The history of folkbildning stretches back to the turn of the last century. Political and social revolutions in Europe made people realise that they could truly influence their own future. But if the people were going to have increased power, they would also have to obtain knowledge and education. There were elementary schools of course, but there was also much dissatisfaction regarding the educational activities they offered ordinary people. The growing popular movements no longer accepted that the upper classes should make all decisions concerning cultural life or what was taught in schools.
The first folk high schools in Sweden were established in 1868 and today there are 150 schools in the country. Despite being separate, folk high schools are now a popular, important and established part of the Swedish education system. 107 of the schools are run by various popular movements, organisations and associations (NGO´s), whilst the remaining 43 are run by county councils or regions.
The nordic folk high schools The folk high school movement is a characteristically Nordic phenomenon which started
in the middle of the 19th century in Denmark followed by Norway, Sweden and Finland.
folk high schools operate in the field of voluntary and general adult education. The goal of the folk high schools mainly is to offer general education both to young people and adults, and their courses cover a wide spectrum of subjects. In some cases, they also provide vocational education.
Aim and ideology of the folk high school
A characteristic feature of the Swedish folk high schools is, among other things, their freedom to develop the content and direction of their own courses.
This means that they diverge from ordinary schools in many ways. There is no centrally established, standard curriculum for the folk high schools, each school makes its own decisions regarding teaching plans within the limits set by a special ordinance.
folk high schools offer a unique opportunity to enhance each individual’s human resources. The students´experiences of working life and society are put to use, and their contribution is very vital. The schools constitute small, educational societies where each individual makes a difference. Studying in a warm and open environment, working closely with other students and staff stimulates personal growth and development. The traditional freedom of the folk high school has led to ample experimentation and educational innovation. Problem orientated and thematic studies for longer or shorter periods are quite common.
The overall object of the Swedish folk high schools is to give general civic education. Each year about 27 000 students take part in the long courses. The folk high schools receive financial support from the state. A certain interest has been directed towards groups with special educational needs, e.g. people with short basic education, people with various disabilities and immigrants and the unemployed. The minimum age for admission to the general courses is 18 years. There is no upper age limit.
A variety of courses at the folk high schools
There are many courses to choose from at the folk high schools, varying from a couple of days to several years.
All folk high schools give a general course (allmän kurs). They are suitable for those who have not completed their secondary education or for those who want to go on to further education. The course content covers a broad spectra of subjects, with social studies, language and science as the main fields. In addition to the general subjects the student may also choose an optional special course such as computing, music, sport, art & design etc.
The majority of the folk high shools also offer a wide range of special courses. Among such courses one can mention the aestethic courses (art & design, painting, weaving etc), music, journalism and studies concerning the developing countries. Some schools provide vocational training for various leader categories, e.g. youth- and recreational leaders and drama leaders.