Study support help or barrier? Leading young newly arrived learners to success and inclusion in school through study support in their native language

Many countries in Europe must since a few years face an unprecedented wave of immigration along with a refugee crisis, which accelerated during 2015.[1] Sweden has welcomed a large number of immigrants and asylum seekers, among them many children, some unaccompanied.[2]

According to the Swedish Education Act, all children living in the country should be provided free education from age 6-19, this education being compulsory from age 7-16, except for asylum seekers. This means that for example, even asylum seekers or unaccompanied children have a right to education regardless of whether they are going to stay, or return to their homeland.

However, as stated in a report by OCDE, ”Compared to their native Swedish peers, immigrant students, on average, have weaker education outcomes at all levels of education. Nearing the end of compulsory education, at age 15, there are very significant performance disadvantages for immigrant students. These gaps are especially pronounced for first-generation immigrants (i.e. students who were not born in Sweden, nor were their parents born in the country). The toughest challenges appear to be access to national programmes and completion in upper secondary education”.[3]

The Swedish government has recently introduced a number of measures to improve the education of newly arrived pupils.[4] Along with those measures, the rules concerning access to tuition and study guidance in the native language have been redefined and explained, and the National agency for education (Skolverket) regularly provides tools for a better use of both supports. Pupils, some of them illiterate, starting the Swedish school at the age of 16 have a lot to catch up: not only they will have to learn Swedish, but they will even need to study a number of subjects in that language. 

In spite of the new regulations and tools for both study guides and teachers of different subjects, it seems that study guidance is not in some contexts resented by the pupils as a support. A measure aimed to enhance the students’ confidence, ability and motivation, it sometimes, on the opposite, confuses the students in their learning both Swedish and the subjects they are supposed to get help to learn.

Celciusskolan, an upper secondary school offering a language introduction programme (Språkintroduktionsprogram, from now stated as SPRINT) for newly arrived pupils aged 16-20, belongs to the schools where study guidance in their native language seems to have failed, according to both the students, the teachers and the headmaster. As in other similar classes, students feel particularly stressed: Pupils in Sweden who have completed comprehensive schooling are entitled to upper secondary education. Upper secondary education is three years long, and is not compulsory. But upper secondary education must begin before a student turns 20, which also applies to those who have received a permanent residence permit. Asylum seekers must begin their upper secondary education before they turn 18.

Getting a closer look upon the implications of the “study guidance in the native language” is also getting a nearer look upon the “Requirements for applying to the various national programmes in upper secondary school:

  1. Students who have received a pass in Swedish or Swedish as a second language, English and mathematics in addition to 5 other subjects are eligible for a vocational programme. Students who have a pass in Swedish or Swedish as a second language, English and mathematics in addition to 9 other subjects are eligible for a higher education preparatory programme.
  2. For students that are not eligible for a national programme there are five introductory programmes. None of the introductory programmes provides an upper secondary diploma, but the idea is that they should lead either to a national programme or work”.[5]

Hence, integrating the ordinary Swedish school programmes for upper secondary school may for most of the students starting the SPRINT programme feel like an unreachable aim. Some, though, reach the goals. In this study we will try to analyse and improve the contribution of study support in the native language to their successfully including the Swedish schools ordinary classes.