my friend used a phrase he had read whilst doing external reading for his Swedish literature course, in which the author used the phrase “med utbildningen i ryggen”. This literally translates as “with the education in/on the back” – so you can imagine this produced a rather confused look on my face. What it actually equates to is “with a good education behind you” or “to have solid education ‘in the bag’”; which makes a bit more sense! And, slightly different to this, a Swedish friend later told me that in changing “ryggen” to “ryggmärgen” (lit. “spinal cord”), it would mean that you know all the things you’ve learnt “by heart”…and it got me to thinking, where on earth do languages take their inspiration from what parts of the body are associated with knowing these things? Hearts, spinal cords, backs… Who knows! And with that, I’m going to enjoy the fact that it still isn’t quite dark yet (it’s 17:00), so until next time, ha det så bra!