One man’s offer to help a handicrafts teacher at a school mushroomed into a national program boasting 1,000 class “granddads” in schools across Sweden today.
The program was recently profiled in an article by Dr. Ann-Kristin Boström, director of education in the Swedish National Agency for Education and special advisor for the Swedish Ministry of Education and Research. Boström is currently a research fellow at Encell, National Centre for Lifelong Learning at Jönköping University in Sweden.
The article appeared online in the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships (Aug. 30, 2011).
To learn more, AHB caught up with Dr. Boström in Stockholm, Sweden.
Ruth Dempsey: This is a wonderful program, and it all started with one volunteer. Is that right?
Ann-Kristin Boström: Yes, he was especially thinking of the boys and their need to have adult men as role models because there were many female teachers in the school.
RD: So what do granddads do in the classroom?
AKB: Granddads help out in all kinds of ways. They do whatever needs to be done, under the direction of the teacher. So, for example, they assist individual pupils with their work and accompany students during excursions outside the school. They help pupils solve conflicts. They accompany students during their breaks and in the dining hall at lunch. They also help “new ones” adjust to their new school and feel secure.
RD: Do they need any special qualifications?
AKB: In the early days, the project group interviewed the prospective granddad to find him the right school and to see if he was interested in supporting children in a positive way.
For several years now, granddads have been required to take a semester course, which introduces them to the basics of education and includes work in a school setting. A mix of theory and practice is important. If they pass the exam, they are certified Klassmorfar (class granddad) and receive a certificate.
RD: What do pupils say about the class granddad?
AKB: The small ones like him very much and follow him around during breaks because they feel safe. Teenagers give him the thumbs up because he is not a parent or a teacher, so there is no pressure from him. He is just there to listen and help when needed.
RD: And what do teachers appreciate most about the class granddad?
AKB: They can focus on teaching and help the students that have special needs. They like that he can accompany them for activities outside the school. It’s also nice to have another adult in the classroom to share conversation.
RD: You say the Swedish education system is constructed in a way that promotes lifelong learning. How so?
AKB: For example, the granddads get their education by going to courses at different Folk High Schools. Folk high schools are a form of popular education that receive state subsidies while remaining free to develop their own programs. The granddads do not have to pay. They are eligible for the course if they have been unemployed for a period of time and they want to have another role in society.
RD: It’s amazing how the program has grown: from one to 1,000 granddads. How did it attract so many volunteers?
AKB: A happy mix of circumstances. There is a need from the schools for more adults. And some adults, for various reasons, are looking for new opportunities – a new role.
The class granddads talk about feeling needed in the schools as supports, as listeners and as comforters. They say they have gained an expanded social network with other adults at the school and very positive energy from the pupils.
RD: There is now a national association: “Class Granddads for Children.” What does it do?
AKB: The aim of the Granddads program is to promote the development of children and enrich their lives.
The national organization supports the program by maintaining official political and bureaucratic contacts and holding meetings with the regional offices twice during the year.
The regional offices play a hands-on role ensuring granddads get the required education and certification. They work hard to create successful matches: the right man for the right school. Today there are granddads working in classrooms from preschool to upper secondary schools.
RD: Clearly, the program has been a resounding success. What do you see as some of the benefits?
AKB: In Sweden, as in other parts of the industrialized world, older and younger people are, to a large extent, distanced from one another. This intergenerational program brings them together and contributes to social capital.
Teachers say the program helps build bridges between the generations and improves the quality of life for the pupils by helping them feel secure in school.
The men very much enjoy spending time with the younger generation and are energized by their contact. So, it’s a win-win.