‘Post-Truth’ and the Decline of Swedish Education

‘Post-Truth’ and the Decline of Swedish Education, by Magnus Henrekson. Another lesson for us from Sweden:

Swedish students outperformed their U.S. peers across the entire distribution in 1995. … But then Sweden’s results steadily deteriorated in each of the three PISA core areas — reading, mathematics, and science — until a low point was reached in 2012. Another PISA assessment conducted in 2012 revealed shortcomings in creativity, critical thinking, curiosity, and perseverance, and ranked Sweden 20th out of 28 countries. The findings in the TIMSS and PISA assessments suggest that there has been a significant decline in knowledge among Swedish students in recent years.

Yet the average merit rating (based on grades) in the final year of Sweden’s elementary schools has markedly improved since the late 1990s, which is highly suspicious. Indeed, the disconnect between international assessments of Swedish students’ performance and their grades is compelling evidence of rampant grade inflation in Swedish elementary schools, and the same problem is showing in secondary education as well. …

There is a kind of malaise in the teaching profession. … Today, only five percent of teachers deem their profession prestigious, and barely half of them would choose the same occupation again. … A recent study showed that four out of ten active teachers are considering leaving the profession. …

What caused this nasty downturn in educational outcomes?

Postmodern, social-constructivist philosophy has been institutionalized in many Western countries’ school systems, and this has adversely affected educational quality. This approach contends that knowledge and reality are subjectively constructed, which implies that knowledge cannot be transferred from teacher to student and that objectively measuring academic ability and achievement should not even be attempted. Instead, students should be given freedom of choice in their learning and work independently to acquire supposedly general skills such as creativity and critical thinking, which are considered more durable than ‘facts’ arbitrarily arranged in core subjects.

Sweden has gone the farthest toward abandoning a knowledge-based core curriculum and a pedagogy in which students internalize and learn to apply knowledge under the teacher’s instruction and supervision. …

At the same time, Sweden is also unique among Western democracies in its commitment to for-profit voucher schools and school competition. This combination has proven profoundly toxic for the quality of Sweden’s education. …

It is an established fact that well-functioning systems of school choice and competition presuppose that the state holds schools accountable for their performance by measuring what knowledge their pupils have acquired — for example, through external exit exams. But the regulatory documents issued by the Swedish state invalidated the very conception of objective knowledge. Therefore, both ‘producers’ and ‘consumers’ of education in the marketized school system became susceptible to fraudulent behavior.

hat-tip Stephen Neil