Amid reports that some schools are segregating boys and girls, Sweden’s Minister for Upper Secondary Schools, Aida Hadzialic, above, has suggested that the country needs to discuss whether to ban religious schools.
According to The Local, the Minister is calling for multi-party talks in parliament to discuss how to:
Really guarantee that school classes are free from religious elements. The schools law stipulates that school tuition must be secular, but we are receiving worrying signals that this is not the case, that girls and boys are being taught separately. We can’t have it like that.
The minister said she would push for change in parliament this autumn after the education ministry was informed of gender segregation in schools. She said:
Swedish schools should be for everybody, they should break down segregation and form the basis for Sweden to stay strong.
Sweden’s free school system of state-funded but privately run schools was introduced in 1992 and paved the way for religious organisations to operate schools as long as they stuck to the secular Swedish curriculum.
Meanwhile, it is reported here that a Swedish pastor and his wife were among a group of Christian parents who scuppered planned Yoga lessons at a school in Rydaholm.
Linda Olsson contacted the local school authorities and pointed out that her husband David, the town’s pastor, was obliged to keep religion out of ceremonies held to mark the end of the school year. Shouldn’t yoga be subjected to the same scrutiny, she asked.
Rydaholm is part of Sweden’s Bible belt and other Christian parents shared the Olssons’ concerns about yoga and its links to Hinduism and Buddhism.
Said Linda Olsson:
Yoga is used by Buddhists as a form of meditation. We don’t know what it might lead to.
The parents said they supported physical activity for their children but wondered why the school didn’t offer more traditional exercises.
Their efforts succeeded: just before the yoga classes were due to start the principal announced that they would not go ahead. Linda Olsson was elated.
It feels really good that we managed to stop this. Now we just need to be vigilant to ensure it doesn’t sneak back in again.
Not everybody shared the parents’ concerns and the story sparked much mirth among secular Swedes on social media. Johan Hilton, theatre editor with the Dagens Nyheter daily, tweeted:
Regarding the parents who blocked the lessons. One has at some level sensed that yoga is in league with the Devil.
Samuel Teglund, an editor at Världen Idag, which has recently published a series of articles about the rise of yoga in Sweden, said:
We’ve been writing abut yoga for some time and think it’s an important issue … because not everyone agrees it’s religiously neutral and harmless. We hear from people working in schools and the healthcare system who are concerned about the spiritual effects.
When it comes to Christianity, the education authorities are very specific about what can and cannot be said and what psalms can be sung at end-of-year school ceremonies in churches. This doesn’t happen at all with yoga even though it also has a divine connection in Eastern religions.
The yoga discussion had split readers into two camps, said Teglund.
Some are very glad we’ve created a debate about yoga; others think it’s completely unproblematic and have a giggle about Christian parents who are upset about the religious influence on children. It’s very polarized, which I think shows why it’s important to talk about it.
For the record, Sweden’s Prince Carl Philip (third in line for the throne) last year married a yoga instructor, Sofia Hellqvist, above, now Her Royal Highness Princess Sofia of Sweden, Duchess of Värmland.
According to this report, Sofia studied yoga in New York City and became a certified yoga instructor. She then started her own yoga centre in Manhattan and launched a yoga gear collection “Drop of Mindfulness”, that she co-designed.