“To lead is to serve” the Swedish system between integration and independence

An experience in Sweden, or any other Scandinavian country, always creates a huge load of expectations. On the outward flight, reading a newspaper and reflecting on the daily dose of poison and ignorance that is so easily passed on in our country at this time, I wondered: am I really going into perfect civilization?

The first day reflected my predictions: our host partner created an interesting programme full of ideas not only about migration policy and integration, but also about educational policies and the system of employment. Our tutor, Jeannette Lehninger SWEDISH FOR IMMIGRANTS, explained to us the models and elements that contribute to making Sweden a virtuous example in Europe and in the world.

The first element that I have grasped and greatly appreciated is concreteness. On the first day, I had the opportunity to attend a Swedish language lesson given to Eritrean and Syrian refugees. The task of the day was to write a message about Whatsapp to give the other party an indication of where and when to meet. I ask Carin, the teacher, if the students are doing well. As an answer, she takes from a visibly pregnant girl the note on which she tried to write her message, and tells me: “The grammar and syntax of the sentence are wrong, but it doesn’t matter. The only important thing is that the message is understandable to the recipient; in this way, she will be able to make herself understood and be understood. She will be independent.”

In the following days, it became clear that the aim of the Swedish system is precisely this: integration, to train independent people, providing migrants with the psychological, economic, linguistic and orientation tools that will allow them to realize themselves in this new land. Interesting in this sense is the choice to include in the curricula of language learning centers the development of critical thinking: the teacher provides the student with the tools to learn independently the information about him, without relying on the family circle or group of belonging.

The methodology chosen to achieve the objective of an independent subject is to structure individual paths. The person is listened to by all the professionals with whom he interfaces: the teacher creates an individual plan of studies, the career and guidance counsellor (a key figure in the Swedish system) exposes all the available training and / or employment opportunities, the social worker is responsible for advising how to settle the economic situation and the family.

In that absurd combination game that is the mind, this attitude reminded me of the Solomon Islands motto, read in a book: “To Lead is To Serve“, driving is serving. The basic idea is to make these people understand their future goals and build a present that allows them to achieve them, all in a context of clear rules that allow the person to be free in respect of others and without welfare dynamics.

For example, in the first meeting between teacher and migrant student, there is a deep interview between the two, aimed at building the growth path of the student. Then, on the very first day of class, the teacher (where necessary, the interpreter) explains to the students the rules of the class in their mother tongue, so as to ensure that they understand them. Guiding is serving; or, even better, guiding these people, leaving them the freedom to choose (and make mistakes) in accordance with the rules, is integration.

On the eve of my departure, I try to answer the question I asked myself at the beginning: was I in the perfect civilization? The answer is obviously no, nothing is perfect. The system has technical deficits (difficulties of coordination between public structures and significant rates of abandonment of studies after compulsory schooling, to name the most important) and important areas for improvement.

But the winning figure is perfectibility: the Swedes are committed to ensuring that their society is always better for them and for others to come. And it is perhaps this momentum that should make us think.

Elena S. Melas

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