Sweden’s standout performance in managing the COVID-19 pandemic should lead us to examine what else they are doing that might benefit us here in Australia.
During the height of the pandemic, they virtually stood alone in the western world by ignoring most of the draconian and now considered unnecessary measures adopted by other countries, including Australia.
Schools stayed open for most of the time, there were no long-term lockdowns or mask mandates and the country stayed open for business and travel.
As a result, they were heavily criticised by the left-wing World Health Organisation (WHO) and other so-called expert bodies.
The result, however, was a relatively low level of infection and excess deaths i.e., deaths over and above the likely number if there had been no pandemic.
They also avoided most of the negative impacts experienced in Australia and other poorly health-managed countries during the pandemic. The Swedish government basically trusted their population to act sensibly, which they did.
In recent weeks, they have introduced an equally unorthodox approach to education that is certainly worthy of our evaluation.
As Swedish schoolchildren returned to their classrooms, educators across the nation have undergone a transformation, placing renewed emphasis on the printed word, silent reading hours, and the practice of handwriting.
Simultaneously, the role of tablets, independent online research, and keyboarding skills has dwindled.
This resurgence of traditional teaching methods is a direct response to concerns raised by policymakers and experts regarding Sweden’s hyper-digitized approach to education, including the introduction of tablets in nursery schools, which some believe has eroded fundamental skills.
Sweden’s Minister for Schools, Lotta Edholm, a prominent critic of the wholesale adoption of technology, expressed her reservations earlier this year. “Sweden’s students need more textbooks,” she emphasized in March, further stating, “Physical books are indispensable for student learning.”
In August, the minister declared the government’s intention to reverse the decision of the national education agency that mandated digital devices in preschools.
Furthermore, the Swedish government aims to abolish digital learning entirely for children under the age of six.
While Sweden’s students consistently score above the European average for reading proficiency, a recent assessment indicated a decline in reading abilities among Swedish children between 2016 and 2021.
Their education experts assert that an overreliance on screens during instructional hours may contribute to students falling behind in core subjects.
According to the Karolinska Institute, a renowned medical school focused on research in Sweden, there is “clear scientific evidence that digital tools impair rather than enhance student learning.”
The institute issued this statement in August while critiquing the nation’s digitalization strategy in education.
They advocate a shift in focus towards acquiring knowledge through printed textbooks and teacher expertise, highlighting concerns about the unverified accuracy of freely available digital sources.
The rapid adoption of digital learning tools has also raised alarm at the UN education and culture agency, UNESCO.
In an August report, UNESCO issued an “urgent call for appropriate use of technology in education,” advocating for improved internet connectivity in schools while emphasizing that technology should never replace in-person, teacher-led instruction in pursuit of quality education for all.
In Stockholm, teacher Catarina Branelius, has long been cautious about using tablets during her lessons. She clarified, “I use tablets in mathematics and for some apps, but not for writing. Students under the age of 10 require time, practice, and exercises in handwriting before transitioning to tablet-based writing.”
To address the decline in fourth-grade reading performance in Sweden, the government has allocated significant funds for book purchases in schools. An investment of kr685 million (AUD98 million) this year will be followed by an annual expenditure of kr500 million in 2024 and 2025 to expedite the return to textbooks.
As the debate on the role of technology in education rages on, Sweden’s educational landscape undergoes a profound transformation, drawing global attention to the enduring question of how to best prepare students for the challenges of the digital age.
Our educational authorities are hopefully doing the same because they certainly need to given our declining educational standards.
And that’s despite ever increasing amounts of taxpayer money being thrown at the problem with no tangible improvement in outcomes.
Associated Press is thanked for much of the information included in this article.