Sweden’s official homeschooling policy has been so hostile that native homeschooling families have had no choice but to leave their homeland, triggering seven years of steady relocation.
Now, the tiny Finnish Åland Islands, located just outside Sweden, are estimated to have one of the highest percentages of homeschooled students (2 percent of school-age children), outside of the United States (3–4 percent of school-age children).
According to Tankesmedjan Tillit, a Swedish independent think tank promoting educational diversity, there were only eight homeschooled children in Aland in 2012. Since then, that number has grown by around 40 percent annually as Swedes continued to flee to the more friendly jurisdiction. Today, 67 of the 3,000 school-age children on the islands study at home.
The Åland Islands, a Swedish-speaking, autonomous region of Finland, proved to be the perfect refuge for homeschool migrants. The islands are collectively about the size of Kauai, Hawaii, by square mileage; are home to 30,000 inhabitants; and are situated a little less than 30 miles from Sweden by sea. The Nordic countries have had a passport union for 60 years, so moving between the Nordic regions—like Sweden and the Finnish Åland Islands—is easy.
Finland has consistently placed high in the annual Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings (which evaluate educational systems via student scholastic performance) and involves parents in its various forms of education more than most countries.
Juhani Paavolainen, president of the Finnish National Homeschool Association (which you can read about here), explains why Åland is attractive to homeschoolers seeking freedom.
“We fought to allow homeschooling on Åland. Because of the Finnish constitution, the government of Åland decided not to make schooling mandatory,” Juhani says. “The government of Åland can make its own education laws—what happened in Åland is what needs to happen in Sweden.”
Jonas Himmelstrand, a former president of the Swedish National Homeschooling Association, moved to Åland after being threatened by Swedish authorities. He is now chair of the Åland homeschool organization ÅHUF.
“After Sweden made homeschooling effectively illegal in 2011, what were we, Swedish homeschooling families, to do?” Jonas asks. “Neighbouring Finland’s relative freedom was the answer. The locals call us ‘school refugees’—usually with a smile.”
For Jonas Himmelstrand and his family, the vibrant community makes life easier.
“We now have a wonderful network of homeschoolers with lots of events together,” he says, “including weekly friendly soccer games with players of all ages, from 10 to 65.”
“The authorities on the islands acknowledge that homeschooling works very well in most cases,” Jonas notes. “Although we must work with teachers for some modest oversight, they often comment that many homeschooled children learn more than public-schooled children.” Even some politicians acknowledge the additional creativity that homeschooling adds to the small island society.
While the temperatures may not be as warm as Hawaii’s, the Åland Islands have become a little paradise in the Baltic Sea for Swedish families who want to homeschool their children and feel welcomed and supported by the surrounding society.
It is a shame that families should have to move away from their homes in order to homeschool. HSLDA commends these relocated families for their commitment to providing their children with an education and environment that will best empower them to learn and thrive. And we condemn Sweden’s hostile policy toward home education.
We believe homeschooling is a right that all families should be able to exercise everywhere without undue burden from any government.
Thank you for your continued support of HSLDA. Our outreach in support of homeschooling includes advocating wherever we can for families like the Himmelstrands and their fellow refugees. It’s just another way we help make homeschooling possible around the world!