Professor Lu Ziwen, one of the most influential figures in the Chinese education system, was shocked to hear about the chaotic state of Swedish schools when interviewed recently.

In the Scandinavian nation - which is more commonly cited as a positive example of how to run a country - children are allowed to use mobile phones in class. Some even sit with their feet up on the table. The noise level is often so high that students are encouraged to wear headphones and use music to block out the roar.

Teachers trying to silence these cacophonous classes are abused by youngsters who threaten to report the "Nazis" to the school inspectorate if they so much as lay a finger on a troublesome teen.

As a result, Sweden sank like a stone in the latest global Pisa education ranking and is now below the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average. In maths, for example, it tumbled more than any other country. By contrast, 15-year-olds in Shanghai are ranked No1.

"Obviously, freedom is more important for Swedish students than education," Lu, a member of China's English curriculum standard team, said in an interview with Swedish national news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyra. He speculated that Sweden's generous welfare system had made people lazy; families, used to a high standard of living, were not motivated to work towards a better future.

His comments raised hell in some quarters. Bloggers slammed the professor as being a relic from the Cultural Revolution who knew nothing about the situation and should therefore keep his mouth shut.

Ulf Nilson, one of the country's best-known tabloid columnists, said China had a frantic need to assert itself since the country had for so long been "slummy and later enslaved". He added that "every sane person" should realise that comparing the cultures of China and Sweden was mindless.

Despite such criticism, however, the majority was actually supportive of Lu's view.

One commenter said Swedes had become "fat cats" and criticised the government for running "hippie schools".

A father of three wrote there was "no order, and chaos" in his children's lessons while a commenter called "Worried Mum" said, "Please advise me how to get my children to study. I can't!"

It's a hot topic. The main issue for the general election in September is not the economy or jobs but how to prevent the collapse of the country's once famous education system.

The question is: are Swedish parents and politicians ready to take advice from a Chinese intellectual to save their children from falling further behind?