Thinking of you on this Father’s Day!

I woke up this morning and these three words, ‘Happy Father’s Day!’ came into my head. Then I thought, there’s nothing happy about spending a Father’s Day without your father present. Did anyone ever think about how insensitive this greeting is to people who have lost their fathers? What should you say instead? Well, it is unlikely anyone would come up to me to wish me a Happy Father’s Day, so this, I quickly realised, was a really stupid question. But to those people who have lost fathers, hearing those words said to someone else feels like a thorn has pierced through your heart.

On my way to church, a thoughtful friend had actually sent me a message saying, “Thinking of you on this Father’s Day.” I had no strong emotions when I read those words but I did feel acknowledged by it, that someone remembered that I had lost my father and that it would be a tough day for me. I immediately felt more peaceful and less irritated by the happy families around me. These kinds of friends, who genuinely care, remember these occasions and take the time to reach out, are rare – she was the only one the whole day.

For those who have lost their fathers, sometimes it will be tough to get through a day like this because you think people have forgotten or are insensitive about your feelings. It may seem like those words ‘Thinking of you…’ have little meaning but it could make a huge difference. If you know someone who has lost their father, let them know you remember. It just takes one to turn that day around.

To all the fathers out there: Happy Father’s Day! 
To those who have lost their fathers: Thinking of you on this Father’s Day!

Waiting

Your hands feel cold and soft, I hold them, tight.
Your breathing slows, each breath inhaled, a fight.
Always assuming we’d have tomorrow.
Our days numbered; today ends in sorrow.
I sit in silence, still. Watching. Waiting.
The moment I dreaded is approaching.
Seconds ticking so slowly, yet so fast.
Precious moments slip away, they won’t last.
I keep waiting and watching and hoping…
Nothing has felt this excruciating.

Sweden (Part 11 – Surströmming [stinky fish], IKEA and National Museum)

Surströmming AKA stinky fish

When we got back to the hotel our tour leader, Jason, told us that he had bought some Swedish stinky fish for us to smell (note: not eat). He had told us about this famous Swedish delicacy in the beginning of the trip and had promised that he would buy a can for us to smell. He kept his promise! So our group of principals and teachers crowded around the hotel lobby to wait. Jason asked the front desk for a can opener and we all stood there waiting for one from the restaurant kitchen. The staff told us that we were not allowed to open it in the hotel and had to go outside. It was raining at that time, so we could only stay a few feet away from the building. Then one of the ladies working at the front desk decided to come out with us because she also wanted to smell the fish! She said she had never tried or smelled it before even though she is a local! It’s definitely an acquired taste – you either love it or hate it.

Surströmming is actually sour Baltic Sea herring that is lightly-salted and fermented. The six-month fermentation process is what gives the fish the strong acidic taste and rather putrid smell. However, this delicacy has been a part of the northern Swedish cuisine since the 16th century. There is specific method of opening the can too – in a bucket of water – to prevent the smell from travelling too far and the pressurised gas from spraying out the brine. It was sure entertaining to watch Jason slowly and patiently open the can with his little can opener! Everyone around was making faces and noises even though the smell hadn’t even come out yet! Finally, he got the can opened and each of us took turns to smell the fish. When I think about this now, I can’t help but laugh! A bunch of educated adults would actually stand around and wait for half an hour to willingly smell a putrid smelling can of fish! It really did smell awful, I’m not even lying.

After we all got a whiff, Jason asked if anyone would be brave enough to try a bite. And believe it or not, one of the principals said he wanted to try! It was like watching a horror movie, everyone around him wanted to gag and vomit but we still stayed there watching and waiting! He took out a piece of fish, which was cut in half, with a toothpick and there were literally fish guts hanging out and we all went ‘eeewww’ when he pulled out the stringy pink goo. He took a bite and even looked like he was enjoying it! It was somewhat anti-climatic that no one really got sick or had a really terrible reaction, which was what we were all expecting! Everyone around him joked that he would have to brush his teeth for a long time and to be careful not to get any of the brine on his clothes or he would have to burn them. Jason said that out of all the tours he had led in Stockholm, no one had ever dared to take a bite of the stinky fish until now! Every can he had ever opened was dumped and wasted. I did wonder who really eats this stuff and why they are still producing them if it smells so bad.

A quick Google and YouTube search on Surströmming came up with hundreds of Surströmming challenge videos but I found one video that actually explained the history and culture and also the production process of the sour herring and found it quite interesting. There is a right way to eat it – wrapped in flatbread with some potatoes, chives, butter, red onions, and not straight out of the can. I kind of do want to try eating it the RIGHT way now! It is also traditionally eaten during the late summer, mainly because you have to be outside (due to the smell that you wouldn’t want lingering in your house afterwards), it’s also the time when the fish is done fermenting. There even used to be a law that you couldn’t eat surstromming before the third Thursday of August!

Watch the video here. The can that the Buzzfeed guys tried looked very different from the can we opened. I wanted to gag just watching them.

Here is our brave mate eating it right out of the can…

IKEA

The next day, our final day in Stockholm was quite free and flexible. Our itinerary only included the National Museum so our group requested to visit IKEA. Surprisingly, IKEA has never been listed on the Stockholm tour itinerary according to our tour leader. The driver didn’t even know the way and had to search for the location! Well, you don’t really feel like you have been to Sweden without at least passing by an IKEA store, even though we get them in Hong Kong. Of course, we all wanted to see the authentic Swedish IKEA. We gathered outside and took some photos. I took Pippi out and helped her take a few snaps too! We actually went into the warehouse part, where the Bistro was also located. We saw a very cool ice-cream machine and immediately walked up to the cashier and asked him to take our money so we could press a button and watch the magic happen. You place the cone in the holder and the soft ice cream comes out perfectly every time.

We realised that the main entrance was on the other side so we were a bit late going to the main part of the store. The floor plan is obviously the same as any IKEA and forces you to walk all the way through the entire store before reaching the check-out. I underestimated the amount of time we needed to walk in, through and out and spent too much time in the beginning looking at things and ended up running towards the exit when I checked the time. It didn’t help that all the signs were in Swedish. But there were a few people who wanted to buy things and took a bit longer than expected at the check-out. I was glad that I wasn’t the last person on the bus – I probably didn’t have to run though.

National Museum

(To be continued…)

Back to Sweden (Part 10)

Sweden (Part 10 – Lunch cruise, and Pippi Longstocking at Junibacken)

Archipelago Tour and Lunch Cruise

After breakfast, we arrived at the ferry terminal in the city and boarded the Östanå I cruise ship for a 3-hour archipelago tour with lunch cruise. The ship is one of the traditional ships of the archipelago. It was very windy so after getting a few snaps on the deck, I stayed inside and waited for lunch to be served. There was a guide introducing all the sights and islands that we passed by but it was very difficult to hear anything that she was saying over all the noise on the ship. I just sat and chatted with a few other teachers and enjoyed the sea breeze and watching sailboats sailing back and forth. There wasn’t really much to do except for eating lunch and walking around the deck. It would be lovely to take the cruise with a special someone and enjoy a romantic dinner. For the price of SEK 390, it’s really not that bad.

Pippi Longstocking at Junibacken

As we were approaching the shore to disembark, I heard the guide say something about a Pippi Longstocking Museum! My eyes lit up and I began asking our tour leader where this museum was. He had no idea what I was talking about. I immediately Googled it and at first didn’t see anything such museum in Stockholm. Then I saw on TripAdvisor that it was called Junibacken. The tour leader did not know anything about this place and we had to get on the bus to go to some underground supermarket. After he said that we could have three hours of free time, I located the museum and found out that it was actually near the ferry pier where we were before, next to the Vasa Museum that we had visited on the second day. It was a half an hour walk but it looked simple enough. Another teacher wanted to join me as she didn’t have much interest in shopping either. We walked together and finally arrived 30 minutes later.

The museum was full of kids with their parents. We were probably the oldest visitors without children or parents! We bought our tickets and explored the different rooms and immediately felt like a kid again – it was a magical experience! I wish we had this kind of museum or cultural centre in Hong Kong. It’s hard to describe what it is like and there were a lot of scenes that I didn’t really recognise. They use Pippi Longstocking as the main attraction and we saw that they were having the live performance in the theatre.

There was a Storybook Train that you can only ride once with your ticket. I was so excited when I started lining up. The train takes you on a journey through some of Astrid Lindgren’s stories. The scenes are presented in tableaux with lighting and sound effects and dialogue which comes out from the speakers in the individual carriages, you can even choose from twelve different languages. The whole production of the Storybook Train took almost two years to create and it involved doll-makers, scenic artists, prop-makers, theatre carpenters, who were all under the direction and vision of the illustrator Marit Törnqvist. The result is truly amazing. It almost felt like it was a fairytale or adventure ride at Disneyland, but with a beautiful story. It was not easy to take photos or videos because it was quite dark in a lot of the scenes. The way each carriage moves in and out and through each scene is so well-planned and thought out. Hidden doors and windows would open suddenly and different figures would move unexpectedly. Check out some of the photos and video below.  

After the Storybook Train ride, we exited and arrived at the theatre room where Pippi Longstocking’s house, the famous yellow Villa Villekulla, was standing. We had arrived just in time for the next performance starting in a few minutes! We quickly sat down among all the cute toddlers and children and waited for Pippi, Tommy and Annika to come out. The show ‘Pippi Moves In’ is performed in Swedish but it really didn’t matter to me! The actors performed really well and really brought the characters to life. They climbed up and down the house, danced and jumped all around having the time of their lives! Knowing the story helped me to understand what was happening during the performance but it was the whole atmosphere, setting, music, dancing, all the kids chanting ‘Pippi! Pippi!’ that made the show so memorable and magical! I didn’t want to leave!

Finally, we went into the book and souvenir store and I bought a Pippi doll, a comic book version of the story, and some postcards. I would have bought more stuff if I had the money or the suitcase space!

End of Part 10

Back to Sweden (Part 9)

Continue to Sweden (Part 11)

Sweden (Part 9 – Gothenburg, Abytravet, horse racing and a random live interview)

Now, back to the less serious parts of the trip…

One of the most memorable experiences of the trip took place at the ÅbyTravet racetrack in Gothenburg. It was located right next to our hotel, Best Western Plus, which is entirely horse racing themed – from the lobby to the hotel rooms. After our whole day of school visits and meetings in Gothenburg, my roommate and I decided to head to the racetrack for a quick peek before going back to our room. Entrance is completely free and nobody seemed to care that we walked straight up to the side of the track. There were even visitors walking through the track to the other side to take photos. The horse racing is quite different from I’ve seen in Hong Kong. They do trotting instead of galloping, where the horse pulls a two-wheeled cart (sulky), with the driver in a sitting position behind the horse. It was the first time I had seen this kind of horse racing before.

While we were watching the practice starts, we got stopped by an old Swedish man with the big camera around his neck. He just started talking to us and asking us what we were doing there. I guess they don’t see many Chinese or Asians around the area. He shared that he had been homeless for a period of time and will soon become a famous photographer so he asked if he could take our photos. We humoured him and let him take a few snaps. Then we saw one of the principals and pretended that we needed to go with him.

Just as we were about to leave, we got stopped by another man – a much younger one this time (and more handsome) – and he asked us similar questions. Then out of the blue, he asked if they could interview us on camera that would be broadcast live on their big screen! We hesitated but the principal said ‘Yes!’ and encouraged us to go.

As an overly anxious, shy, introverted, easily embarrassed human, it took so much for me to walk out there and go on that stage. It didn’t hurt that the guy who invited us (his name is Patrick, by the way) was super nice and sweet and kept smiling at us which relaxed me a bit. I don’t think anyone knew I was totally panicking at that moment. I just kept smiling and saying to myself that this is totally going to be fine and I’m sure that he won’t ask me difficult questions… How did I ever become a teacher – I have no idea.

Patrick introduced us to the presenter with the microphone, whose name I’ve forgotten, and the camera started rolling. He said a brief introduction in Swedish and turned over to ask us questions. The principal stood beside the camera man and took a video on his phone as well. I don’t really know what happened in those two and half minutes but I couldn’t stop laughing about it afterwards. I also think I smiled way too much during the interview and I was totally staring at the presenter the whole time. It was only afterwards that he told us the video would be uploaded onto YouTube! So, at the risk of totally embarrassing myself, and also my roommate, the YouTube video is here, or watch the phone camera video version below.

The first question was a bit awkward because I think my roommate misheard the question, which was “How did you end up here in Gothenburg in Sweden when you are English teaching in Hong Kong?” and gave a somewhat random response. I explained that we were actually there to visit schools and learn about the education system in Sweden and how they do STEAM education.

I kind of pretended to have experience in horse racing by saying that I live close to a racetrack but clearly, the proximity to the racetrack has no bearing whatsoever on my knowledge about horse racing and horses. I said that I could look out my window to watch the horse racing and that I enjoyed the view, which is completely not true since there is only one small window in my mum’s room that can see a tiny little part of the track and I have never once looked out that window to watch a race. But when put on the spot, I just forget what is real and not real sometimes…

The presenter ended the interview by suggesting “Then we could start something new in Hong Kong, you and me?” I might have answered “Yeah, sure!” a bit too quickly and eagerly. Don’t get too excited… context is important here – he was referring to the trotting style of horse racing (or was he?). Here’s the video…

End of Part 9

Back to Sweden (Part 8)

Continue to Sweden (Part 10)

Sweden (Part 8 – Gothenburg schools, Lin Edu & Edtech products, Science Park & RI.SE)

Immediately following our meeting at Lin Education, we boarded our coach and headed towards Gothenburg, which is about a five hour drive from Stockholm. We stayed in Gothenburg for two days and nights and visited a few more schools, another Lin Education office, and the Research Institutes of Sweden (RI.SE).

Fridaskolan

We arrived at Fridaskolan at around 9:30 the next morning (and it rained). Fridaskolan is probably my favourite school out of the all the schools we visited (the Anna Whitlocks Gymnasium is a close second, though). The school building is surrounded by large glass windows, letting natural sunlight in. There is a big grand staircase that leads down to the school cafeteria right by to the main entrance.

As soon as we arrived, we enjoyed a time of Fika which was strawberry panna cotta served with tea / coffee. There were also some students selling smoothies to raise funds for their next school trip! The students can take turns to sell snacks and food at the cafeteria every week to raise money for whatever causes they choose – I love this idea!

Most of the classrooms and activity rooms are located above the cafeteria level with a lot of open spaces as well. The class sizes are quite small with no more than 20 students in a class. Students are also allowed to work in the open spaces outside the classrooms during the lessons as well. There is no bell indicating the beginning or end of a lesson because every level follows a different schedule and timetable. They even have lunch at different times. We got to visit science, design and technology, English, and art classes.

The student that led the school tour for our group could speak fluent Mandarin as well since her mother is Chinese and her father is Swedish. She greeted us and even explained a lot of the things in Mandarin, I felt so ashamed and embarrassed that I could barely understand her!

After the school tour, we headed back down to the cafeteria and enjoyed another delicious free school lunch. Seriously, I’m amazed that free school food can be this good! I also loved seeing the kids sitting on the staircase to eat their lunch as well! It was absolutely adorable!

It was still raining when we had to leave and I was surprised to see that students still played outdoors in the pouring rain! This would never happen in Hong Kong! Schools have a rainy day recess arrangement and all outdoor activities would be cancelled, automatically resulting in indoor or classroom recess.

I absolutely fell in love with this school and secretly wish that I had attended school there when I was young!

Lin Education – Seminar and exchanges with Edtech companies

We visited the Lin Education office on both of the days that we were in Gothenburg. The first day, we were given a seminar by an educational scientist who had been doing research projects in schools and conducted a project called ‘Purified by Fire’ with over 100 students. Students were given various tasks to complete through an online platform. They had to conduct their own research – both online and by exploring local historical locations – to complete missions. They interact with different actors and characters in the game and can play it whenever and wherever they want. It is next level gamification! It was so interesting to hear about the project and how students responded to the experience. What a fun and exciting project to be a part of!

This Lin Edu office was very unique and well-designed as well, the ground level provides a lot of space for comfortable seating for social gatherings and meetings, including a ping pong table, two spiral staircases on opposite sides leading up the employees’ desks and work stations, a meeting area that is linked by a ‘glass bridge’ opposite the work stations, and of course, an area for Fika, fully equipped with a kitchen counter and sink, coffee machine, fridge, cupboards and even a dishwasher! Seriously, why can’t HK offices be like this?!

On the second day, we got to listen to several Edtech companies present about their products and services. I was most impressed by Lexplore, which uses eye-tracking AI technology for reading assessment and intervention. I was selected by the group to test it out and read a sample passage and answered comprehension questions while it tracked my eye-movements. It was really quite amazing!

The other Edtech companies were very innovative as well but I won’t go into detail about them. If you are interested, the links are provided below with brief descriptions.

Soundtrap – An online collaborative platform where people can create music or audio recordings together.

Strawbees – Prototyping, coding, robotics and construction kit using ‘Strawbees’ to connect straws together. Provides activities and solutions for developing skillsets for the future through hands-on exploration, electronics and programming.

Sensavis – Interactive and visual learning tool that can create personalised learning videos, let students learn by exploring and discovering, activate learning by including students in the learning process.

Loops Education – Brings learning objectives together in visual maps designed to engage students and makes learning collaborative.

Polhemsgymnasiet

Polhemsgymnasiet is an upper secondary school located in Lindholmen, Gothenburg. It was founded in 1829 as a branch for younger students out of Chalmers technical university and later became a technical college and upper secondary school in 1937. The school provides preparatory education for universities and has four main programmes – Natural Science, Technical, Economic and Social Science. There are three principals at the school that oversee the different programmes. The areas of development focus in the programmes include formative assessments, development of language in teaching all subjects, and digital development of teaching and teaching digital competence. They also have collaborations and exchanges with other institutions in different countries including China, Spain and Germany. There are also interdisciplinary projects where students work on developing different skills including perspective drawing, modelling, CAD, graphic design, animation, manufacturing, report writing and even public presentation. In their grade 3 programme, they will do a diploma project that includes problem solving and entrepreneurial skills, and finally participate in an exhibition. We got the chance to see the exhibition showcasing students’ architectural designs and models.

Lindholmen Science Park, Chalmers University and RI.SE

We got to take a quick tour around the Chalmers University library where 90% of the books are online. The librarian facilitates and guides students to do research rather than searching or locating books. The library serves more as a space for students to study or do group projects rather than for storing books. Many of the shelves are empty with mostly reference books.

RI.SE, which stands for Research Institutes of Sweden, promotes and encourages research and international collaboration within the industry, academia and public sectors to maintain competitiveness of the Swedish business community and contribute to a sustainable society. The institute offers unique expertise and more than 100 testbeds and demonstration environments for future-proof technologies, products and services. Their research areas cover innovations in AI, digitalisation, health and safety to transport systems, urban development, water, and even the work environment. We got to see the office and work stations of their staff and saw devices and gadgets I had never seen before!

End of Part 8

Back to Sweden (Part 7)

Continue to Sweden (Part 9)

Sweden (Part 7 – School visits, [free school lunch included]; Lin Education meeting with other school leaders)

After a few days of sightseeing and visits to education and innovation agencies, we finally got the chance to step inside local Swedish schools. The first school we visited was an international English school in Kista, followed by the Anna Whitlock Gymnasium. Finally, we got to meet with some local school leaders at Lin Education.

Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) Kista

The International English Schools (IES) in Sweden were developed with the belief that the English language is imperative in order for young people to be able to realise their full potential in the modern world. They recruit most of their teachers from English speaking countries to achieve the best English speaking environment for their schools. Most of the subjects are taught in English. The schools maintain high expectations for everyone, irrespective of their social background. They provide a secure, orderly and safe environment for teaching and learning. This is mainly achieved through ‘tough love’ and discipline. The IES schools use continuous assessment in all grade levels and provide formal feedback to students and parents four times during the school year.

We were given a tour around the school by the students rather than the teachers. I was very impressed by the command of English from one of the students that was leading our group. She spoke clearly and fluently with confidence, respect and maturity that I could not believe she was only in year 7! She answered all our questions politely and explained in detail about the various rooms we passed, subjects taught, activities, and school culture.

IES Kista is considered to be private school but it is also very multicultural with students of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds learning and playing together. The school is located in a rather ‘rough’ neighbourhood with families from relatively low socio-economic backgrounds, and the principal told us about some of the troublesome students they have had to deal with in the past. However, the school environment appeared to be safe, well-maintained and even quite prestigious. The principal and the teachers dress professionally with shirts, ties and jackets and they are easily identified because of the formal dress code, since there are no school uniforms for students. The principal said that he had enforced this particular dress code on his staff to ensure that teachers are seen as having authority and, therefore, should be respected by all students (even though many teachers dislike this dress code!).

The principal (on top of looking like a serious Viking, with his impressive beard) gave us a very impressive presentation about how he has managed to improve the status of the low-ranking school with troubled kids and is now ranking higher with improved student performance and behaviour. I was deeply inspired by a quote he included in his presentation, by Dr. Kevin Maxwell, “Our job is to teach the students we have. Not the ones we would like to have. Not the ones we used to have. Those we have right now. All of them.” I think many schools, all over the world, are not teaching the students they have, and trying to teach either by using traditional methods or the strategies that worked with the students they used to have. Every child should have equal access and opportunities to learn no matter their circumstances and it is the teachers’ job to make learning equal and accessible to all by catering to their needs rather than trying to make them fit the mould that we want.

The school has started adopting the ‘one device to one student’ policy starting with grade 4 or 5 getting their own personal laptops, and will continue adding new ones in subsequent years. The laptops will follow the students until they leave school and they have the option to purchase it when they graduate.

Since the current principal at Kista was hired just last year, he has had to let go almost 30% of his staff in the first few months because they were not a good fit nor willing to follow his vision for the school. He needed teachers who want to work with the students they have, set high academic expectations for all students regardless of their circumstances, want to work with families with socio-economic problems, want to have an effect on social change and be great at classroom management, and can engage students in their subject and make them want to work and impress. The teachers that are working in the school now are all willing to do everything that is necessary to make the school and the students successful.

It was truly inspiring to see such a passionate principal and educator that wants his students to reach their full potential regardless of their circumstances. I feel somewhat disappointed in myself that I did not have his vision or passion towards education when I was teaching in school. It is quite rare to find educators like this in HK as many schools, especially the private schools, are obsessed with status, elitism and money.

Anna Whitlocks Gymnasium

We visited the Anna Whitlocks Gymnasium next, which is located in Kungsholmen, Stockholm. It is a high school (upper secondary) that only just opened in August 2018 but it is already doing an amazing job in providing high quality education in a warm, welcoming and creative atmosphere, and is currently Stockholm’s largest secondary school.

The school is named after the school pioneer and educational reformer, Anna Whitlock, who founded the first co-educational school (over primary level) in Sweden. She introduced student councils, parent days, free choice of subject, and voluntary education in religion for school children. She is also the co-founder and chairperson of the National Association for Women’s Suffrage.

The school building is newly renovated from the old Ämbetshuset, which was used as an office building for the County Administrative Board in Stockholm until 2015. The office building then converted into a school building with enough room for 2600 students. The main structure consists of four wings built around a courtyard, which has colourful concentric circles in the middle. The building maintains a part of the old architecture and structures, mixed with new renovations adapted for teaching. The old windows, doors, stairs are kept with the newly added floors, ceilings and WiFi systems.

They have a teacher dedicated to serve as the Communications Manager as well as being the Head of Student Life. The digital landscape of the school comprises of social media platforms, blogs, YouTube channels, Intranet, surveys, polls, and various innovation and pilot projects are constantly being developed.

We also got to take a tour around the school, this time led by the staff. One of them was a Chinese language teacher who had been living in Sweden for 11 years! I was surprised to learn that there were local Swedish students who were interested in Chinese culture and wanted to learn Chinese! (I need to brush up on my own Chinese!) We visited a few of the classrooms where the students were working individually and in small groups for their final projects. They were given different options and mediums to choose from for their projects. Each student had their own laptop as well. I don’t think I saw any of the teachers standing in the front of the classroom lecturing. Sometimes, I couldn’t even identify who was a teacher when I entered a classroom! They really emphasise on the ‘teacher as a facilitator’ role and self-directed and student-centred learning rather than explicit teaching or teacher-directed activities. They focus on developing skills rather than teaching of content knowledge. Students do all of their own research. The school offers different specialisation programmes for students, such as economics, arts, science, social science, and technology programmes.

After the school tour and listening to the teachers’ presentations, we had lunch in their school cafeteria. Their meals are mostly vegetarian to reduce food waste and it has even encouraged the students to eat healthier and more sustainable meals outside of school as well. Not only is education free in Sweden, lunch served at schools are free too; and the food is actually pretty good – definitely better than the lunches I had to pay for at school in HK!

Lin Education

The last stop of the day was Lin Education. This organisation was founded in 2008 with the vision to provide schools, preschools and municipalities with computers and tablets. They also provide supporting pedagogy to work together with their digital devices. They have offices and staff in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Oslo, Karlstad and Umeå. They have also opened an office in Norway in 2017 and hope to cooperate and learn from different countries and organise more staff development trips. Each year, they organise over 1000 educational initiatives on learning, school development and digitalisation.

The staff at Lin Education organised a meet and greet with other Swedish school leaders and we got to network and share and compare the education systems in Sweden and Hong Kong. Some of the delegates from our HK team also shared what they are doing in their organisation and schools related to STEAM education. Then we broke into small groups to discuss about the challenges, practices and resources we have in each of the subject areas within our school communities. We realised that both Sweden and Hong Kong have similar challenges and there are also some areas we could learn from each other, for example, Swedish schools offer a lot of outdoor learning experiences and have more opportunities to see and observe things in real authentic environments whereas HK students are quite limited and rarely get to experience what they read and see from their textbooks in real, everyday life, especially in the area of science.

After all our discussions and reflections, we wrapped up with a round of Fika and bubbles and got to mingle with everyone!

The thing I was most impressed with at Lin Education was the layout and structure of their office. They have a large open area for group meetings and presentations, colourful furniture and even a kitchen island with a big coffee machine and popcorn maker! They make space in the office for employees and visitors to gather together and socialise with a cup of coffee and delicious pastries and baked goods. The whole atmosphere makes working and collaboration more enjoyable and productive.

End of Part 7

Back to Sweden (Part 6)

Continue to Sweden (Part 8)

Sweden (Part 6 – Digitalisation in Edu and Edtech Industries)

We arrived at Vinnova at around 10:00 a.m. the following day. Vinnova is Sweden’s government agency for innovation. The head of department and programme manager greeted us and introduced what their agency has been doing over the years. (We also enjoyed another round of Fika and a healthy salad lunch!)

Vinnova

Vinnova’s vision is for Sweden to become an innovative force in a sustainable world and strengthen the innovation capacity by funding research and innovation projects. Their mission is to open the way for innovation that makes a difference and contribute to sustainable growth. They promote collaborations between companies, universities and other higher education institutions, public services, etc. as well as strengthening international cooperation. A sum of SEK 3 billion is invested in fostering innovation each year. They are tasked with promoting sustainable growth by funding needs-driven research and development of effective innovation systems. Vinnova believes in research that is put to use and is relevant to society. They create opportunities to test ideas before it becomes profitable. They are not discouraged by failure and believe it is a necessary part of the innovation process.

Digitalisation in education

Since 2009, schools in Sweden have begun implementing the 1 device for 1 pupil scheme. Over 94% of the population is online and in 2017, over 70% have been doing their annual tax declaration digitally 2017 (they even have an app for it and it is so efficient and convenient to use!).

Digitalisation in education is extremely important in Sweden. They see the need to incorporate 21st Century skills in education, in particular programming and digital literacy. In 2017, digital competence was included in the school curriculum.

Edtech

The Swedish Edtech Industry is described as an ecosystem in the making. Sweden is the home of Skype, Minecraft, Spotify, King (Candy Crush) and so much more! The start-up scene in Stockholm is so impressive that it has earned the highest amount of Unicorn startups per capita in the world, after Silicon Valley (a unicorn is a privately held startup company valued at over $1 billion). Sweden also has the highest smart device penetration in Europe at 150%, meaning that on average, every person in Sweden owns 1.5 devices. It really just makes sense to develop further in the area of Edtech innovation. However, it is still not that well funded compared to investments in other Stockholm tech categories. The Swedish Edtech Industry aims to speed up the pace of digitalisation of the education sector; build strong networks nationally and internationally and exchange knowledge; maintain a free and healthy market; and contribute with increasing quality in the use of Edtech as well as delivering high quality products and services. They strongly believe in the collaboration of the government, industry and academia sectors (Triple Helix Innovation Model) in the development of Edtech in Sweden.

Sana Labs and Kodecentrum

Two Edtech companies gave presentations about how the funding from Vinnova has helped them to start and develop their products and services.

Sana Labs makes use of AI for education and partner with various education companies (i.e. Duolingo, Learnosity) to bring personalised learning to students around the world. Their three main products are Sana Learn, Sana Insights and Sana Voice. Sana Learn is able to measure students’ answers, response times and various contextual information to figure out what they know, how they learn best and how they forget. Sana Insights help to provide teachers with information about their students through an extensive collection of data from their courses and assessments to predict possible issues or problems before they occur, identify areas for improvement and to assign personalised material and resources for intervention. Sana Voice enable learners to improve their pronunciation and sound like a native through their state-of-the-art speech recognition technology.

Kodcentrum is a non-profit organisation that introduces children to programming and digital skills for free, as their vision is to provide all children the same opportunity and ability to fulfill their dreams by using code and digital skills. Programming and coding has been a part of the curriculum in Sweden since 2018. However, they lack resources and teacher training. It is predicted that the IT sector in Sweden will lack 70,000 professionals in 2022 and currently, only 28% of the IT workforce are women. All of Kodcentrum’s activities and programmes are volunteer driven. Their target groups include children, teachers, educators and parents. The funding from Vinnova has allowed them to develop educational material for schools. They have even developed computer-free activities to teach computational thinking.

School of Economics

We visited the Stockholm School of Economics and listened to Professor Per Andersson talk about the history of the school, his research areas, center for digital innovation and transformation. There is an increasing number of industries becoming more connected in the public and private sectors but it is not without challenges, such as leadership, new skills, resources, internal capabilities, customer orientation and practices, internal organisational structures and responsibilities, cultural challenges, and so on.

The school offers a research programme called ‘Managing Digital Transformation’ to encourage further research into the digitalisation of different sectors (i.e. education, transportation, health care, finance, etc.). The digitalisation of education is an ongoing and continuous process.

The university building is very uniquely designed, with an free open space and glass ceiling in the middle where students can sit, relax and study. It doesn’t feel like you are in a university building at all.

End of Part 6

Back to Sweden (Part 5)

Continue to Sweden (Part 7)

Sweden (Part 5 – Fika, Swedish Education System, and Skolverket)

Taking on a different tone from my previous posts on Sweden, the following posts are about our official visits to various agencies and schools around Stockholm and Gothenburg.

We arrived at the Swedish National Agency for Education – Skolverket in the afternoon. There, we met with various school leaders and directors within the agency and they gave us presentations about the Swedish education system and their direction in STEM/STEAM education. We also had our very first ‘Fika’ experience.

What is Fika? 

Fika is roughly translated as ‘a coffee and cake break’ but it is also a state of mind, an attitude and an important part of the Swedish culture. Swedes make time for fika every day; it can happen at any time of the day and even several times a day. The cinnamon bun is a popular fika item, but they can be anything, really. What you eat is not that important during fika. The key thing is having time to socialise and catch up with friends and colleagues. It is even considered rude if you do not join in and socialise during fika time. It is a way to strengthen relationships as well as refresh the brain. In companies and businesses where fika is institutionalised, teams work better together and are more productive.

Right before we started our meeting in the conference room, we were directed into the fika room where we helped ourselves to a cup of tea or coffee and nibbles. At first, I felt very awkward and didn’t know if I should talk to people while I ate. We all just kind of stood around the room, smiling and nodding at each other awkwardly!

A brief introduction on the Swedish education system

In Sweden, every child has equal access to free education. The Education Act mandates that all children must attend ten years of school from the year they turn six and forbids homeschooling. Children can attend Pre-school between ages 1 to 5, then begin compulsory schooling at age 6. Upper secondary school – years 10-12 (Gymnasium) is optional. They can choose from 18 different national programmes of three years. Entrance into all those programmes demand students to have passing grades in Swedish, English and mathematics from their final year of compulsory schooling.

Under the curriculum for compulsory schooling, schools are responsible for ensuring that every student is able to use modern technology as a tool in searching for knowledge, communication, creativity and learning. Around 94% of all schoolchildren in Sweden report that they have access to Internet at school.

Outdoor learning is also an important part of the Swedish school curriculum. Their school-age educare programme stimulate students’ development and learning, while also offering meaningful leisure time. The educational programme provided by educare complements the compulsory school curriculum, and makes learning situationally governed, experience-based, group oriented and based on students’ needs, interests and initiative.

Grades from A to F are assigned starting in year 6. Mandatory national subject tests are held in years 3, 6 and 9 of the compulsory education.

Swedish National Agency for Education

The NAE is tasked with setting the frameworks and guidelines on how education is to be carried out in Sweden. They support the development of preschools and schools with the aim of achieving greater goal attainment. They do evaluations of various activities through in-depth studies and analyses and conduct follow-ups to keep track of how activities are carried out and how to they can be improved. They are also responsible for making decisions on certification of teachers. Public funding and grants are also administered by the NAE. They work together with the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, which oversees and examines the quality of schools through regular inspections.

The agency believes that schools should stimulate students’ creativity, curiosity and self-confidence as well as their desire to translate ideas into action and solve problems. Students need to take responsibility for the environment to create a sustainable future. Schools also need to contribute to students’ understanding of digitalisation and how it is affecting our society, and to develop their ability to use digital technology.

Professional development initiatives

The NAE has devised professional development initiatives targeting in-service teachers with an emphasis on teacher collaboration and peer learning. The initiatives encourage teachers to be collectively responsible for their own professional development with the intention of having a lasting impact through the network of teachers established and the continuation of collaborative learning after the programmes have ended. The process is simple, beginning with individual preparation, followed by collegial discussion with a tutor where they will also plan a lesson together, then teachers try out the lesson in their own class, finally they come together again to discuss their experience from the lesson – what went well or what could be improved – also led by a tutor. All modules the teachers develop together focus on five didactic perspectives: motivation strategies, scaffolding language and knowledge development, interaction in the classroom, formative assessment, and digital competence.

They follow the goals outlined in Education for Sustainable Development when planning modules of studies to teach students as well. This approach makes learning meaningful for students and gives them a sense of responsibility, not only in their own learning, but also to the rest of the world as a whole. This should be the ultimate goal of education.

Screenshot 2019-05-28 22.43.02

Currently, the NAE is also responsible for the National School Leadership Training Programme, which started in 2009. They aim to provide headteachers with knowledge of the requirements set out in school regulations and to develop the role of the headteacher as a leader so that the quality of the activities can be assured. The programme is mandatory for newly appointed headteachers.

Running out of qualified teachers

According to the speakers, almost 50% of existing teachers in Sweden are not professionally trained in education and there is a major shortage of teachers. They estimate that they would need an additional 90,000 teachers in the coming seven years. Professional certification is now required for school and pre-school teachers on permanent contracts, to raise the status of the teaching profession. However, teaching is not a popular profession in Sweden and there are very few incentives for people to study education in university. In addition, there are very high expectations of teachers from the government and local politicians in order to maintain a good quality school within the municipalities. This is a real challenge for the Swedish government and one of the things they are really pushing forward in schools is ‘digital transformation’ as they recognise that a lot of learning can be done online. This can help to minimise the workload for teachers while they come up with better solutions for recruiting new teachers.

 

End of Part 5

Back to Sweden (Part 4)

Continue to (Sweden Part 6)