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Digitalised schools – more than simply programming and source criticism

The Swedish Government has decided that all Swedish schools must be digitalised. Students must learn to programme and to critically review online news; however, the greatest demand for change is being faced by the schools themselves.

“This is certainly not a small or simple field,” emphasises Carl Heath, senior researcher in digitalisation and learning at RISE, as he attempts to summarise the scope of the changes facing Swedish schools. 

“Everyone within the school will be affected; school governors, head teachers, pupils and, by no means least, teachers – who will require further training,” continues Carl Heath.      

The entire structure within schools will be changed

Amendments were introduced to the Swedish Education Act on 1 July 2018. Our society is becoming increasingly digitalised and it is only natural that schools should follow suit; this was the reasoning of the Swedish Government in preparing the digital strategy that all schools will now work with. Digitalisation is often associated with students learning programming or source criticism; however, the new strategy conceals more than simply new lessons. 

“The entire structure within schools will be changed. It may be a matter of digitalising tests or introducing new digital systems for organising student data and streamlining the administration of absences and student’s benefits,” explains Carl Heath, who also points out that the reforms are not simply about switching from analogue to digital. 

“Take a teaching calendar as an example; this contains tasks and plans for coming lessons. You can create a digital calendar containing the same information but, in so doing, you have changed nothing. If, instead, you use your digital calendar to share events, link people and send requests for meetings, then this is a transformation – and that is the point of digitalisation.  

Summer training

Schools are facing an enormous task; teachers and heads need to obtain new skills and modern technology must be procured. Further training will be vital, both for the success of digitalisation and for the general development of schools.

“I was recently in Hong Kong on a study visit, where teachers attend training courses during the summer. This should be introduced here. Teachers should be allowed a normal 40-hour working week during term time, as well as the opportunity to train during the summer,” suggests Carl Heath, who is positive regarding the digitalisation of schools but doesn’t feel that the Government has taken full responsibility.

“The Government has failed to analyse the effects of the new regulations. There are insufficient resources available for research into the developments now taking place in schools.”

Helen Öberg, State Secretary to the Minister for Education and Research, offers her comments:

“Even if the strategy includes a research perspective, it is of course difficult to predict all of its effects. Having said that, it is important to follow developments in society as a whole and introduce digitalisation in schools. If we refrain from digitalisation simply because we can’t be sure of all of its possible ramifications, I believe that we will be doing students a disservice.” 

Don’t abandon teachers

One of the many teachers affected by the new regulations is Jacob Möllstam, a lower-secondary teacher in Partille. He believes that is important that teachers and heads aren’t allowed to sit alone in their rooms.    

“I believe in collaboration and shared teaching, between teachers and schools. Why not get a few schools together, advertise: ‘everyone teaching a third-grade technology class come on over for a chat!’. Schools can go far by working together and inspiring one another. Share experiences; after all, we’re not in competition,” says Jacob Möllstam.

Jacob is also a development leader who trains other teachers in digital skills.

“I have met many nervous, worried teachers during the course of my work. After we’ve worked together, they come to realise that this whole digitalisation thing is entirely within their grasp,” concludes Jacob Möllstam.

Digitalisation in schools

On 9 March 2017, the Swedish Government adopted a new curriculum for schools and in October of that year they unveiled their new digital strategy. These changes entered into force on 1 July 2018. Students will notice these changes in that programming, source criticism and various digital tools will be introduced in lessons. Swedish schools as a whole will see major changes as new digital tools and computer systems are introduced. 

RISE is involved in a number of projects in the field of digital learning, including providing the Swedish National Agency for Education with expert advice, developing programming courses for teachers and writing several research articles on how the new curriculum and digital strategy can best be implemented in schools.

Carl Heath
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