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Sweden boosts support to immigrant students

Sweden plans to spend 409 million kronor ($62 million) to improve education for foreign-born children, an increasing number of whom have struggled to make the grade after arriving in Sweden. The new funds, scheduled to be spent between 2013 and 2016, are part of the government's efforts to address sinking academic performance of foreign-born children who arrive in Sweden after the age when primary school begins – around 7-years-old. "The results are too low and it takes too long before immigrant students reach a sufficiently high level of knowledge," Minister for Education Jan Björklund told the TT news agency in unveiling the spending proposal on Wednesday. Since 2000, the percentage of non-European immigrant children with marks high enough for them to pursue secondary education has dropped from just over 60 percent to just over 40 percent, according to figures from Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån, SCB) cited by the government. By comparison, around 90 percent of Swedish-born pupils qualify to start secondary education programmes. The money will be used to expand lesson times for newly immigrated students in grades 5 through 9, the final year of compulsory education in Sweden. Some of the funds will also be used to further train teachers and principals to improve their ability to educate students with Swedish as a second language. Around 150 million kronor will also be spend on improving Swedish language classes for immigrants in the form of grants to institutions that would allow them to offer additional classroom time or help students more easily combine the course with a job or other training programmes. "There is a long road ahead, but this amount to a few steps in the right direction," said Björklund. According to the minister, immigrant students' falling academic performance is in part attributable to an influx of students from Somalia and Afghanistan, both countries with education systems which have been left in tatters due to years of war. In addition, said Björklund, immigrant children arriving in Sweden are generally older today than they were previously, meaning they enter Swedish education system at a later age and have a harder time adjusting. Some of the new funds will also be spent on surveying the education levels of newly arrived immigrant children in order to ensure they get the support they need. The government also plans to use some of the money to increase awareness of school choice in Sweden by providing more information in languages other than Swedish. Also under consideration is a plan that would require immigrant students who enter the Swedish school system late to stay in school longer. "We think people should have nine years of compulsory education. If someone comes here as an 11- or 12-year-old, in reality you only get four years in school," Björklund told reported, according to the Aftonbladet newspaper. "Therefore, extending compulsory school attendance until someone is 17 or 18 is something we're investigating now." Source: TT/The Local/dl Link: http://www.thelocal.se/43182/20120912/

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