Nihad Bunar
Nihad Bunar

Swedish municipalities organise the teaching of students who start school without any knowledge of Swedish in completely different ways. Some place the students in regular classes, while others gather all the newly arrived students in a school into special preparatory classes.

“This affects many students, and yet there is very little research on what helps them acquire knowledge and be integrated properly. Furthermore, the municipalities’ choice of method is rarely based on the students’ circumstances but rather on what suits themselves,” explains Nihad Bunar, professor at the Department of Child and Youth Studies, who is leading a research project that investigates how newly arrived students are received at school. The project involves three additional researchers who contribute different perspectives in order to create a multifaceted view. They attend classes to see how the teaching works, study how the students function socially outside of school, and survey how the municipality works.

“Such a broad approach is needed in order to understand how all the different elements affect how well the students succeed in everything, from language acquisition and home language education, to social issues and what guidelines are available in the municipalities – and why. So far, we have found that a critical component is how the transition from preparatory to regular classes occurs.”

Important and needed knowledge

In explaining why the research is needed, Nihad Bunar talks about how the city of Malmö has started to gather all newly arrived students aged 7-9 into one school, something which he has criticised in various ways.

“There is no evidence to support that this drastic way of organising reception works well. Furthermore, it will lead to segregation unless the period of time the students spend there is limited. I hope that the criticism from me and other researchers will make Malmö reconsider.”

Freedom of choice is another topic of interest for Nihad Bunar. The freedom to choose schools affects students and parents who think they have to make the “right choice”, as well as school boards and local politicians who try to plan their organisation.

“This costs time and money for many people, while there has been very little research on the effect it has on the students’ results and the possibility of an equal school.”

In order to find an answer, he is studying the local effects of school choice in schools outside Stockholm. One effect he has seen is that one particular school has lost half of its students despite good results in evaluations by the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket).

“According to the headmaster, the ethnic composition, with many foreign-born students, led to a decrease in Swedish-born students. If the families’ choice is not governed by quality, the school choice reform is not working as intended.”

Strong interest in social issues

Nihad Bunar is dedicated to his work and wants to disseminate his research. He writes textbooks in sociology, is active in the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society, educates police officers, participates in government enquiries, and engages in teacher education.

“When things are really hectic, I almost wish I could choose to focus only on my research, but that is hard to do if you also want to influence society.”

One reason for his motivation is his having come to Sweden from Bosnia in the early 1990s. Due to his own research and personal experiences of being a refugee, he feels that he has much to add to the discussion concerning schools and the social situation of young people.

“I feel that I have much to give back to society, and I want to expand the view on these issues in everyone from politicians and other decision-makers to the new teachers we train here at the University.”


Interviewed by Andreas Nilsson

Portal for the Teacher Education