Schools struggle to cope with record number of refugee children
As the country tries to accommodate a record number of refugees, some schools are feeling the strain of a sudden surge in enrolments, especially of children who have undergone arduous journeys from areas in conflict and who may need extra attention.
Swedish Radio news reported Tuesday that many county administrative boards have reported to the central Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency that existing shortages of personnel and space in schools across the country will only be exacerbated if the influx of refugees continues at its current pace.
School systems in municipalities like Malmö, Trelleborg, and Södertälje will be especially affected, said Matz Nilsson who chairs the Swedish Association of School Principals and Directors of Education.
"If we continue taking in this many refugees in just a few municipalities, as we are doing today, there will be devastating consequences for those schools that take in a large proportion of the newly arrived students," said Nilsson speaking with Swedish Radio.
Nilsson said schools need more resources to pay for teachers, nurses, psychologists, headmasters, and personnel to help with issues special to immigrants. His organization has proposed allowing immigrants with teacher training to work in Swedish schools.
At the Husbygårdsskolan in Akalla, a neighborhood outside Stockholm with a large immigrant community, principal Anna Söderberg told Radio Sweden that this fall the school has taken in 30 children from other countries where they might normally have taken in seven.
"It's a special situation with a lot of children with traumatic things they've been through," she says. "It's not a normal start in the school system."
The Husbygårdsskolan takes in children from ages six to 16. Söderberg says it is common that the psychological problems of young people traveling from desperate situations in other countries is carried over to their experience in the Swedish school system. And it is not always easy to find and hire personnel that can cope with the special issues.
"You have to have personnel that's able to work with that type of children or their situations, and there is no one to hire," she says.
Most of the refugee students who were placed in her district had family connections in the Husby and Akalla neighborhoods. Because of that, Husbygårdsskolan and other schools in areas with large immigrant populations are sure to bear the brunt of the record-influx of refugee children.
"This is a new situation," she says. "You have to have extra resources."
The school has benefited from a program called Läxhjälp in which volunteers help refugee students with their homework four days a week after school.
"The idea is that the children have extra help. A lot of children don't have those resources in their own home," she says.