The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

Life in Sweden: IKEA, Meatballs and Lessons on British Culture

Greta Scott

Posted on January 4, 2021 19:42

2 users

Sweden has taught me a great deal about my own country, notably that the UK is far more socially conservative than I had ever realised. These lessons have mainly been conveyed through expressions of utter shock and confusion as I describe my school experiences to my Swedish friends.

In general, my Swedish friends and I have shocked each other most when recounting our school experiences.

In England, I went to a single-sex school. Whilst far from common, this is hardly a surprising or indeed particularly interesting fact about my life. In the UK, 12% of private schools are girls-only, and 10% are boys-only. However, when I tell Swedes that I went to an all-girls school, they just look baffled. The most common response is: “Those schools still exist?” One friend told me that a single-sex school would make headline news in Sweden. And indeed it did: in 2017, the media frantically reported that a school in Örebro had begun offering single-sex classes.

My friends’ reactions have made me think again about my education. Whilst boys’ schools have been around since the 15th century, their all-girls’ equivalents weren’t formed until the 1850s: how can these two groups compete in terms of prestige?

Studies have shown that girls and boys do better at school when separated. But isn’t that just perpetuating stereotypes? Sure, studying together might be an added distraction, but it teaches girls and boys how to interact respectfully. When I think about some of my school experiences now, they seem like something out of an Enid Blyton novel (namely the time we met the boys from a nearby school for a "Scottish dancing social" and girls screamed as the boys’ school bus rolled up...).

But take something as simple as wearing a school uniform. In Britain, a uniform is seen to promote social equality among students and a certain esprit de corps. Meanwhile, a uniform was recently described by the Swedish schools’ inspectorate as a human rights violation.

Swedes would probably keel over if they saw my school uniform: girls had to wear a skirt and were scolded if it was too short, and were chastised for having our hair down or for wearing a necklace other than a Crucifix. Compared to Sweden, British school traditions seem to reinforce socially conservative norms.

You can only imagine my friends’ reactions when I told them that girls and boys in English schools don’t play the same sports. This is something that had never even occurred to me until I said it aloud. For example, in England, I grew up thinking that lacrosse and field hockey were for girls only. Same goes for netball (a sport which my Swedish friends hadn’t even heard of – possibly because it’s a form of basketball literally adapted to be “suitable” for girls). Meanwhile, boys play cricket, soccer and rugby. This distinction between what is acceptable for boys and girls to do is damaging, yet goes unremarked and unquestioned.

This is really just scratching the surface of the immense differences between Sweden and Britain. Sweden is decades ahead of the UK in terms of gender policy, but not just in terms of parental leave and political representation. This can be traced all the way back to school.

Greta Scott

Posted on January 4, 2021 19:42

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
THE LATEST THINKING

Webisode

Jerusalem Markets: The Shuk

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest