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Perspectives on Arts Education and Creativity in Swedish High Schools

Pictured above: Embla working in one of her favorite mediums

High school is not a mandatory school form in Sweden, but a majority of the students choose to continue to high school. Swedish high school consists of a three year education for students between the ages of sixteen to nineteen (sometimes fifteen). Students must apply In order to attend High School, and admission is usually based on academic performance, which determines the school (of the schools applied for) to which students are admitted. Some schools have entrance exams or require a portfolio. Although Swedish High Schools house specific programs, all programs have some standard academic courses in common that prepare students for higher education. Specialisations include focuses on natural sciences, economics and the arts. Besides those general academic courses, students take the rest of their courses within their chosen field. Additionally, programs can have sub-specialties. For example, a student can choose an arts program that specialises in interior design.

Embla is a 17 year old high school student from Sweden who attends the artistic program. Her program specialises in Game graphics and includes fields such as illustration, animation, and story development together with standard academic courses such as mathematics and history. She recently completed her first year of studies and looks forward to her upcoming year as she is about to start a course on animation. Embla chose the arts program because she has always had an interest in games as well as in drawing, and felt that she wanted to combine her two interests and develop within both of these fields. In the future she visions that she might look for work in the field of arts, perhaps creating games, and with the knowledge she learns, she says, “I could either find a job related to art or have it as a thing I enjoy doing in my free time, even maybe do commissions”.

Much of Embla's creative work is project based--projects that begin with a group introduction, step by step instruction, and written guidelines. Instruction is followed by videos and exemplar images presented in order to inspire students. After students embark on their individual projects, the teacher acts as a mentor, but it is up to individual students to seek mentorship. When asked how creativity is fostered by teachers in the classroom, Embla's immediate reply is that it is not fostered by her teacher, but direction, motivation, and pedagogical approaches are usually guided by the students themselves.

Embla makes it clear that the relational aspects with her teachers play a crucial part in her education. She talks about the different relationships she has with her teachers in her creative courses, and explains that the closer the relationship with the teacher, the easier it is for her to take creative risks without fear of judgement, and to seek the teacher's help. She feels most at ease in her creative classes--the courses in which she knows her teachers the best.

According to Embla, relationships sometimes skirt the boundaries that divide the professional relationship between teacher and student. Some of her teachers, she says, are even willing to befriend their students on online game platforms and play games with their pupils after school. Because her educational program centers around game graphics, a case could be made that gaming with teachers after school is a kind of extension of school-sponsored extracurricular activities. The importance of relationships between teachers and students, as well as some of the tricky questions about casual relationships and boundaries, are trending topics in educational theory.

As the conversation with Embla turns to the risks of a too personal relationship with her teachers, Embla says that she is usually very aware of her own role in her education, but at times, she has to remind herself that her work is also going to be assessed by the same teachers she is close to.

Milma Loeskow is an art educator from Gothenburg Sweden. Her daughter Embla is on 11th grade in high school.


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