What can we learn from Sweden?
An interview with Nayda Veeman
For the past two years, Nayda Veeman has been researching literacy work
To learn what she has discovered, we interviewed her by e-mail.
Literacies: What are your preliminary observations about
the major differences between Canada and Sweden in terms of how the need
for programs is established?
Veeman: From 1967 until 1997, all 288 municipalities in Sweden
were mandated to offer adult education as a compensatory program for adults
who had not completed upper secondary school-the equivalent of Canadian grade
twelve. Adult basic education (literacy) is not differentiated from adult
education generally. Programs are required to give priority to adults with
the least education.
In 1997, the Swedish government established
the Adult Education Initiative. The AEI was a response to rising unemployment
during the economic recession of the early nineties. The government wanted
to do something and adult education was one thing it could do so it allocated
additional funding ($56 CDN for each Swede for each of five years) to increase
the supply and diversity of adult learning options. The AEI gave study
grants and loans even for adults studying at the very basic level.
Initially funding was allocated to municipalities
according to the level of unemployment in the region. In subsequent years,
it depended on the number of adults who had completed adult basic education
(up to and including high school) in the previous year. I think the important
thing to realize is that this funding was on top of the regular adult education
funding given to municipalities.
The AEI also encouraged introduction
of different learning opportunities at the municipal level, including private
provision. What had been funded until then were the municipal adult education
courses that were the same as in the school program but for adults.
Literacies: It is interesting to hear that when Sweden
identified adult basic education as a priority in 1997, they focused on increasing
the number and diversity of learning opportunities. In Canada, on the other
hand, a large proportion of funding goes towards increasing demand (in the
form of public awareness campaigns) while no additional funding is allocated
for programs. What do you make of this contrast?
Veeman: I think we put the onus on individuals to improve
their skills whereas in Sweden, this is seen as a concern for the whole society
and a shared responsibility between individuals and the state.
My question would be how far could we
go in offering universal programs and the support that enables adults to
participate if we reallocated the energy and money used for tutor recruitment
and training, public awareness and consultations?
Literacies: How is program effectiveness evaluated in Sweden?
Veeman: Program administrators are required to submit annual
statistical reports on number of students, completion etc. Funding for subsequent
years depends on how many people finished.
Literacies: How is the value of adult basic education
measured in Sweden?
Veeman: This can only be answered implicitly, but given the
level of government funding for non-formal and informal education such as
study circles, etc., as well as the formal municipal adult education system
throughout the country, it seems to be highly valued as part of folkbildning,
raising the educational level of the population.
Literacies: Your research has looked at policy in intent,
in practice and in experience. What have you observed about how the intent
of policy affects how learners' experience programs?
Veeman: If there is no stigma attached to attending adult
education and adults have the resources to do so, it is easier for them to
participate. I really found little difference between Canada and Sweden in
the reasons why adults chose to go back to school or the reasons why they
had not succeeded in school as youth. There was a big difference in the childcare
available and there was no volunteer tutoring in Sweden. The dropout rates
and the experience in the classroom did not vary between the two countries.
There was a big difference for English-as-a-second-language
learners' in that, although they had less likelihood of ever having seen
or heard Swedish before coming to the country, they could have Swedish-for-immigrants
language training until they could pass a national exam (three levels)
so the exit was competency-based rather than time-limited as it is in Canada.
Literacies: What have you noticed about how policy affects
practitioners' experience of work in adult basic education?
Veeman: In Sweden, instructors in adult education programs
are unionized municipal workers. The program administrators faced a lot of
stress during the adult education initiative because they had to develop
new initiatives annually over the five years. Most adult education teachers
had come from the K-12 system and so were professionally trained. In rural
areas, the issue of finding qualified staff and meeting the needs of students
sometimes had to be met by borrowing teachers from the school system, or
incorporating adults into classes for youth.
Literacies: What did you learn about how policy affects
the design of programs?
Veeman: The municipal adult education program from 1967-1997
was like a regular school program but for adults. This program still exists
in most of the municipalities. The Adult Education Initiative resulted in
more diversity so that some more concentrated programs were offered, specialized
courses in personal care or horticulture for example. As well, the residential
folk high schools that provided much greater counselling and support could
get funding to provide education for adults.
The AEI led to greater decentralization,
so program design could be more reflective of local conditions and economic
needs. Programs also depended on the qualifications and interest of local
Literacies: Now that the Swedish part of the study is
finished, what are the next steps for this project?
Veeman: We are extending the research to Canada. Right now
we are looking at the realities, the policies and experiences-how policy
is being played out in the various provinces. I spent a week in Toronto in
February and I will be in Nova Scotia in April to talk to literacy learners' and practitioners. Keith Walker will be spending six months in British Columbia
and Angela Ward will go to Yellowknife. This data will give the research
more of a pan-Canadian focus. We are presenting our findings in an effort
to try to engage the literacy community. We would like to encourage people
to think about what can happen in Canada, what from Sweden is relevant here.
For more information about this research,
go to www.usask.ca/education/alcs