The Folkhögskola: A fantastic kind of school

A conversation with Elaine Lindblom

translated by Mark Safstrom

As part of the filming for the documentary, God’s Glory, Neighbor’s Good, we interviewed Elaine Lindblom, rektor at Karlskoga Folkhögskola in Karlskoga, Sweden, to ask her about the folkhögskola tradition, its long heritage in Scandinavia, and the educational opportunities that it presents today. Recorded by Tim Frakes, translated and edited by Mark Safstrom. May 19, 2015.

MS: Can you tell us about yourself, and about this school?

EL: My name is Elaine Lindblom and I am rektor here at Karlskoga Folkhögskola, and have been for the past 6 years. […] Karlskoga Folkhögskola is situated a couple of kilometers from the center of the city of Karlskoga. This folkhögskola is very old, founded in 1882, and back then they had facilities that were more centrally located in town. Later on they built this rather large campus, inaugurated in 1972. So we have been at this location now for more than 40 years.

MS: We’ve just been inside the historic schoolhouse of Mor i Vall [Maria Nilsdotter], here on your campus. There is a long educational tradition here. Can you tell us a little bit about this history?

EL: General education [folkbildningen] in Sweden is rather unique, as is the folkhögskola as a form of education. In part this has to do with the fact that this is designed as adult education, and people should be 18 years old or older. The folkhögskola as a school form emerged in large part as a movement to increase the overall educational level of society. At that time, there were many people who hadn’t had the chance to go to school for more than perhaps seven years, and these people wanted to continue to educate themselves. So when Karlskoga Folkhögskola was founded there were many practical subjects that one could get instruction in. As time went by, there were more theoretical subjects added, so that some students could continue studying, and even apply for a university education. The philosophy of the folkhögskola today is very much based on giving adults a foundational education in order to be able to continue on in a given occupation or to continued studies, or also for personal enrichment. So we offer a large number of different courses within general studies, or in various profile areas, such as music, art, language, sports, and so on.

The courses can range from one semester to several academic years. We have, for example, a program for training youth recreational leaders, which we have had since the 1970s here. This is a two-year professional development program, after which people are equipped to work as youth recreational leaders in youth clubs in schools or in congregations, and work with children and youth.

Elaine Lindblom

MS: Can you tell us about the school today? Who are the students who decide to come to Karlskoga Folkhögskola?

EL: Karlskoga Folkhögskola has a good reputation. In general, the folkhögskola is a well-regarded educational form in Sweden. For some students, it can serve as an orientation year, as students decide what they want to do later in life; perhaps this is the first time that students have moved away from home – since students have the option to live here in our dormitories. Students have the opportunity for personal enrichment, for example if people have a specific interest that they want to cultivate, they can use this opportunity as a gap year before they continue on with their next stage of study. In our case, most of the students who study come from our immediate area, which includes Karlskoga, Degerfors, and several other municipalities. But when it comes to our profile courses, such as in music, then we receive students from all over Sweden, who have found us online, and chosen to come here for the sake of a specific program.

MS: For those readers in the United States who are not familiar with what a folkhögskola is, can you explain how it fits in the educational landscape? That is to say, it is not high school (gymnasium) and is not college either (högskola / universitet), but is rather its own thing.

EL: The folkhögskola is considered to be its own unique educational form, yet it is still part of the general Swedish school system. It overlaps somewhat with the gymnasium education – since some of our students have dropped out of gymnasium or primary school, and they can get a chance to retake these courses here – yet it also can include some post-gymnasium education, that is to say, it can serve as a preparation for university studies, professional college, or for the working world.

MS: As a personal question, how did you yourself come to work at a school like this?

EL: My own educational training is within the church, as a pastor, but I have also been trained as a folkhögskola teacher and have always been highly interested in education, all my life. And just this combination, that I can work at a folkhögskola that serves a church denomination – it is Equmeniakyrkan who is our owner – this an excellent combination for me. Here I feel that I can work with education, but also in a way that can be considered social work or diaconal work.

MS: What are the opportunities that a folkhögskola can offer to both society and the church today?

EL: On the part of society in general, we have experienced ever-increasing requests for us to serve in various capacities, for example requests from the state employment agency or the government, that we should work with specific target groups. At present, there are many people in Sweden who are new arrivals from

all corners of the world, and with these groups we work a lot with language training in Swedish. Yet we also work with young people who are unemployed, and maybe lack primary education due to the fact that they have dropped out of school. These are two of the main target groups that we try to serve today. And when it comes to our identity as a church-run school, this is another opportunity, as it gives us our own profile; we don’t need to be neutral, but can actually have a visible Christian profile and offer courses within this identity. An example is an international Bible school program that we cooperate with here, called Acts 29, which exists in many other parts of the world. And this is a partnership that we participate in through Equmenia and its denominational youth league. So we can offer Bible school and education with a clear Christian profile. And we can also assist the church with ongoing education for its members, support congregations with their non-profit work, as well as leadership training. We receive some state support, yet have freedom with some of these funds, over and above those designated for primary and secondary education, 15 percent; with the remaining 85 percent we have a great deal of freedom to offer those courses that we feel fit within our profile, and the wishes of our denomination.

I think this is a very special form of education, as I said before, and a fantastic opportunity to have this, and be able to offer education, free and completely voluntary, for any and all adults. We have no upper age limit, and have students here who are over 80 years old studying various subjects, as well, in addition to the fact that we have many young people. Right now at the school we have 29 different nationalities, which makes this a very positive meeting place and an exciting place to be. So one can say that we work very locally here, but also feel that we have the world with us here, in that way. And we also stretch out into the world, as our students travel abroad during their studies. This is a fantastic kind of school.