The resurgence of printed books and penmanship in Sweden's education system

Teachers revert to traditional methods, prioritising books and handwriting over tech

2250247097 Embracing handwriting over screens | Shutterstock

In a notable shift, Sweden has chosen to reintroduce conventional teaching methods, focusing on printed books, quiet reading, and handwriting practice, while reducing the emphasis on tablets and online research in its schools. This change comes in response to growing concerns among politicians and experts regarding the potential decline in essential skills caused by the country's hyper-digitalized approach to education, including the early introduction of tablets in nursery schools.

Swedish Minister for Schools, Lotta Edholm, who assumed office less than a year ago, emerged as a prominent critic of the all-encompassing adoption of technology in education. She firmly believes that "Sweden's students need more textbooks" and emphasised the significance of physical books in student learning. The government's recent statement revealed its intent to reverse the National Agency for Education's decision to make digital devices mandatory in preschools and ultimately eliminate digital learning for children under six years of age.

Sweden's shift towards traditional teaching methods represents a significant departure from its tech-centric approach to education. While the move has generated diverse opinions, it underscores the ongoing debate over the role of technology in modern classrooms and the importance of maintaining a balance between digital tools and traditional teaching practices.

While Swedish students still rank above the European average for reading ability, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) highlighted a concerning decline in Sweden's fourth-grade reading levels between 2016 and 2021. Although Swedish fourth graders maintained a competitive position globally, this decline raised alarms. Meanwhile, countries like Singapore and England saw improvements or minor declines, respectively, during the same period.

Experts argue that factors contributing to learning deficits in Sweden might include the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing number of immigrant students with Swedish as a second language. However, excessive screen time during school lessons is also considered a key factor, with the Karolinska Institute asserting that digital tools impair rather than enhance student learning. They advocate for a return to traditional methods centered around printed textbooks and teacher expertise.

UNESCO, in a recent report, issued a compelling call for the appropriate use of technology in education. While urging countries to improve internet connectivity in schools, UNESCO stressed that technology should complement, not replace, in-person, teacher-led instruction. The shared goal remains providing quality education for all.

The debate over online instruction extends beyond Sweden, with countries like Poland providing laptops to fourth-grade students and the United States addressing the digital divide. In Germany, the state of digitalization in schools varies among its regions, with concerns about future job market competitiveness.

1892371402 Sweden's bold move away from tech-heavy schools | Shutterstock

To counter the decline in fourth-grade reading performance, the Swedish government has committed significant resources, investing 685 million kronor in book purchases for schools in 2023, with further annual allocations planned for 2024 and 2025. This investment aims to accelerate the reintroduction of textbooks into Swedish schools.

While the Swedish government's move to revert to traditional teaching methods has garnered attention, not all experts are convinced that it exclusively benefits students. Some view criticism of technology as a way for conservative politicians to signal their commitment to traditional values. Neil Selwyn, a professor of education at Monash University, underscores the complexity of factors in education, suggesting that technology is just one part of the equation.

(With inputs from AP)