Educators are trialling a range of initiatives to ensure newly arrived children do not fall through the gaps and all schools bear the pressure equally.

Botkyrka, a municipality just south of Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, is full of contrasts. The massive apartment complexes in the area’s northern suburbs, where most refugees and migrants settle, are a far cry from the airy wooden villas just 15 minutes away. The area’s schools are similarly divided; while some teach large numbers of children from non-Swedish backgrounds, others have few or none in their classes.

This contrast is becoming more stark. Of roughly 163,000 migrants who applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015, more than 70,000 of them were children. Half of those children arrived in the country alone. Swedish law stipulates that refugee children should be offered a school placement within a month of arriving – so far just 4% of schools have taken a third of the newly arrived pupils. It is feared that with some schools taking more of the strain than others, young people in the country are becoming segregated.

Some believe bussing children to schools in different areas in the region could be the answer. Not only does it help to spread the pressure on schools, but it also supports parents and children when looking for a place. Several municipalities now offer dedicated buses or free public transport passes to encourage newly arrived pupils to attend a wider range of schools.

Falkbergsskolan, a popular state school, is taking part in such a scheme. In the past, nearly all pupils at the school had Swedish as their mother tongue. But just over three years ago, the school set up a preparatory class specifically for refugees, taught in both Swedish and Arabic. The class currently has 12 pupils, all from Syria. They stay in the class for up to three terms and enter mainstream classes once their Swedish is good enough.

Roger Tillberg and Aida Zayat run the class and teach subjects in both Swedish and Arabic, so pupils develop academic knowledge and language skills at the same time. The effects of this approach have been positive.

“I love this school,” says Shahd Shalak, 15, who attends the class with her younger brother. The siblings came to Sweden from Damascus a year ago, joining their mother who was already in the country.

“In the beginning it was hard here in Sweden,” says Shalak, whose favourite subject is biology and who wants to become a pharmacist when she leaves school. “I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t speak the language and I missed my friends and relatives. Now, I really like it here. I can speak to people, I am studying, I have friends.”

Even though it is a small class, the pressure it places on the school’s resources has been challenging. “We’re into our seventh term now,” says Tillberg, “and I am exhausted. Many of the children are unaccompanied boys and their parents are either dead or still in Syria. There are no parents for us to turn to when they run into problems. Much of my and Aida’s time is eaten up by handling various social issues.”

Trädgårdsstadsskolan, the best performing state school in the region, has experienced similar challenges. Of the school’s 660 pupils, between 25% and 30% are from non-Swedish backgrounds. Although most of those children are second or third generation immigrants, two years ago the school took in four boys from Afghanistan who had arrived in the country alone.

“They loved our school and cried when they left,” says headteacher Anne Bolmgren, who suggests the experience was positive because it involved a small number of motivated pupils who shared a common language.

“As a school you need lots of additional resources to cope with integrating refugee children – the pupils need access to teachers who speak their language and some teachers might need to be prepared to act as mentors since many of these pupils have social problems and in some cases there are no parents to turn to,” she says.

Earlier this year the government vowed to introduce a number of reforms, including tutoring refugee children in their own language. The proposition is part of a migration policy agreement that has cross-party support and will come into force in August.

In principle, Bolmgren is not opposed to bussing students to schools. But she believes it is a limited, short-term solution. Bigger structural problems, such as the entrenched residential segregation, need to be tackled too, she says.

One alternative would be to introduce a quota system in all Swedish schools. At the moment Sweden’s free schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, take in a small proportion of newly arrived children. In 2014, they accepted 63% of newly arrived children while state schools accepted 80%.

Others argue quotas and bussing children to schools can only partially address the challenges of integration. Isak Skogstad, head of the Swedish Teachers’ Union’s 20,000-strong student network, says such measures are selective. They won’t solve other challenges facing Sweden, such as the teacher shortage, which Skogstad says is immense.

“Bussing can certainly be part of the solution but it’s hardly going to revolutionise the Swedish school system,” he says.

There are also fears that quotas will negatively affect other children. “If quotas are introduced, the children who live in our catchment area will not get into our school and pupils will need to be distributed across schools that might be far from their homes. It would be chaotic,” says Bolmgren.

Either way, schools in Sweden remain on the frontline of the social integration battleground. “Going to school here has really helped me,” Shalak says. “If you have an education and good grades, and if you study hard you can do anything in the future.”


Two major new Jewish projects – at opposite ends of Europe – were announced last month.

The community of Montenegro made known its plans to build the first synagogue in the country in 500 years.
The shul complex, to be built in Podgorica, the country’s capital, will include a meeting centre for the 400-strong community, and be equipped to host Jewish visitors.

In a statement, the community said it wanted to use the centre to facilitate “understanding and cultural exchange with other religions and with Montenegrin society at large”.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s Jewish Museum Foundation has said it was being given £130,000 to set up a new museum in Stockholm’s Old Town. The grant is part of the government’s spring budget.

The new Jewish museum will be set up in premises that used to house Sweden’s very first synagogue – established in the 18th century but long since out of use – as the foundation plans to use the money to fund its move to the Old Town.

The new centre will focus on Swedish-Jewish history and integration.

Sweden’s minister for culture and democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke of the Green Party, told newspaper Dagens Nyheter: “The Jewish history and future are an obvious part of Sweden’s heritage. With a new museum, more people will get the chance to discover that.”

The news comes almost exactly a year after the appointment of a new Jewish museum chief, Christina Gamstorp. She said the new premises had strong symbolic value. “An authentic location like this is almost like an artefact. The walls tell the story of what it used to look like,” she said. The new museum is set to open in 2018, though guided tours may be available next year.

With Alvar Aalto in mind, a renowned Swedish architect crafts a serene home on a long-held family plot.

A suburb 15 minutes from central Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, seems an unlikely place to find a house designed by one of Scandinavia’s most celebrated architecture firms. Still, here, Wingårdhs—run by principal Gert Wingårdh—has created a home for a young couple that offers near complete privacy, even though the closest neighbor is just yards away.

Villa Kristina rests atop the kind of rocky ground that characterizes much of Sweden’s rugged west coast. Passersby have little inkling of what hides behind the structure; just one narrow window faces the street. Wingårdh cites Alvar Aalto’s summer house on the island of Muuratsalo in Finland as an inspiration for the house’s form. “It is very closed on the outside and it directs the views to where nature is at its best,” he says.

Sitting at a 23-foot-long table that was custom-built for the oblong and spacious kitchen, Anders Bergström, a car designer for Geely, says, “This is our own little world.” His wife, Kristina Lagercrantz, nods in agreement. She is a judge who is just finishing maternity leave; the couple’s one-year-old daughter, Ingrid, was born shortly after the house was built.

“The villa sits on a piece of land that has been in my family for four generations,” says Kristina. “Or, well, it’s five generations now that Ingrid is here!” Her family purchased a summer house on the property at a time when the surrounding area was mostly farmland. It turned into a residential area in the 1970s, and now it’s a densely populated suburb. The house where Kristina’s grandmother, now in her nineties, still lives was built in 1981, but it only takes up a portion of the site. The couple called on Wingårdh to devise a structure for the remainder of the plot that could serve as their home.

Wingårdh is behind projects such as the Swedish embassies in Berlin and Washington D.C. and the air traffic control tower at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. He is known for designing buildings that are in tune with nature, and Villa Kristina is no exception. “We preserved the site by building on the rocks, not blasting them away,” Wingårdh says. The material program also supports the house’s connection to the outdoors. The silvery spruce facade will age and transform over time. “It’s constantly shifting,” Anders says. “Living in a house made out of natural materials, you can really feel it move and breathe.” While Wingårdh initially envisioned using whitened plywood throughout the interior, gypsum board proved a more cost-effective choice.

Anders and Kristina have long admired Wingårdh’s work, particularly his villas, and when they told an acquaintance who works at the architect’s firm about their ideas, he said it sounded like a project Wingårdh may want to take up.

“I think he liked the thought of building a normal-sized villa [the house is approximately 1,722 square feet] for a young couple on a piece of land that has a very personal history,” says Anders. Wingårdh adds that his office typically has a handful of residences
in the works at any given time. “I personally enjoy designing private houses, so we keep a small group dedicated to the purpose,” he says.

“We wanted something of our own, something different and unique,

and we wanted to seclude ourselves,” says Kristina. The house is also designed to be a work-in-progress, adaptable to suit the young family’s future needs. There are early drawings for extensions: The storage area on the terrace can be converted into two bedrooms, and there is enough space on the plot of land behind and in front of the house to build a small guesthouse.

Says Anders: “The idea is that the house should be always changing.”