Sweden’s education minister Lotta Edholm is taking action as Swedish children’s ability to read apparently deteriorates. The “reading crisis” is prompting her to demand less reliance upon the use of digital teaching aids during classes.
Digital tablets have been the norm for more than a decade in Swedish schools but the conservative government wants to return to traditional teaching methods. With the new school year beginning, school books are making a comeback.
The centre-right government is releasing the equivalent of €58 million this year so schools can buy new books. Next year, €44 million will be added. Each student is supposed to have one book per subject.
Edholm described the use of digital technology in Swedish schools as “experimentation” and said she was annoyed by “the uncritical attitude that carelessly regarded digitisation as a good thing, regardless of its content”, leading to the “casting aside” of textbooks, which she recalled had “advantages that no tablet can replace”.
Despite Swedish children being ranked third in the European Union for reading comprehension, the level has dropped.
According to the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy) ranking published earlier this year, the percentage of 10-year-olds with reading difficulties has risen from 12 per cent to 19 per cent in five years. Over the past five years, Swedish children’s reading comprehension skills had fallen from “high” to “intermediate”.
Sweden has looked at plans to actually ban books from schools in the past, with proponents stating that educational establishments “needed to embrace the future”. Sweden and Finland have for years now been seen as successful regarding education but standards have started slipping. As well as reading comprehension declining, science and maths skills are also on a downward trend.
In 2017, Sweden launched its National Digitalisation Strategy for the School System as part of a new Digital Strategy, in which the overall goal was for Sweden to be “the best in the world in the use of digitalisation opportunities”.
In December 2022, the National Agency for Education drafted a new national digitalisation strategy for the school system for 2023-2027.
Research indicates that media multitasking, such as mixing tablet use with in-class physical lessons, interferes with attention and working memory, negatively affecting grade-point averages, test performance, recall, reading comprehension, note-taking and self-regulation. These effects have been demonstrated during in-class activities (largely lectures) and while students are studying.
Alongside academic issues, Swedish newspaper Expressen wrote that, “According to the Public Health Report (2023), only 44 per cent of pre-schoolers reach the daily physical activity recommendation.”
It is claimed that accumulated scientific empirical data and proven experience show that young children best develop basic skills such as relationship skills, attention and concentration and later the ability to read, write and count through “analogue activities in analogue environments”.
Authorities indicate that children under two-years-old should not be exposed to screens at all and that it should be limited to no more than one to two hours a day for older children. The Swedish Paediatric Society has compared digitalisation for youngsters to learning to drive a car before learning to walk and ride a bike.
Others are more sceptical and say that banning screens and tablets might be counterproductive since digitalisation is increasingly prevalent outside the school environment.
Furthermore, experts acknowledge that it might be premature to assess the outcomes of reducing digital reliance, as there is no precedent of countries undertaking such measures and then thoroughly investigating the consequences.
Sweden’s school system has thrown up some notable figures including climate-activist Greta Thunberg. She led the international movement of school students who skipped Friday classes to participate in demonstrations to demand action from political leaders to prevent climate change.
School strike week 251. Today, I graduate from school, which means I’ll no longer be able to school strike for the climate. This is then the last school strike for me, so I guess I have to write something on this day.
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) June 9, 2023