This interview was conducted as an “Editor’s feature” for the book Positiv specialpedagogik”.
Interview with Siv Fischbein
THRIVE Nordics: What was your experience as an editor for this book and how it can contribute to the landscape of special edcuation today?
Siv: It was a lot of work but also a stimulating experience. Especially the translation of some of the English contributions was challenging. I understand that the book has been well received and I think there is a need for a positive view on special education as well as a closer relation to practice in schools.
THRIVE Nordics: What are some of your thoughts on how this closer relation between ideology and practice can develop in schools? Additionally, what do you think some of the obstacles are to a more positive view of special education within Swedish society?
Siv: More pragmatism and less ideology. Prevention of increasing difficulties and early intervention is necessary! One obstacle is that individual intervention is considered segregating and instead change of schooling should be preferred.
THRIVE Nordics: What do you think is the importance of the contribution of this book to society at this specific moment in time?
Siv: We can see that the need for special education increases when the functioning of the school is deteriorating. I think that changes in the school system contribute to that.
THRIVE Nordics: What types of changes do you think could be implemented to help improve the situation in the school system?
Siv: I would prefer less freedom of choice and more structure and stimulation. Strong leaders can make wonders and change the climate in non-functioning schools.
THRIVE Nordics: What do you perceive as some the key issues and challenges within special education right now in the Nordics that are being addressed in the realm of research?
Siv: There have been many comparisons of special education in the Nordic countries and Sweden tends to be more extreme than the other countries. There are more discussions about different perspectives and ideologies instead of concentrating on what really works in practical school situations.
THRIVE Nordics: Why do you think that is that Sweden tends to be more extreme?
Siv: We have a market system with competition between schools which makes economy more influential. This contributes to increased segregation. in addition to this we have had a large migration. I think it is the right of every child to attend a well-functioning school and we have not been able to fulfill this goal.
THRIVE Nordics: Finland and Sweden at one point were quite similar in terms of school system and provision of Special Education services. At some point there was a change and the two systems began to differentiate from one another in numerous ways. Can you provide insight on when this change began to take place and more specifically some of the key differences between the two school systems now?
Siv: I think it accelerated in the 70-ties when we postponed intervention from the lower grades to secondary school. Also teacher education was influenced by postmodernism, questioning research results and suggesting that there is no objective research. Both the school system and teacher education have been more traditional in Finland and not influenced by constant reforms.
THRIVE Nordics: What are some of the core issues and challenges you see currently in Sweden for Special Education research as well as understanding of needs for special education on a societal scale?
Siv: I think we have to stop referring to a compensatory perspective (compensating for individual difficulties) as bad and a relational perspective (changing the school environment) as preferable. It is not either-or but an interaction between these perspectives. In order to change the environment you have to know something about the child. Inclusion is not a goal but can be a means to less segregation. The goals are as always to increase knowledge and social competence.
BIO: Siv Fischbein is professor emerita in Special Education at the Department of Special Education at the Stockholm University. Her main research area is the interaction between biological and environmental influences on the development of children and youth. She has for many years been involved in twin research as a means to investigate sources of variation in individual growth patterns. Since 1990 her main research focus has been on teacher education and specifically the possibilities or difficulties that are created in the interplay between individual prerequisites and educational influences at different levels (individual, group, organizational and societal).
This interview was conducted as an Editor’s focus for the book “Positive Specialpedagogik”. Read an interview with one of the other editors here.