Gustav Adolfsskolan in the small Swedish town of Alingsås has around 300 pupils aged 13-16. The school’s focus is on forming rewarding relationships between pupils and teachers. And you can see this in action as soon as you come in through the main entrance. Janita Nilsson, the home economics teacher, has pinned up a notice on the notice board asking for young musicians for a school event in the dining hall. If you make room for food, music and company you can build a foundation for good habits for the rest of your life, says school principal Ann-Christin Pinola.
“I am very interested in people and society,” says Janita, who teaches home economics and consumer science. “Our teaching is based on the values health, culture, resource management and equality. One example of resource management in practice is water. Here in Sweden ordinary tap water is the best choice and yet we buy bottled water that uses so much water and energy. We do blind tests where we pour bottled water and tap water into pink, green and blue glass bottles and let the pupils test them. It’s impossible to tell which water is in which bottle and this leads to lots of good discussions in the classroom.”
In the home economics classroom pupils in the 8th grade are about to cook their own menus, which Janita will be grading. They’re busy chopping, grating, mumbling and … asking:
“Janitaaaaa, should we fry the onion first? Should I put the oven dishes straight onto the table?”
Today half the group are cooking and will be inviting the other half, who’re working on household budgeting, to eat what they’ve cooked. Jimmy, Ida, Linnea and Fredrica sit with their heads together studying their home economics textbook. They all agree that home economics is an important subject.
“I don’t do much cooking at home,” says Linnea. “I usually just stack the dishwasher. But in home economics we learn lots of stuff that we really need to know.”
This is the first time the pupils are being allowed to work by themselves in the kitchen.
“They were allowed to choose to cook a chicken dish or a ground beef dish,” explains Janita. “They have to make a salad or vegetable side dish too and a dessert. This is their chance to show that they can plan, cook and serve a meal properly. Some of them try to ask a lot of questions of course, but today they should really be able to rely on what they have learnt.”
“Chicken, curry sauce and rice. These are all the easiest things to cook,” says Jonte and looks pleased. Ludvig thinks that a meal you’ve cooked yourself actually tastes better, you get more of a feel for what you’re eating.
Matilda has decided to roast vegetables in the oven to serve with her chicken.
“They’re so good. And you can get everything all year round. But the sauce didn’t turn out right, it wasn’t really very good…”
The boy at the next work station didn’t have time to talk to us. He was totally absorbed in his fruit salad, cutting fruit into very small pieces while his ground beef sauce simmered in its pot.
“I think I can smell burning now,” says Janita looking into the kitchen. “Ivar, your muffins!” Ivar is busy washing up and has to drop what he’s doing.
“I’d love some muffins,” teases Jonte when Ivar takes the smoking muffins out of the oven.
“Typical,” mutters Ivar. “Better to do the washing up last, so I could serve up the food.”
Christoffer is garnishing his venison stew with parsley. Fredrica is setting the table.
“Maybe we should use one of these instead,” she thinks aloud and compares blue and striped place mats. “Would these go better…?” No, they don’t and it’s back in the cupboard with them. Fredrica and Ida wait impatiently to be served their meal. They’re so hungry they have to share an apple. But at last the meals are served:
“Spaghetti, meat sauce and sort of salad…
“Chicken is cheaper and easier to get…
“And a side dish of salad with red onions, curry and apple…
The pupils sit two by two at attractively set tables and look like they are having the time of their lives.
“This tastes really good,” says Ludvig about what he has cooked.