How the Swedish culture affects education in compulsory schools

Between welfare and the will to succeed

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

18 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of content

1. Introduction

2. Thesis

3. Understanding cultural differences
3.1. Cross-cultural communication and social interaction
3.2. Lewis Model of Culture

4. Sweden:
4.1. A Nordic Social Democracy
4.2. A result-oriented culture
4.2.1. Liability to make detailed plans
4.2.2. Swedes mind their own business
4.2.3. Individualism
4.3. A people-oriented culture
4.3.1. A collectivistic form of decision making
4.3.2. Tolerance and respect
4.4. Between welfare and will to succeed

5. How to empathise with Swedes

6. Conclusion:


1. Introduction

Over the past thirty five years, since globalization reached new dimensions, issues of multiculturalism and intercultural communication have become very important in workplace, as well as in everyday life. There are over 200 recognized countries or states in the world and each of these countries has at least one culture. Moreover, these cultures often differ in sub-cultures, because of the strong regional variations, which are for example observable in the north and south of many countries. So all in all, there are plenty of cultures in the world and each culture has its own norms, which are deeply internalised by its members. But what is a culture and what are the things that constitute the different characteristics of cultures?

To answer this question, culture has been defined by many psychologists in a number of ways and with different key aspects. But one the most simply definition might be, that a culture is a structure of learned behaviors whose main elements are shared by the members of a particular society (Linton, 1945). This implies that different cultural groups think, feel, and act differently, because of their history, socialization and education. When talking about culture in everyday conversations, people often come up with prejudices, politics or literature. Most of them forget that what you can see and touch is only the smallest part of a different culture. The biggest part of it can’t be seen on the first view. Because of that, cultures should rather be regarded as an iceberg, where 80% is hidden from your view. You can find these hidden 80% in history, ecology, table manners, social etiquette or social structure of a different culture.

One field, in which many of these hidden cultural aspects can be found, is the school system. It is one of the main parts of socializing and education of a country and so it shares the cultural norms nearly every day. One good example is the primary school in Sweden, because it is very different from other European schools and reflects the Swedish culture in many points.

In order to show the hidden 80% of the Swedish culture, this elaboration will focus on Sweden’s comprehensive school. Therefore, this paper will first concentrate on cross- cultural communication. After explaining, what cross-cultural communication means, it will give a short insight into the Cultural Model of the British author and polyglot Richard D. Lewis, who classified cultures into three categories.

After classifying the Swedish culture, this this paper will analyse its values, based on three characteristics Lewis assigned to linear-active cultures. These three characteristics can be found in nearly every part of the Swedish culture, but especially in the typical Swedish educational system. As already mentioned above, the Swedish school system is in many points different from other countries. To earn high quality standards, Swedish schools focus for example on the students and not only on teaching and learning contents. But there are many other hidden aspects that give some indication of the Swedish culture. In the last part of this paper, these aspects will be described and discussed.

2. Thesis

The Swedish culture has two faces. One the one hand it is very social and harmony- oriented, but one the other hand it sticks to facts, plans and agendas, because it focuses on results and success. This paper explains how both faces can become one and where it is difficult to combine them. Therefore, it will examine the values and beliefs of the Swedish culture revealed by analyzing the characteristics of a linear-active culture, which is described in Lewis Model of Culture. The papers focus will be on the theme of Primary school in Sweden, because it reflects the successes and failings of the cultural split.

3. Understanding cultural differences

3.1. Cross-cultural communication and social interaction

One way we organize and understand our social world and the different cultures is through the use of cultural models or culturally shaped mental maps. These maps are deeply ingrained in us, because they were built over many centuries of socialization and education. That’s why people often don’t realise how specific their culture is. Most of them even don’t spare a thought about other cultures, because they aren’t aware of different values simply by looking at them. To feel cultural differences and understand cross-cultural communication, people have to immerse themselves in another culture, which thinks and communicates in another way. This exploration of the values of another culture can be very exhausting, because at first our fundamental beliefs will be thrown over. But venturing abroad can also teach us, that our culture is not the measure of all things and that we shouldn’t take our cultural behaviour for granted.

Considering cultural characteristics as “common sense” shows, how difficult it is to analyse and describe values of a culture. There is no uniform evaluation system that dictates how we should look at different cultures or which points are important to classify them.

Nevertheless, there are some common dimensions for the most cultural models such as concept of time and space, communication, equal or non-equal rights of men and women and position of the individual in the society. Understanding these topics of cultural behavior and communication is the key to build intercultural relationships, which are in times of globalisation as important as never before. Since World War II, more and more regional and national economies and cultures are confronted with the global network of trade, communication and immigration. But what can help countries to reconcile with the idea of international business relationships and to surmount difficulties with rising immigration in modern times?

To be successful in those topics, people have to empathize with other cultures. They have to understand one of the most important dimensions of cultural characteristics: Intercultural communication and social interaction. People often think that speaking another language fluently is what intercultural communication is all about, but they are wrong. Of course, speaking the local language is extremely helpful, but communication is about much more than language skills. It is about many unspoken attitudes and norms, which can’t be seen at first sight. Moreover, communication is not only the exchange of information. It rather includes things like body language, emotionality, privacy, how we plan things and of course what we are talking about. The school system in Sweden recognised, that intercultural communication is very important in the modern age of globalisation. It tries to prepare the pupils for working and living with an intercultural environment. In the Curriculum for the compulsory school system it is said:” It is important to have an international perspective, to be able to see one’s own reality in a global context in order to create international solidarity and prepare pupils for a society that will have closer cross- cultural and cross-border contacts. Having an international perspective also means developing an understanding of cultural diversity within the country” (Swedish National Agency for Education, 1994, p. 6) But in order to understand the mentioned cultural diversity within a country, it is important to firstly classify its culture. Therefore, the Culture Model of Richard D. Lewis, which is one of the most important models through cross- cultural communication, will be shortly described in the next chapter.

3.2. Lewis Model of Culture

Over years, many psychologist and researchers tried to find out more about the different parts that are important for communication. They elaborated various models to categorise cultures. One of these researchers is the British author and polyglot Richard D. Lewis. In his book “When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures”, Richard D. Lewis classifies cultures into three main categories: linear-active, multi-active and reactive. Every culture shapes attitudes toward time, leadership, team building, and affect a range of organizational behaviours in a different way.

According to Lewis, multi-active cultures are very emotional. For them, face-to-face communication and the relationship is more important than formal procedures or facts. They can do several things at once and are more talkative than other people. Moreover, multi-active people have a very restrained body language and when it comes to discussions they can be very loud. Cultures which are very multi-active, are for example Hispanic Americans. (Lewis, 1996)

In contrast to that, linear-active people are logical thinkers who carefully plan and manage their actions. Therefore, they need timetables and schedules, because unstructured procedures are for them very difficult to realise. Thus, linear-active people are very accurate and efficient in their work. They often stick to facts and when it comes to business, they are very unemotional and job-oriented. The most linear-active culture, which is also known for its accuracy, is Germany. (Lewis, 1996)

In his travels around the world, Lewis found out, that reactive people are the most patient and silent people. They are good listeners and very people-oriented. They want to protect the face of others and must not lose their own face. Therefore, they avoid confrontation and are very caring. Most Asian countries have a reactive culture. (Lewis, 1996)

Even if Sweden is known as a typical northern European country that is accurate and punctual, it only comes to third place of the linear-active cultures. Sweden’s culture has also a reactive side. In many points, which will be described later, it is very peopleoriented, thoughtful and caring.

4. Sweden:

4.1. A Nordic Social Democracy

The Kingdom of Sweden belongs to the Scandinavian countries in Northern Europe. It is the third-largest country in the European Union by area, with a total population of about 9.7 million. Most of the inhabitants live in the south of the country, because the north is heavily forested and rough. (Vis a Vis Reiseführer, 2012) Like most of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden has not only a beautiful nature, it’s in many points very different from other European countries. One significant difference among the Nordic countries and the rest of Europe that deeply goes along with the Swedish culture, is the combination of a free market economy with a welfare state. This combination is called the Nordic Model or the Nordic Social Democracy. It includes individual autonomy, public services and public expenditure for free education and universal healthcare, little product market regulation, as well as low barriers to free trade. Moreover it promotes social mobility and ensures human rights. (Andersen et al., 2007)

These characteristics of the Nordic Model provide a first insight into the sociality and success orientation of the Swedish culture. On the one hand, Sweden is a typical linear- active culture that has its focus on correct procedures, results and punctuality. But on the other hand, Sweden’s culture is very people-oriented and social. To many people these opposing cultural characteristics seem to cause conflicts, but in Sweden the contrary is the case. The country has both, a successful economy and a homogenous society. (Mole, 1998)

To pass on the Swedish values of sociality and success orientation, Sweden invests a lot in its education. While the OECD average is 5.7 per cent, Sweden pays a total of 6.3 per cent of GDP on education. About 70 per cent of education can be financed by municipal taxes, so that Schooling is free in Sweden. Even most of the integration and language courses for immigrants are for free, because Swedens wants to avoid a lack of education. Moreover, education is not only about how to read and count, it is about respect, the ability to empathise and of course democratic values. In the curriculum of compulsory school it is stated that the school has the important task of imparting, instilling and forming in pupils those fundamental values on which the Swedish society is based. (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2009, p. 1)


Excerpt out of 18 pages


How the Swedish culture affects education in compulsory schools
Between welfare and the will to succeed
EBC University Hamburg
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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510 KB
Interkulturelle Psychologie, Intercultural Psychology, Lewis Model, Model of culture, cultural differences, Swedish culture, Reactive culture, linear-active culture, comprehensive school, Sweden, Schweden, Schulsystem Schweden
Quote paper
Katharina Reinhard (Author), 2014, How the Swedish culture affects education in compulsory schools, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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