Privatized scandals

The fact that I have been quiet and silent on this blog for a while doesn’t mean that Swedish neoliberal scandals are over. By no means! We have just had a demonstration of shamelessness in some private schools of a sort that even made some politicians react. As we have told here earlier, our school system has been “neoliberalized” in a way that stuns our Nordic neighbors and probably many more. Every fortune-hunter in town has been allowed to start a new school after not much more than a formal application. And many have done so.

Once the schools have been established, the authorities have handed over generous amounts of taxpayer’s money which make the businesses most profitable from day one. The school voucher is dimensioned so as to cover facilities that benefit the students and education itself, such as nursing, libraries and special teachers. Many private education businesses have bluntly ignored these requirements in order to maximize profits. When the schools have been operative for some time many fortune-hunters have found the ultimate way to become even richer, namely by selling their businesses to private equity corporations and thereby lowering the ethical standard even more.

A bunch of notorious investigative reporters on public service television disclosed the latest scandal, the one disclosure that really did the trick. They visited some private schools with a hidden camera, presenting themselves as parents trying to find a place for a son and a daughter. When one of the reporters presented his son as a boy with minor behavioral problems, the school was said to be filled, but when another reporter then tried to find a place in the same school for his well behaved daughter, there where no problems at all for her to enter. Some principals were caught on tape saying frankly that they didn’t want any problematic students. (One of them made such outrageous statements on tape that he resigned the day the program was aired, and sold his school.)

To select the best students is naturally a flagrant violation of the agreements, and in breach of fundamental principles for our egalitarian school system. This bad news adds to a range of others. One of recent disclosures is that some schools have paid high interest rates on loans given by their owners, and paid with tax payer’s money intended for education, all with the intention to increase profits.

It took these last scandals, revealed by our prestigious public service TV, for the Social Democrats to finally react on the highest level. To cope with the problem of wrongful selections of students, they now propose that schools shall be bereaved right to choose students altogether. Instead this process is proposed to be managed by an independent and official body. How this really ends up is a separate question, though.

Prior to these happenings we had some turbulence concerning one of the boarding schools we have in this country. They are in part publicly financed, motivated by the fact that they educate some children of parents working abroad. But the one in question – Lundsberg – is more of a remnant from an ancient feudal era, with its noblemen and their obsolete habits. Lundsberg has a long history of excesses connected to the social order in which the older students are parenting the younger ones (the “bowels”), often with harsh methods. Numerous scandals have been revealed through the years. In this actual incident, a couple of the “bowels” were burnt with smoothing irons, so much that they had to visit a health clinic. Thus it all came out, and the National School Inspection acted promptly, closing the whole school overnight.

The Lundsberg management appealed to a court which set aside the decision on the grounds that the Inspection had no jurisdiction regarding what happened after school hours. We have yet to see the end of the story, but the spotlight is on Lundsberg and the other boarding schools we have.

In fact, the spotlight is on the entire school question and the privatizations which are correlated with a sharp decline in study achievements as measured by PISA and other respected test methods. The correlation is probably not coincidental. In the TV program mentioned above some students in private schools being interviewed expressed their satisfaction, based on “the convenient and flabby style” they enjoyed in their school.

Did the politicians who are responsible for this collapse of a formally excellent school system really not foresee what their decisions would lead to; consequences that a bright student in elementary school would have expected? We are not allowed to assume such stupidity. The probable answer is: they don’t give a damn, as long as they can drive through their ideology.

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