Malmö, Sweden

Taking the Swedish National Diversity Plan to School

Resurscentrum för mångfaldens skola

May 25, 2011

Exemplary implementation of the National Diversity Plan in Sweden - Integration through education

In a classroom in Malmö, Sweden a group of 15-year-old boys are standing on their chairs laughing and shouting as they work together to navigate their way across the classroom. The group is made up of a mix of immigrant and Swedish born students and the teachers are similarly diverse.

Welcome to the Swedish diversity plan, a national vision that is being implemented locally in schools with internationally recognized results.

Until the 1950’s, Sweden’s integration policy was characterized by an intense pressure towards assimilation.

No longer. Now, a pluralistic, multicultural commitment to integration is legally enshrined in framework legislation that includes the National Action Plan for Human Rights 2006-2009, the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Xenophobia, Homophobia and discrimination (2000) and the seminal Government Bill, Sweden, the Future and Diversity: from Immigration Policy to Integration Policy (1997). This last piece of legislation positioned diversity as a starting point for the formation and implementation of new policies in all sectors and levels.

Schools: The Hub of Integration

The population of Sweden is approximately nine million. About 1.5 million residents were either born outside Sweden or were born to immigrant parents. The majority of this group live in the country’s three largest cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö. Of these, the City of Malmö has the highest population of immigrants (37.3 %).

While the Swedish national government has established the broad framework for diversity and integration, it is local governments, especially schools, who are developing and implementing the programs that will make it a reality.

In Malmö, schools are the natural hub for integration. Unlike many other Swedish cities, Malmö has a particularly  young population: 47% of its inhabitants are less than 35 years old. This is predominantly due to immigration: 50% of children living in Malmo have parents who are foreign born.

The focus of these programs is the promotion of both Swedish and native language skills as well as subject lessons (particularly math) offered in their respective native languages. Every child and young person is entitled to additional language support for studying Swedish. Special teaching methods designed for multicultural learners are applied to take students of migrant origin to same language skill level as their native Swedish peers.

Also immigrant children and young people are taught in their native language 2 hours peer week since learning support in individual subjects in their native language is a legal entitlement for every student.

A Welcoming Learning Environment

“We do not discuss whether or not teachers should be allowed to wear a headscarf. Our concern is, rather, whether we have enough teachers wearing headscarves,” explains a spokesman for the Ministry of Education.

This approach is part of the recognition that diversity is a resource and an asset. On behalf of the Swedish national government, Malmö schools have also developed and implemented a Diversity Plan. Its main initiatives emphasize language development and language competence; they target 32 communities with large proportions (above 18 percent) of children and young people of migrant origin.

As part of their support for the Diversity Plan, Malmö schools also support “ideas schools” for diversity. This involves a network of model primary school educators that work together to develop strategies for successful diversity management in education. This includes after school mentoring programs and programs for parent cooperation.

For older students (those in upper secondary schools) Malmö has a Diversity Group. It is made up of students from schools across the City who meet regularly with educators, sociologists and others to find ways to cooperate on issues of diversity and particularly to tackle segregation at schools. The schools have also collaborated with local businesses to create opportunities for students to take part in work placement assignments.

Other initiatives in Malmö schools include: mentoring projects for teachers and students, advanced classroom management training for teachers, increased reading competency through reading groups, and regular teacher training on these issues.

Success: Shared

In Sweden, about 14 percent of students are of migrant origin. However, according to data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Swedish migrants have an overall high level of educational attainment. In fact, second-generation immigrant students attain much better results than their Swedish born peers.

For instance, the proportion of students to qualify for upper secondary education is high for those of migrant origin (approximately 77 percent) as for Swedish students (approximately 90 percent).

The Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) also ranked Sweden first out of 31 countries in the category of education.

Malmö’s experience and success in the field of educational diversity has been recognized both nationally and internationally. In Sweden, additional funding was specifically given to the Malmö Center for Diversity in Education so that the city could share its expertise at a national level.

In 2008, in recognition for its work in promoting social integration and improving equal learning opportunities at schools, the City of Malmo was shortlisted as a nominee for the Carl Bertelsmann Prize. Since 1988, the German Bertelsmann Foundation offers this annual award to honour innovative policies addressing key global challenges.

Making it Work for You:

  • To succeed a collective vision requires the support of on the ground actors and the front line community.
  • Part of Malmö's success was the result of the variety of ways in which they sought to achieve these bottom line goals

For this Good Idea contact:

Anna-Karin Hedenskog, Modersmålsundervisningen i Malmö Stad
Hårds Väg 5
213 67 Malmö, Sweden,
Tel: +46 (0)40 34 31 08

Malmö: Exemplary implementation of the National Diversity Plan in Sweden