A Brief Insight of the Educational Policy in Sweden: the Emphasis on Information Communications Technology (ICT) in Teaching and Learning

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A brief insight of the educational policy in Sweden: the emphasis on Information Communications Technology (ICT) in teaching and learning

Khaleda Gani Dutt

Department of Special Education Stockholm University

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Introduction

Inclusion is a prerequisite for promoting citizenship, social capital and social justice within communities and is a societal ideology. When viewed holistically it is apparent that inclusion creates an environment that leads to inclusion in education. In other words inclusive education is a subset of inclusion which is an ongoing process, fluid and evolving with time. Access to education is a fundamental human right which means that everyone has the right to quality education irrespective of their socio-economic background, caste, class, ethnicity, race and disabilities. The Global Education Monitoring Report 2020 (GEM) reiterates that equity and inclusion form the core of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that gets restricted because of the widespread prevalence of unequal distribution of resources and lack of opportunities.

The report cites that some of the factors associated with the inequality are gender remoteness, wealth, disability, ethnicity, language, migration, displacement, incarceration, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, and other beliefs and attitudes. Recent statistics reveal that an estimated 258 million children, adolescents and youth, or 17% of the global total, are not in school. The number out of school in sub-Saharan Africa has surpassed Central and Southern Asia and is growing.

The share of sub-Saharan Africa in the global total increased from 24 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2018. Poverty has been underpinned as one of the single denominators for exclusion along with location, language, gender and ethnicity (UNESCO, 2020).

The report further iterates children with disabilities tend to be excluded from the inclusion debate and underpins that that needs of exceptional children must be met. A report by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank estimates that there are between 93 million and 150 million children living with a disability, and in low-income and middle-income countries, as many as 33 million children with disabilities are not in school (UNICEF, 2019).

To harness the transformative powers of education it becomes imperative that we plan a system that caters to the diverse needs of the learners so that no one is left behind. The education system has to be viewed holistically for it to metamorphosis into becoming not only ‘disability-inclusive’ and ‘include all’. Now more than ever the importance of e-learning is critical for overcoming the inequality of the physical capacities of the students and is actively used in inclusive education aimed at education with people with disabilities (Meskhi, Ponomareva & Ugnich, 2018). In spite of e-learning being an effective tool for overcoming physical barriers for exceptional students its viability and effectivity is dependent on the national context i.e. resources, qualified staff, infrastructural support. The Covid-19 has completely changed the face and the nature of education forever. The World Economic Forum (2020) cites that globally over 1.2 billion children in 186 countries are affected by school closure due to the pandemic. In

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Denmark, children up to the age of 11 are returning to nurseries and schools after initially closing on 12 March 2020, but in South Korea students are responding to roll calls from their teachers online.

The purpose of this paper is to give an overview of e-learning for creating disability- inclusive education which is a cornerstone of the education policy in Sweden.

Overview of the Swedish Education System

Unlike most countries the Swedish education system is decentralised which entails that local self-governing municipalities are entrusted with all decisions concerning the implementation of the Education Act and the school curriculum. Hence, this results in great variations amongst the municipalities as they are dependent upon available resources to implement effective educational measures. The Ministry of Education and Research is subdivided into three national agencies namely: Swedish National Agency for Education, Swedish Schools Inspectorate and the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools. The National Agencies were given a new assignment by the Government in 2020 based on the school commission results and has three aims: 1) building a quality framework 2) developing monitoring mechanisms and providing content for dialogue. According to the Swedish Education Act (Skollagen 2010:800, 4 §), the basic principle guiding all Swedish education, from childcare to the transition period, is access to equivalent education for all. This means that pupils in need of special support should not be treated differently or defined as a group that is any different from other pupils. Their rights are not stated separately, but the obligation for schools to attend to all pupils’ needs is emphasised. Social services, schools and healthcare are obliged to collaborate for children at risk (European Agency, 2020). This year marked the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on January 1 2020 resulting in a number of measures for the induction process and other legislative proposals to strengthen the rights of the child in Swedish legislation.

Infusing Information and communication technology (ICT) in Learning

Magnússon, Göransson & Lindqvist (2019) state that it is important to analyse the context of national educational policy because any interpretation of inclusive education is necessarily situated in a general education policy. Therefore, measures of what inclusive schools are dependent upon for instance on political interpretation(s) of inclusive education, resource allocation and political discourse on both local and national educational level. Ebba Ossiannilsson (2017) succinctly encapsulates the Open Education Initiatives in Sweden in the article on ‘Open Education by Sweden and points out that democracy, education for all, access, democracy, gender, equity, inclusion, lifelong learning, and digitization has always taken precedence in policy formulations and the country has always advocated the involvement of all in education which is in line with the goals of UNESCO 2030 regarding governmental partnership, open access, and digitization. In 2011 Sweden joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and since then it has published two action plans reaffirming its commitment to open government efforts, both in principle and in practice. The following year i.e. 2012

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established the Digitization Commission to analyse and monitor the progress meeting of the information and communication technology (ICT) policy goal. The Commission is also entrusted with the task for developing proposals for new policy actions, highlighting the benefits associated with the digital transformation, and sharing best practices. The Digitization Commission has published several reports, some of which have implications for the effects on education and openness.

That technology is a tool for inclusion and accessing information is visible in the curriculum for compulsory education ensuring that every student can use modern technology as a tool in knowledge-seeking, communication, creativity, and learning.

The curriculum for upper secondary schools is similar. In the school years 4–6 (mellanstadiet)1, 17 percent of students have access to their own computer at school and 71 percent have access to their own computer at home. For students in the school years 7–9 (högstadiet)2, 34 percent have access to their own computer at school and 87 percent have access to their own computer at home. At the upper secondary level (years 10–

12), 94 percent of students have access to their own computer either at school or at home. In addition, many students also use smart phones and tablets. Around 94 percent of all schoolchildren in Sweden have said that they have access to the internet at school.

The research project Unos Uno (one computer for each pupil), was conducted from 2010 to 2013, and showed that the abilities and performance of both students and teachers could be improved by using computer technology in teaching. The implementation of this finding required educational development and effective leadership in schools. Some of the positive effects were: significant improvement in students’ key skills, searching for information, writing and presenting their findings;

students’ showed measurable improvements in reading and writing skills; students developed self-confidence through the ability to write readable and fact-based reports;

teachers’ skills developed when they utilized technological opportunities; the contact between teachers and students increased and its quality was improved and two-thirds of the students and teachers were satisfied and experienced positive results.

The mandate for broadening the knowledge and development of flexible education and distance learning was given to the Swedish Association for Distance Education (SADE) founded in 1984. SADE is a professional organization for all those involved in distance learning and flexible learning in Sweden, including open education, Open Educational Resources (OER), and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The members of SADE meet colleagues from schools, universities, organizations, and companies in the education sector in Sweden. SADE gives them opportunities to build personal networks and establish important contacts.

1 Mellanstadiet: Middle School

2 Högstadiet: High School

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For teachers lektion3.se is the largest site helping them find free learning resources, where teachers can quickly and easily search and retrieve lesson materials and upload their own lessons. Over 236000 individual teachers and others are members.

Concluding thoughts

Undoubtedly, the mechanisms put in place by the Government of Sweden indicate the engagement and commitment to ensure that education is accessible to one and all. The brief summary highlights the policies that are implemented by the Government to make digitilisation an invaluable tool in the teaching and the learning process. However, a deeper study into the challenges of using ICT in classrooms needs to be undertaken to explore, investigate and show its viability in including ‘all’ in the learning process. The pandemic COVID-19 has intensified the concern that there should be continuous in- learning services for teachers in ICT and digital resources provided by the schools. An equally rising concern is the impact on education for children with special needs in face of the pandemic. How has ICT worked for exceptional children? What were the actions taken by the Swedish schools to include the special child in education during the pandemic? Have educational strategies been adapted keeping in mind the ‘new normal’

situation the world is facing?

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3 Lektion: lesson (www.lektion.se is a resource site for teachers in Sweden)

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