Country Profile: Sweden


9,546,000 (2013)

Official language


Other officially recognised languages

Finnish, Meänkieli, Sami, Romani and Yiddish

People at risk of poverty or social exclusion

15.6% (Eurostat, 2012)

Total expenditure on education as % of GDP

6.8 (2011)

Access to primary education (last grade) – total net intake rate

Total: 98% (2011)
Male: 98%
Female: 98%

Adult literacy rate (15–65 years)

PIAAC test results – percentage of adults scoring at each proficiency level in literacy (Level 1 represents the lowest level of proficiency, Level 5 the highest):

  • Below Level 1 and Level 1: 13.3%
  • Level 2: 29%
  • Level 3: 41.6%
  • Levels 4 and 5: 16.1%
Statistical sources
  • EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2013–14
  • OECD Skills Outlook 2013
  • UNESCO Institute for Statistics
  • World Bank
  • Eurostat

Programme Overview

Programme TitleLivstycket
Implementing OrganizationLivstycket
Language of InstructionSwedish
FundingVarious subsidies (mainly from Stockholm) and private project grants.
Annual Programme CostsApproximately 6,800,000 SEK (Swedish Krona)
Annual programme cost per learner: Approximately 50,000 SEK
Date of Inception1992

Country Context and Background

Sweden, an industrialized Scandinavian country in Northern Europe, has a population of 9.5 million, and relatively low population density, measured, in 2010, at 22.85 inhabitants per square kilometre (World Bank, 2010). However, in 2013, the population of Sweden grew sharply, with immigration one of the major drivers behind the biggest yearly increase in population for 70 years. The majority of immigrants are returning Swedish citizens (21% in total). Migrants from Iraq and Poland (5% each), Afghanistan (4%), Denmark and Somalia (3% each) are among the other largest immigrant groups (OECD, 2013).

Sweden is one of the main destinations within the European Union for asylum seekers, most of whom have fled conflict zones such as Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan. The number of applications for asylum has increased in past years; a trend that recent armed conflicts will ensure continues (OECD, 2013).

Compulsory schooling in Sweden lasts nine years, starting at the age of seven. The Swedish Education Act is the legal basis for all school education, from pre-school to upper-secondary, and guarantees the right to education for adults. Since the 1960s, Sweden has ranked high among western countries in terms of commitment to adult education, which includes municipal adult education, education for adults with learning disabilities and Swedish for immigrants. The Swedish government promotes opportunities for adults to participate in learning. Securing lifelong learning and flexibility of provision are key issues in adult education development policy.

According to the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), average literacy proficiency among adults in Sweden is significantly above the OECD average. Compared with the 20 other OECD countries, Sweden has one of the lowest correlations between adult literacy proficiency and socio-economic background. However, while native Swedes are among the most proficient in literacy terms, Sweden is among the lowest-scoring countries when it comes to the literacy proficiency of foreign-born adults. According to the OECD’s Skills Outlook 2013, adults who recently immigrated to Sweden show very low levels of proficiency in literacy (at or near the bottom of Level 1, on average), whereas people who are more established in the country have significantly higher scores (OECD, 2013).

Because of the comparably wide proficiency gap in literacy and numeracy between immigrant and native adults in Sweden, country-specific recommendations deriving from the PIAAC study stress the need to develop stronger and better-targeted measures to improve immigrants’ employability and to increase labour-market demand for people with a migrant background.


Programme Overview

Livstycket is a non-profit organization which aims to support immigrant women and refugees to learn Swedish, overcome isolation and become self-sufficient. It was founded in 1992 in Tensta, a suburb of Stockholm. The name Livstycket, which can be translated as ‘the bodice’, has a symbolic meaning because it refers to an ancient garment worn by women to keep them warm and give them support. The idea of the founder was to establish an association that addressed the problems and challenges that refugees and immigrant women had to deal with.

Livstycket´s vision is to create a space in which participants can learn the Swedish language, exchange their experiences and develop their self-esteem. Grounded in the belief that creativity, knowledge and desire are essential in forming one’s future, a working model is used which builds on a functional pedagogy combining theoretical teaching in Swedish with practical artistic activities. Participants attend lessons, including Swedish language learning, basic social knowledge, computer skills, exercises in basic mathematical concepts, time and spatial awareness, and wellness, including yoga and water aerobics. Learners who are actively seeking employment also attend a half-day session each week at which they receive support in writing CVs and covering letters, and in applying for jobs and internships.


The theoretical lessons are closely connected to practical artistic activities encompassing painting and drawing, sewing, embroidery and textile printing, all of which enhance the meaningfulness of the learning process. Sketches created on a particular subject are often turned into patterns by Livstycket’s designer – the resulting fabric is the product of many people’s work. This is crucial to Livstycket’s creative process. The products are sold by the programme’s own production company, Livstycket Produktion AB, which ensures a clear distinction between the social and commercial activities of Livstycket.

The theoretical and practical lessons are provided from Monday to Friday, between 9am and 3pm, at the Livstycket Knowledge and Design Centre in Tensta. The centre’s facilities occupy a total area of 932 square metres. There are five classrooms for theoretical lessons and a large area, integrated with a boutique, for the textile activities. Students are sorted into four groups, depending on their existing knowledge of Swedish and their previous experience. The size of each group is between 15 and 20 students. The lessons run in two periods, morning and afternoon, with most students attending for one period only (this is because they are on sickness leave and attend part-time – Livstycket encourages participants to attend full-time but the decision is taken by social assistants).


Since its foundation, Livstycket has grown in terms of both scope and staff numbers. As a non-profit organization, Livstycket depends for its funding on various subsidies, mainly from the City of Stockholm, as well as from a number of other project grants, and income from membership subscriptions and contributions. Products created in Livstycket are sold through the association’s wholly-owned company Livstycket Produktion AB, which carries out the planning, marketing and sale of products, with profit used to benefit the participants (for example, to cover costs of excursions or other joint activities). It is also used to purchase fabrics, paints and other materials needed in the Design Centre, as well as to contribute to rent payments.

Since 2007 Livstycket has also been active in international projects which share the aim of strengthening women’s rights and self-confidence. Livstycket has helped to launch several projects and collaborations in Turkey and Uganda.

Aims and Objectives

Livstycket aims to:

Programme Implementation

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

The project regards functional pedagogy as a key factor in meaningful language learning. In other words, it recognises that words only become truly meaningful when they take on a function, a reality and a context. Through the artistic work undertaken by participants, words such as ‘scissors’ or ‘fabric’, for example, gain true meaning and are learned more easily. These activities are, at the same time, a useful way of processing memories and experiences.

Functional pedagogy brings language to life. It translates abstractions into concrete objects and experiences. With functional pedagogy, the brain is combined with the hands and the heart. The creative resources which contribute to healing, well-being and feelings of pride are set free. All this makes the learning process fun and exciting and, thus, much more effective.


During the practical lessons, women are encouraged to express their impressions, feelings and experiences in drawings. Their sketches are then turned into patterns by professional designers. Less advanced students do more practical work but language is always crucial. Teachers talk with students about what they are doing. For example, teacher and students sometimes go outside and gather flowers or leaves; then, in the classroom, they might create a collage or a drawing, and talk about the colours, the names and types of flowers, and so on. They might then go on to screen printing, always moving from the concrete to the abstract.

The programme also organizes extra-curricular activities, such as taking a walk in the surrounding area, berry- or mushroom-picking, or excursions to other places (in Stockholm and beyond) to show the participants Swedish environments, habitats, culture and nature.

Teaching and Learning Materials

The programme uses text books written in easy-to-understand Swedish, comprising several levels of Swedish language learning. It also makes use of stencils, combined with exercises and texts, useful in learning Swedish as a second language. The programme is offered at the following levels:

A. For more advanced students, the programme uses more difficult texts, grammatical exercises and daily newspapers. There is also a book group for reading and discussions.

B. For Intermediate-level students, as well as using easy-to-read Swedish language texts, the programme employs materials designed for primary school pupils in order to practice both language and logical thinking. Students also create their own learning materials using pictures they have taken, to which they add their own comments.

C. Working with illiterate students or students with no knowledge of Swedish at all, the teacher elaborates on every letter and creates a range of experiences concerning this letter, involving all the senses. Particular themes are used to help this group learn, including the human body, clothes, food, simple phrases, digits and calculating, and abstract concepts of space, time and measurement. Oral and written tests are used as a basis for moving students onto more advanced groups. The programme also uses computer programmes specially designed for this group of learners. Some of these are available online. These programmes address both reading and calculating. Students work at their own pace and can see their progress.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Livstycket staff includes professionals from various fields, such as education, social studies, design, art, science, business, computer science and IT. There are 10 employees in total, some of whom work part-time. New staff members are recruited openly. Some facilitators start out as volunteers. They receive a monthly salary, consistent with Swedish labour market rules. Some are members of a trade union.

Volunteers have an important role at Livstycket, usually attending once a week to support the teachers during lessons. Most are well-educated pensioners with established professions. They are passionate about the activities and contribute all their human and professional experience.

The most important characteristics of Livstycket staff are passion, creativity, responsibility and a willingness to contribute. There is no special training for facilitators.

Enrolment of Learners

Livstycket primarily targets women immigrants aged over 20 years. However, men are also welcome. Students are allocated groups according to their knowledge of Swedish, previous education and experience. New participants take a language test which helps staff ascertain what level of study is appropriate for them. The participants must be in receipt of social aid from the state or from the city of Stockholm. There can be up to 135 participants, around 80 of whom usually attend every day.

Awareness of the programme is promoted through exhibitions and lectures at various conferences. Livstycket receives many visitors interested in the model, from both Sweden and abroad. Information is shared with members of the organisation and other stakeholders interested in our work. The programme’s annual report is sent to numerous politicians. Livstycket’s high-quality approach to design makes the programme and its participants both visible and popular.


No certificates are given at the end of the programme. However, students applying for work receive references to assist them in their applications.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Monitoring and Evaluation

Livstycket is a non-profit association. According to the rules for non-profit associations, accreditation is renewed every year by a special meeting. Performance is monitored at weekly pedagogical meetings, and through annual staff appraisals. Activities are assessed using simple evaluation forms.

Impact and Achievements

Students show interest and passion, and spend, on average, about 3.5 years enrolled in the programme. The art works they produce have an impact on literacy, enhancing vocabulary, knowledge of form and colour, measures, and so on. Over the 22 years of Livstycket’s existence, many participants have gained employment. However, as the number of illiterate middle-aged participants has increased (50%) the focus has shifted from employability to Swedish language, Swedish society and empowerment.


Learners have developed their self-confidence and gained a better understanding of Swedish society and the world around them. They can better understand the world their children inhabit, and are, thus, better able to guide them. Working with women ensures that the whole family is influenced in a positive way. The programme also provides a place to meet other people and make friends. For many learners it is the only opportunity they have to meet Swedish people in a non-dependent situation.

Livstycket has received several prestigious awards for its work with immigrants. The most important international award was 2012 EESC Civil Society Prize, awarded under the theme ‘Innovate for a sustainable Europe’.


Funding is a big challenge. Every year the programme applies to the City of Stockholm for the folliwng year’s funding. The outcome is always uncertain. The City of Stockholm has been reducing funding year on year. This has obliged the programme to look for alternative funders, which is very time-consuming.

Another challenge concerns the well-being of the participants. Many participants suffer from insomnia, anxiety and trauma caused by their previous experiences of war, as well as anxiety for relatives still living in war zones. Some participants also have low cognitive capacities. However, the programme has not observed any stigma attached to illiteracy.

The programme has had limited success in getting participants into the labour market. This is due to the fact that the labour market has changed a great deal in recent years. It is much more demanding in terms of language and skills. At the same time, the percentage of illiterate participants has increased dramatically from 16% in 2010 to 50% today. This trend is expected to continue.

Lessons Learned

It is important to note the aspects of the programme that are important in developing proficiency in literacy. These include individualized education, creative expression, lessons filled with exciting experiences, and a high-quality aproach to design.

Staff have developed some effective procedures and methods that should continue to be used by the programme. For example, functional pedagogy proved to be very effective in engaging illiterate participants and participants with low education and knowledge. Another example is the kit provided to illiterate participants covering the basic abstract concepts they will encounter. It is important that this kit is used prior to reading and writing lessons.


Founded in 1992, the Livstycket project has been running for 22 years. In that time, it has grown in terms of both size and number of staff members. In pursuing its core aim of empowering women, Livstycket has engaged in several projects in Sweden, as well as in Turkey and Uganda. It has also engaged in projects with a wider remit, for example the Tenstastycket youth project which provided various types of activities, field trips and homework assistance for young people in the Järva district of Stockholm (unfortunately, this project ended in March 2012 due to funding issues).

Livstycket is a learning organization, which means that there is always readiness for expansion. Several places in Sweden are eager to replicate the model and the programme is willing to give them support when the time comes. There are also plans for expansion in Uganda and Turkey.


Contact details

Birgitta Notlöf, CEO, Livstycket

Halina Hylander, Project Coordinator, Livstycket
Tenstagången 20
163 64 Spånga
Phone: +46 8 760 43 15; FAX: +46 8 36 75 62

Last update: 9 October 2014