Sweden’s Role in Global Learning

Göran Carstedt, Ph.D.

What makes Swedes good at providing education?

I myself have experienced two impossible achievements that the Swedes have accomplished and they relate to our ability to provide education and create learning. The fact that Sundström, Näslund, Forsberg and the Sedins all come from the same small town, Örnsköldsvik, populated roughly by 30 000 citizens does not make sense. The fact that IKEA, the biggest furniture company in the world started in the Swedish town Älmhult with 9000 people is also highly unlikely. Success in Sweden is, as these two achievements attest to, not related to size nor resources but rather due to learning, involvement, persistence and having the right fertile mylla or soil to develop people and talent.

In terms of the education system in general, how does Sweden play?

Well, we are not ranked that highly today, we don’t rank as highly as many other countries do. And I’m not sure that 20 or 30 or even 40 years ago we were that high either – they didn’t have any measures at the time. But, I’m not really that worried about that in the sense that this little country is absolutely un-proportional in terms of its achievements. The point I would make is to look not at the scores on the tests, but at the democratic platform that for different reasons, has created a society where all people are welcome on the educational journey.

How do Sweden’s academic institutions factor into this equation?

While Sweden might not have the best or highest ranked universities in the world, what we do have is a team mentality. This mentality encourages us to share our knowledge rather than horde it on individualistic terms. I came to Umeå University in the late 60s. I was not a study guy. I played a lot of poker and hockey, and was also very active in other sports. I did however have a lot of respect for academia and still came out seven years later with a PhD. The whole point is that while the university might not have been the best, I accepted the invitation they offered to help “create” this new institution. Umeå University was at the time newly established and very entrepreneurial. We were all invited to play a role in making it better.

You often refer to the word lagom – please explain more about the concept.

I use the term lagom when I try to explain an egalitarian way of taking what is yours while making sure there is enough to go around for others too; to act consistently with a team mentality.

What has Sweden’s role been globally when it comes to education?

Sweden has always led by example and must continue to do so. To refer back to my previous example, even IKEA follows the mantra that all people are invited to join and its goal is to: “make life better for the many people”. As Swedes, we take pride in creating and being the model. We cannot tell other countries what to do or not to do – we can however show them and that is a role we have played and will hopefully continue to play.

Why is Sweden taking a leading role in issues relating to sustainability? And when did it start?

Well, much like in Canada, the small population in a large country fuels a sense of love for nature. It fits with the idea of “taking care” which applies to Sweden’s general mentality. Sweden hosted the first United Nations conference on the environment in Stockholm in 1972. We made this role for ourselves. Importantly, we must also consider the idea that a sustainable world isn’t just for the rich. Remember, the rich can always take care of themselves. This creates irreconcilable gaps or as one of my favourite quotation by François Mitterrand goes: “a world better for a limited few will be uninhabitable for all of us”.

We all live on the some global island and we are running out of space. What role can Sweden play to help us all co-exist?

Well, the teaching way of thinking is that we have an idea and we’re going to put it into someone else’s head. But, when teaching does not work try learning, the learning mentality is different. By going and doing things, by experiencing, by proving to the world that we in Sweden can do something positive for the world – like lowering our CO2 emissions to one and half tons of CO2 per person a year – for instance – if we can do that, if we can really push ourselves to do that and be happy while doing it, that is the way to change the world. This way of teaching or sharing works for two reasons: we can be an inspirational model for other countries and cultures but also this forces us to find solutions for this (how we manage our transportation, our waste, our products, our services) which the world will demand. We know that the world will have to completely reorganize itself in order to sustain 9 or 10 billion people on the planet – but as of today we do not yet know how.

Is there anything you are anxious or afraid of? Are you hopeful and optimistic about the future?

I am still scared when it comes to CO2 emissions. We still burn much toocoal, oil and gas and the planet cannot assimilate it all. It scares me. If the climate destabilizes, it can run out of control. But I am still hopeful as I see all the people on the planet trying to do something about it, trying to come up with solutions, using their creativity to make resolve of this situation. It is very exciting.

What motivates you to be working with the challenging aspects of sustainability?

The main reason I left corporate life after 23 years was that I wanted to deal with the bigger issue of sustainability. I was curious and wanted to see what this was all about. And as the Vaclav Havel quote goes – “something old is on the way out and something else is painfully being born”. I want to be part of co-creating that “something else”. I want to do the things that I find important and I want to help other people see that this is important. In the end its about making sure that I have been the best Göran that I can be and that I am comfortable with the choices I made.

If you could give one word of advice for Swedes outside of Sweden, what would you tell them?

Continue to be proud of your roots and where you come from. See that there are so many things to learn from other cultures, and try to find a combination of all the best. Take the best out of all your experience and make a new alloy. We must mix the blue and yellow with the stars and the stripes and the maple leaf. And we must recognize the need to always continue learning.

Claes Fredriksson
Claes Fredriksson is a visionary leader with extensive international experience and a solid track record in management, marketing, business development and sales. Fredriksson has a Masters in Mechanical Engineering from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Fredriksson was born in Sweden and lived many years in Asia and Europe before moving to Canada in 1997. In 2012, the Fredriksson's acquired Swedish Press.