Sweden’s Newest School System Has No Classrooms

There’s a whole new classroom model and it’s a sight to behold. The newest school system in Sweden look more like the hallways of Google or Pixar and less like a brick-and-mortar school you’d typically see.

There are collaboration zones, houses-within-houses, and a slew of other features that are designed to foster “curiosity and creativity.” That’s according to Vittra, which runs 30 schools in Sweden. Their most recent school, Telefonplan School (see photos below via Zilla Magazine) in Stockholm, could very well be the school of the future.

Architect Rosan Bosch designed the school to encourage both independent and collaborative work such as group projects and PBL. Even the furniture is meant to get students learning. Bosch says each piece is meant to “aid students in engaging” while working.

The un-schoolness doesn’t stop with the furniture and layout though. The school has no letter grades, students learn in groups based on their level and not age.

Most of all, admission to the school is free as long as one of the child’s parents pays taxes in Sweden and the child has a ‘personal number’ which is like a social security number to our U.S. readers.

Telefonplan School in Sweden
Telefonplan School in Sweden
Telefonplan School in Sweden
Telefonplan School in Sweden
Telefonplan School in Sweden
Telefonplan School in Sweden
Telefonplan School in Sweden
Telefonplan School in Sweden
Telefonplan School in Sweden

47 Comments

  1. Katie Jones

    September 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Wow! This looks cool.

  2. Violetta

    September 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Looks stunning. Hope you’ll have a follow up post on how well this works.

    • Jeff Dunn

      September 17, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      Already working on it!

      • Tom

        December 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm

        Any more on the followup? I have shared this with dozens of teachers. We have school envy.

  3. sarah!

    September 17, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Are there teachers at this school? How do they fit in to the model and layout? I’d be interested in the actual research-based educational philosophy on which they’re basing the system.The photos don’t seem to show an awful lot of actual group interaction going on, looks like a lot of kids on laptops.

  4. Jenny

    September 17, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Looks like an amazing environment for self directed learning and collaboration with other learners.
    Where are the teachers? what do they do?
    Great that there are no letter grades, but how do you work out what level the kids are at so that they can work together?

    The photos look very professional; culturally diverse kids etc; Did Apple have anything to do with funding?

  5. George

    September 17, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Sorry but these photos look staged.
    This does not convince me that these are the learning spaces for the future.
    Compare with UK school building of open plan space school – the school initially sold itself on its progressive methods and environment and has had to back peddle fast because of parents not sending their children there. Now website talks of very traditional approaches. Recent reports speak of closure.
    http://www.archive-jmu-journalism.org.uk/#/news-383/4545645376

    • Abhi

      September 18, 2012 at 7:57 am

      You are right George, these are staged photos…look at the bird flying and that red coloured room… I wonder… is this school for grown up kids, who don’t need monitoring and disciplinary watch-keeping!!!

      • Fiona Mackenzie

        December 14, 2012 at 1:29 am

        George, the reason the photo of the flying bird doesn’t look “alive” is that the bird is dead. Didn’t you notice this whole room is dead animals?

        Schools that effectively provide student discovery, with teachers setting the stage but not marking the footprints on the floor, work if they have amazing teachers and amazing students. A teacher can try to encourage a kid to look at the world with open eyes, and see the ramifications of it, but only if the student is capable of intellectual flight.

        It would, however, be well worth having some schools like this, if only for people like Richard Feynman whose mind sucked up and evaluated everything he saw–under the tutelage of his exceptional father.

    • Jennifer S.

      September 20, 2012 at 4:45 am

      The bird photo is not a photo – it’s a photoshopped computer graphic montage. The author should note this and give reference to the photographers where required.

      And probably these photos are staged for permissions purposes.

      The lesson learnt in the UK: what’s right for Sweden isn’t necessarily right for the UK. What’s right for one school is not necessarily right for another. And you can’t judge a school by its photo.

    • Dick

      September 26, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      This is a simplistic comparison – there are multiple reasons why a school may not be attracting pupils. One of them may well be that parents are wary of non-traditional approaches but this doesn’t mean that the non-traditional approach, or the architecture that supports it, is wrong, it merely means that parents don’t understand it and are playing cautious. The fact that the photos are staged is pretty irrelevant, I haven’t yet come across a school that doesn’t use staged photos in their prospectus on their website.

      • Gretchen

        December 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm

        I agree. I am a teacher at an independent school and we frequently have photo shoots in our classrooms and they are staged in order to show what we want to show. That’s completely normal.

        • Alan

          January 21, 2013 at 6:08 pm

          Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s right. As educators we should be working in the currency of honesty and integrity. Leave the propaganda to the advertising executives who already have more than enough power through mass media. Prospectus images should be representative: not JUST the best (or beyond the best), but a selection of good and typical.

    • Kwame Laryea

      December 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm

      Good work George it’s good to see you attack something not because of the concept behind it or how well it has been executed, but rather for the photographic representation of it. Sterling work :)

  6. Helen

    September 17, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    The very notion that this school is not universally accessible (see last sentence) is not one that we can espouse in Canada. If it is touted as the best, it should be inclusive, not exclusive.

    • Craig Boyce

      October 9, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      How is this exclusive? One parent has to pay taxes or have a SIN number? How many Canadians would this exclude? The school is free – take a look at Cdn schools. Falling down, archaic, institutional and battling soaring dropout rates. Our public education system is nothing to hold up as a role model for the world.

      • minstrel

        October 11, 2012 at 11:48 am

        And this didn’t work in ontario in the 60′s and 70′. Inquiry based learning, as this is, tends to be exclusive to the top 10 % of students.
        Anyone remember Rochedale College?
        But at least this in fully inclusive and accesible. Helen, you have to be a teacher who has “drunk the kool-aid” on inclusion.

  7. Anne Bailey

    September 18, 2012 at 2:20 am

    I was educated in a non-graded unit in the Montessori method until I was 10. I never say at a desk and while it wasn’t as beautifully designed as this, we were allowed to make our own nests and forts and to work where we wanted, doing what we wanted. It certainly fosters independent learning and personal motivation. I don’t remember as much collaboration but I do know that when I moved to a mainstream school at 10 I was several years ahead of my peers academically.

    The teachers were guides on the side and did that very well. It fostered a lifelong love of learning and a strong sense of personal responsibility. It won’t work for everyone – SEN for example – but this sort of approach has many advantages.

    • Lolena

      December 25, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      I too was fortunate to have a learned primary indeoendent education in France where a schoolhouse had all different ages and independent learning skills resulted. When I returned to Canada~I was bilingual and fluent in 2 languages.
      I was tested to determine where to place me in California public system and was found to be 6 academic years ahead of students of my age~I later taught at an independent private high school and discovered our traditional methods of education to be archaic and self defeating.

  8. antonia

    September 18, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Great! Learning is made by emotional experiences

  9. Diane Stevenett

    September 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Growing up In the voluptuous snow drifts of Alberta, Canada I would carve giant environmental objects and forms….
    And not surprising I became a Sculptor. We are a product of our environment and this is spectacular for creative development and inspiration of young minds. More!!! Everywhere… And Quickly!

  10. LindaC

    September 19, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Very impressive. Wonderful atmosphere. Let us, as always, remember there is no one size fits all. Some children thrive in such a place. Others would not feel comfortable in such open spaces and learn best in a structured environment. Even very creative children may thrive with a bit of direction and guidance.

    I found that when, teaching art classes. children could make beautiful wonderful paintings, but I would often, for example show then what I might do with the materials and then I would mess up the order things were in , say now what can you make. I have never been a fan of a streak of green – now glue the dot here, etc. Cookie cutter projects, never- let the child do their own way ( as long as their way is not to paint their neighbor or the other child’s work), but a bit of suggestion never hurts if you see the child is reluctant to start or hesitates to begin.

    Some children do not have the inner discipline to find their own way. They do need some structure and encouragement toward some basic literacy lest at the end of twelve years, they have no knowledge of how to survive, handle money, make money, read above early grade school. Some are convinced that life should be fun, and their ambition is to be never bored. That is a very praiseworthy ambition but I would hope that we can guide them to realize that the more that is stored in our minds, the more sources of entertainment we have inside ourselves. We can remember books we have read, our own personal gifts whatever. I am convinced that when we help children learn to entertain themselves without constantly interaction with an adult, the more the child is able to learn not to depend on outside sources for stimulation but to search himself for he can do.
    This can give a child a sense of independence and can empower her to find her own fun.

    This is not at all to say that I do not like the new concept in Sweden. I love it. I would have been very happy as a child in such an atmosphere, choosing what I wanted to learn next and exploring all interests. I would have read all the books about anything I wanted to and, oh, the joy of being turned loose among the art supplies and writing what ever I wanted and not being tormented with penmanship lessons which never took. Given the choice, I might have read about science, mostly about animals, the ocean and space with the planets, and I am not sure about the what level of mathematical knowledge I might have attained since I had little interest in that.

    Very best wishes to all the visionaries and may they dream long and deep, seeing their dreams come true. Let’s just keep an open mind and repeat there is no one size fits all.

    • minstrel

      October 11, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Amen LindaC, very well said. I guess I’m too cynical to turn a phrase as beautifully as you have! I for one would not have gotten out of elementary school without structure and boundaries! Have you ever thought of becoming an Education Minister in Ontario? No I think you’re too smart…the plebian politicians wouldn’t listen.
      Thank you for your comments!!

    • Patricia Atherley

      November 8, 2012 at 8:39 am

      What a thoughtful and beautifully written response! I particularly love your point that “the more that is stored in our minds, the more sources of entertainment we have inside ourselves. ” A lot of what is being promoted in education today seems to emphasis a shallow and superficial approach to learning that I find worrying. I read an article a little while ago in which the writer suggested that things that were emphasised in education in the past “like ‘thinking and reflection and ‘that sort of thing’, are too slow for the future.” He suggested that teachers needed to use technology to “help kids do these things faster”. I agreed with the Harvard professor of medicine quoted in a New York Times article “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” available here http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/technology/21brain.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 who responded with his own suggestion that we need to “bring back boredom,” and let the brain rest some so it can process information!

  11. Lisa Thorne

    September 19, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I love this idea in principle but it must be difficult to make it work with large class sizes, such as here in the UK.

    I worked on a project recently that had individual learning pods where students could personalise the acoustics and light levels to suit their own needs – helping to calm heightened anxiety. This particularly helped students with SEN because they could come and go from the main class, staying with the whole class as much as possible but studying on their own when they felt it was more productive.

    It’s impossible to specify an environment that suits everyone and I’ve found that while open spaces can be thrilling and energising they can also be noisy and overwhelming for some students.

    • minstrel

      October 11, 2012 at 11:53 am

      so true, noise is an enemy of learning!

  12. ZhoVan

    September 19, 2012 at 7:29 am

    that’s great

  13. LottaN

    September 21, 2012 at 2:03 am

    Well… Cool architecture!
    BUT the free admission is not unique for this school: All schools in Sweden have free admission by LAW. All education is paid for by taxes (hence the slightly higher tax rate) But this school is private, you might say. Well, the ugly truth is that the “free” schools (privately own and run) in Sweden ARE ALSO FINANCED WITH TAX MONEY. And the even UGLIER truth is that they cost the local councils MORE of the budget than their own schools as the councils have to support the education of students who live in the council, no matter which school they go to. And the winnings from these schools go into the owners’ pockets instead of back into the school. In this respect Vittra is supposed to be one of the better ones.
    Concerning grading: No children under 13 in Sweden are graded. Also BY LAW. The teachers monitor and register results in relation to given goals in all subjects. The system with mixed age groups is not new either, and is GREAT when it works.

  14. David

    September 21, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Irrespective of the enormous hurdles to overcome the politics and traditions (entrenched) of our education systems here in the UK, the notion that young people are encouraged to personalise their learning and to be creative and collaborative must be the way to go to meet the needs of a innovative creative world of the future. Sweden seems to understand this point even if in the end this is expensive; what price for not thinking about educating in this way? Sadly I am not confident that the UK adaptation of the notion of free schools will produce these kind of teaching and learning environments. This has to come from professional school leaders who believe that this is the way forward and not always from government reform. I think we are a long way from unlocking this door here – but its inspiring to see what might be, even if the photos are mock ups!

  15. Mrs. D.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

    For me what matters more than this setting is how the educator reflects on their methods. And how the students are assessed to move from one group to the next. The setting could be on a mountainside or beach. Is there evidence of learning is my only question.

  16. Mary h

    September 22, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Looks impressive. I remember about 25-30 years ago such a concept was attempted in the US. It did not last very long–a few years, maybe. It turned out that many American kids did not have the self discipline to guide their own learning. Plus, parents wanted to know how their kids stood in comparison to other kids. Now we have state governments demanding the same thing. Such rankings of schools are even published in local papers. In a perfect world, this would be a dream. I would like to know where this school and students will be in 10 years.

  17. Yianna

    September 23, 2012 at 6:44 am

    An aesthetically pleasing environment that I imagine invites students to feel ‘at home’ and connect with their environment. So important in fostering a positive climate where all students can feel safe in taking risks as they challenge their ideas and theories. Heartwarming to see schools moving toward environments that look less like institutions and more like places that empower learners to question, to be creative, independent and responsible. I imagine the role of the teacher to be that of a keen observer who is able to mediate the development of concepts – not for the faint-hearted! This environment demands a skilled, reflective practitioner that trusts in the power of respectful relationships, collaboration and the natural curiosity of all children. Yes, some children will require more support and encouragement than others as, one size does not fit all, but let’s face it, we have persevered with the industrial model of schooling for all, for a long time – perhaps it is time for real change?

  18. Pam

    September 24, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    An impressive environment that fosters learning rather than listening – something that many parents and teachers believe is the key to education. As technology changes and students have skills so different to those had in the past, we need to develop teaching skills to match and create citizens who will cope in the 21st century.

  19. Chris Dew

    October 5, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Nice, I am a big fan of this. I think the current methods we use to educate are flawed at the most fundamental levels – from an emphasis on right and wrong / black and white (essentially undermining creativity), to rote memorization of fact without any sort of actual understanding!

    In a summation of the ‘Venus Project’ (www.thevenusproject.com) that I wrote in 2009, I highlighted some of the reforms needed to education, and it’s great to see many of these now being emphasized in Sweden:

    “Education must be reformed from an early age. Process and analytical skills should be emphasised, rather then rote memorization of facts. Many problems should be presented with no single ‘correct answer’ and have multiple ways of accomplishing a task. Dialogue should replace lecture, and exercise should no longer be mandatory and monotonous but incorporated into the learning experience. Numerical grades and ‘passing’ or ‘failing’ should no longer apply. Group work and cooperation in overcoming obstacles should be stressed. Individual diversity, qualities, strengths and interests should be recognized and developed from an early age as the curriculum should be dynamic and adaptable alongside society and individual students.”

  20. Jonathan C

    October 9, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    Hmm… A bit of a one-sided article which does not really explain what this school is about. In Sweden no schools have letter grades up to grade five, all schools are free and learning in groups based upon their level rather than age is not unusual in primary and middle school. What makes this school different is the architecture (seems very good!) and that they have substituted qualified teachers with laptops.
    According to a comment (http://teknikpappan.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/dags-for-vittra-telefonplan) parents have withdrawn their child after the first year because of ”a lot of talk and little action” and because the school offers ”mainly stickers and t-shirts”.
    Not wanting to be ideologically blinkered at the expense of our son, we sent him to one of the schools that seemed to offer an exciting pedagogy run by the same company. After one year, 25 of the 28 pupils quit the school in disappointment.
    I am all in favour of new pedagogical methods, but run-for-profit schools cannot deliver what they promise.

    • Patrick Arkley

      October 11, 2012 at 9:33 am

      In a response to the comment on my blog (teknikpappan.wordpress.com) I did ask the person who gave that comment to be more precise as I could not relate to things like ”a lot of talk and little action” and ”mainly stickers and t-shirts”. But I have not yet seen any reply.

      Also, substituting qualified teachers with laptops is not true. There are as many teachers in Vittra Telefonplan as any other school. The laptop is used for collaboration and communication in projects and giving the pupils new tools like a blog, web sites, Presentation tools, chat etc. to use as a way of presenting their projects.
      They are not abandoning books in favour of computers but some things become easier to learn and more intersting to learn when being worked through a computer.

  21. Daniel Collett

    October 9, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    I see this as a very innovative and in theory very beneficial new look on education. However, I also see how this can promote bullying in schools due to kids being grouped by level and not age. Older kids who are struggling being placed with younger kids who are excelling will promote jealousy and embarrassment for the older kids and they may resort to bullying. While bullying does occur in any setting of children, this theory on education needs to take this into account.

  22. Jennifer

    October 21, 2012 at 7:22 am

    I go to a school just like this one (in sweden, im swedish) and the entire school from grade six and up everyone have their own macbooks. Its a fun and good way to learn thing. Write novels in pages, and do presentations in keynote, I love my school!

  23. ScienceTeacher

    October 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    I agree with Mr.Jonathan’s opinion, particularly with the last line of his comments. I can actually endorse his expressed views about the company which is running the above-mentioned school. I applied for a position with Vittra Lidingö, a school run by the same company, and, in response to my application, the HR manager informed me that they are looking for a teacher who can teach Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics), Technology, Social Science (History, Geography, Religion), Maths and English language. I decided not to continue further. You can fairly imagine the quality of teaching in the classrooms if the company is hiring jack of all type of teachers to educate today’s learners. The main focus of these commercial educational companies is to maximize profits even at the expense of quality of education.

  24. Chris

    November 6, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    The educational research in Australia is very clear that the quality of the teacher is by and far the most important single factor in successful outcomes for students. If an environment such as this attracts quality teachers then they are onto a winner.

    • David

      January 19, 2013 at 11:46 am

      It always iamuses me that we need research to tell us what we already know.
      Having said that I actually wouldn’t have wanted to teach/guide/educate in an environment like this.
      My natural born cynicism puts this down as someone’s vanity project.
      Whilst I am here…… I susect that the majority of the unschooling , Montessori and other such successe are at least as much a result of home/parental backgroung as of the touted methods/philosophies.
      It is the openness of the teacher’s/guide.s mind thatis important.

  25. Fiona Mackenzie

    December 14, 2012 at 1:37 am

    In the end, though, research and experimentation with education serves a purpose of keeping the field of teaching from becoming dull and spinning its wheels, and keeping at least some parental interest in their children’s education. And for those few bright kids who are also mentally active, it may allow genius to bloom. Sure, it’s elitist–but so is intellectual life and work.

  26. Diana

    December 16, 2012 at 3:22 am

    As spunky and new age as it looks, all I can see is synthetic materials used and an un-naturalness – it does not look like a healthy environment for children besides the open space. In all honesty I would not be sending my child there. It’s nice to see the open learning concept though.

  27. Dan Sullivan

    December 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Looks like an elaborate way of doing what unschooled children do naturally.

  28. Core

    January 5, 2013 at 11:16 am

    I’ll be glad to see schools, in the US at least, gotten rid of all together… You don’t learn by reading or watching or have some person ramble on in general about the topic at hand, you learn by doing and gaining experience.

    It’s easy to get caught up in the above story. because most of us probably went to the classic school system where we were told what to do when to do it and how to do it, and were in tiny square rooms with hard tiny uncomfortable seats… couldn’t even go to the restroom without asking.

    • Alan

      January 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      The only thing I can agree with in this post is “you learn by doing and gaining experience”, and even that is limited. Where do you do the “doing”? That is the function of a school – to provide a place and resources for the “doing” that would not otherwise be available to our young people. However, it is also a place where expertise is accessible (although this is LESS important with internet communities).

      However, learning EVERYTHING by doing is frequently slow and unsuccessful. The expertise (hopefully) housed in schools provides a base for direction and guidance in learning. Relevant quote: “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.” (Isaac Newton). It was not until I tried to develop and teach a context-based Physics program where students primarily learned independently through research and collaboration that I discovered how much knowledge we take for granted, and little can be done without that knowledge being already in place.

  29. Victoria

    January 8, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    looks wonderful and I love the use of natural light