The folk high schools
There are many reasons to attend a folk high school (independent adult education college) in Sweden. For some, it is a way to get back into studying and to gain the necessary knowledge to move on to other forms of education. For others, a folk high school might be their first real interaction with Swedish society. Furthermore, for aspiring artists and creators, study at a folk high school is a way of honing skills and building a network of peers. There are currently 155 folk high schools receiving grants from the Swedish National Council of Adult Education.
Long courses – general and specialised
The Swedish folk high schools offer two types of courses: long and short. The long courses often encompass complete terms but can also be as short as two weeks. Within this category, there are two subsets – “general” and “specialised”.
General courses must be offered at all folk high schools. By attending and passing, participants qualify for further studies at university level (to qualify for further studies, students normally study for between one and three years). The general classes are thus designed for students with incomplete sixth-form college/high school or compulsory school studies. Furthermore, many folk high schools offer general courses where compulsory sixth-form college/high school subjects are fused with a specific orientation, such as sports, arts or health. General courses must constitute at least 15 % of all grant based folkbildning at any given folk high school.
The specialised courses focus on a specific field or art form. Many folk high schools have their own niche and offer highly sought-after specialised courses with students applying from all over the country. A specialised course can be a way of preparing for university studies within a specific field. However, it can also be a way of exploring an interest or passion that you want to develop. Furthermore, a number of specialised courses provide qualifications in their own right, meaning that students are ready to begin working in their chosen fields after graduating. Participants may also be eligible for student grants from the Swedish Board of Student Finance (CSN), as many specialised courses are considered to be post-secondary education or vocational training.
Short courses offer participants a chance to try something new. It can be a way to try out an orientation you are interested in, but it can also serve as a rewarding exploration of a particular hobby or interest. During the summer, the folk high schools offer a range of short courses that are open to everyone. If you can set aside a week or two, you might be rewarded with some exciting new insights, and you’ll probably make some new friends along the way!
What sets the folk high schools apart?
No matter what programme or course you choose, it is the methodology that sets the folk high schools apart. With a steadfast focus on peer-to-peer learning and student inclusion, the folk high schools offer a study environment where participants can explore and discover knowledge together. Where the teacher does not lecture from behind a desk but chooses instead to engage the students in group work or individual exploration. Respecting the fact that people learn in different ways, folk high schools enable participants to use their individuality in pursuit of knowledge. Participatory democracy is a key element in all folkbildning but at the folk high schools it is elevated to a higher level; more than 50 % of all folk high schools are boarding schools, meaning the students both study and live together. The folk high schools offer therefore intimate learning environments where participants can develop their social skills along with their vocational skills and knowledge.
Assignments and commissioned projects
The folk high schools are granted funding from the government, this is based on the total number of weeks of their courses. In addition, the folk high schools also take on commissioned assignments from entities like municipalities, trade organisations and county councils, to name just a few. These assignments vary from “Swedish for immigrants” to special courses for NEETs, which is an acronym used to pinpoint young people who are “Not in Education, Employment or Training”. The folk high schools offer a unique environment for courses like these, by utilising the participatory advantages of folkbildning, where traditional education can seem rigid and somewhat insurmountable, the peer-to-peer methodology used by the folk high schools offers a much more dynamic and flexible approach, which is suitable for participants who are not always comfortable with formal methods of education.
The folk high schools also provide help for new Swedes, with a six-month programme on Swedish society, language skills and the labour market. In addition, there are also motivational programmes designed to help school dropouts explore alternate career paths or supplement/resume their education. Initiatives such as these are co-organised with the Swedish Public Employment Service.
Run by organisations, associations and societies or by the public sector
Of the 155 folk high schools around the country, 113 are run by various organisations, associations and societies while the remaining 42 are run by county councils and regions.
RIO is an umbrella organisation for the societal folk high schools, representing 112 members. For RIO, the main objective is to “promote and monitor the interests of the societal folk high schools and through their activities contribute to the strengthening and development of democracy”.
Another organisation, OFI, represents the interests of the public sector folk high schools, while a third organisation, Fhf, organises their representatives and trustees.
Together, RIO, OFI and Fhf run a mutual service organisation, FSO, which is tasked with providing strategic communication and marketing, as well as in-house skills development. For more information on these organisations, please visit Sveriges Folkhögskolor's homepage, linked below.