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The Guardian: Fighting technology - Sweden no longer trusts digital education

11-9-2023 |

Since young children went back to school across Sweden recently, many of their teachers have been putting a new emphasis on printed books, quiet reading time and handwriting practice, and devoting less time to tablets, independent online research and keyboarding skills.

The return to more traditional ways of learning is a response to politicians and experts questioning whether Sweden’s hyper-digitalised approach to education, including the introduction of tablets in nursery schools, had led to a decline in basic skills.

Sweden’s minister for schools, Lotta Edholm, who took office 11 months ago as part of a centre-right coalition government, was one of the biggest critics of the all-out embrace of technology.

“Sweden’s students need more textbooks,” Edholm said in March. “Physical books are important for student learning.”

The minister announced in August that the government wanted to reverse the decision by the national agency for education to make digital devices mandatory in preschools. It plans to go further and to completely end digital learning for children under age six, the ministry has told the Associated Press.

“There’s clear scientific evidence that digital tools impair rather than enhance student learning,” Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, a highly respected medical school focused on research, said in a statement in August on the country’s national digitalisation strategy in education.

“We believe the focus should return to acquiring knowledge through printed textbooks and teacher expertise, rather than acquiring knowledge primarily from freely available digital sources that have not been vetted for accuracy.”

The rapid adoption of digital learning tools also has drawn concern from the UN education and culture agency. In a report published in August, Unesco issued an “urgent call for appropriate use of technology in education”. The report urges countries to speed up internet connections at schools, but at the same time warns that technology in education should be implemented in a way that never replaces in-person, teacher-led instruction and supports the shared objective of quality education for all.

To counter Sweden’s decline in fourth grade reading performance, the Swedish government announced an investment worth kr685m (€‎58m) in book purchases for schools this year. Another kr500m (€‎42m) will be spent annually in 2024 and 2025 to speed up the return of textbooks.

Not all experts are convinced Sweden’s back-to-basics push is exclusively about what’s best for students.

Criticising the effects of technology is “a popular move with conservative politicians”, Neil Selwyn, a professor of education at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said. “It’s a neat way of saying or signalling a commitment to traditional values.

“The Swedish government does have a valid point when saying that there is no evidence for technology improving learning, but I think that’s because there is no straightforward evidence of what works with technology,” Selwyn said. “Technology is just one part of a really complex network of factors in education.”

Source: The Guardian