Sweden has announced plans to backtrack its hyper-digitalised school system which has focused on screens rather than books for the past eight years.
Screens have gradually replaced books in Sweden – including the introduction of tablets in nursery schools in 2015 – but the consequences of this learning style have been made clear to the country’s leaders in recent months. Reports from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement showed the percentage of ten-year-olds with reading difficulties has risen 7% in the past five years. During the same period, reading comprehension skills have fallen from ‘high’ to ‘intermediate’.
To get back on track, the centre-right government announced it would allocate SEK685 million ($62 million) this year and SEK500 million per year in 2024 and 2025 to accelerate the return of books to schools. According to media reports, there are not enough books in schools for each child to have one, making this a key goal.
In addition, teachers will put new emphasis on handwriting practice, printed books and reading time, while devoting less time to tablets, independent online research and keyboarding skills.
Sweden’s Minister for Schools Lotta Edholm was one of the biggest critics of the previous digital approach to education. “The mass digitisation of the school has been a mistake. Screens have been allowed to displace books, paper and pencils. We are now breaking that trend. There is a reason why people talk about the magic of books, and not of tablets,” she said.
Studies presented to the Swedish Agency for Education highlighted the advantages of books. It said that digital reading means children spend less time “just reading” and skim through the text faster, at the expense of understanding the content. By comparison, reading printed text shows better comprehension and memory of key parts.
Former Minister of Education Gustav Fridolin reformed the school system in Sweden in 2015 to focus on children’s ‘digital competency’. In January, he admitted the changes went too far, noting: “Children are sitting with screens for large parts of the day. They move less, read less, and use pens and paper less. We know from research that one gets a deeper understanding when reading a book compared with reading on the screen. Books also contribute to concentration and quietness in class, while a screen doesn’t.”