Navigating Grades and Learning in the Swedish Upper Secondary School Where Neoliberal Values Prevail
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This chapter examines the practices through which a cohort of Swedish upper-secondary pupils manage their learning processes to avoid the possibility of their teachers doubting their study abilities. It explains how, in contemporary Sweden, a country where the outlook is increasingly neoliberal, university places are competitively awarded, creating concern among students that asking for support might mark them as unsuitable for university entrance. The research uses in-class observations and focus-group interviews to establish how two classes of students actually manage this dilemma and finds an interesting paradox — that the student practices potentially create both negative and positive consequences for their success. By seeking teacher approval rather than teacher assistance they cut themselves off from an established effective form of academic support, but by turning to their own resources and discussing their studies with their fellow students, they improve their capacity to learn independently and work in a group of peers, important skills for higher-level study and for working life. Thus, the competitive practices common in neoliberal economies actually encourage the students to work cooperatively even as they strive to attain the high levels of success needed to guarantee a place in a prestigious university, at least in the context of natural science education, when carrying out laboratory work within the discipline of chemistry. This study is limited in scope in terms of subject coverage, but this context was chosen because the more practical format of such work offers opportunities to observe students learning though action rather than see them being taught didactically and thereby makes studentteacher interaction an option rather than a prerequisite.