Government investing in more reading time and less screen time
Pupils’ ability to read and understand what they read is the foundation of their learning in all school subjects. The Swedish Government’s school policy aims to get back to basics and re-establish a strong knowledge-based school system with the focus in early grades on basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Digital learning aids should only be introduced in teaching at an age when they promote, rather than hamper, pupils’ learning.
“One gets the best conditions for developing basic skills in reading and writing in analogue environments using analogue tools. It’s therefore important that pupils get to work with pen and paper and, not least, have access to textbooks and staffed school libraries,” says Minister for Schools Lotta Edholm.
Moreover, strong reading skills enable pupils to navigate the world and acquire necessary knowledge and information, but also to experience the joy of reading – an opportunity to discover new worlds and understand both others and themselves.
There is scientific support for screen-free environments creating better conditions for children to develop relationships, concentrate and learn to read and write. It is therefore important that digital learning aids are only introduced in teaching at an age when they promote, rather than hamper, pupils’ learning. The use of such aids must therefore be carefully considered.
Some of the Government’s ongoing and completed initiatives are summarised below.
More books in schools
Pupils in Sweden need more textbooks. Physical books are important for their learning, but many schools still lack appropriate textbooks. The Government has therefore established a new state subsidy, for which school governing bodies are able to apply in order to purchase certain course material for preschool, compulsory school, compulsory school for pupils with intellectual disabilities, special needs school and Sami school. It will be possible to use this state subsidy for textbooks produced by publishers, which may be with or without digital components that are made for use in teaching. It is also possible to apply for state subsidies for teacher’s guides. A total of SEK 685 million was allocated in 2023, and SEK 500 million per year will be allocated starting in 2024.
Previously, pupils’ access to textbooks was not guaranteed. Through the Riksdag’s decision on the Government Bill ‘Enhanced access to course material’, amendments in the Education Act – which include that pupils should have access to textbooks, other course material and other learning aids – will enter into force on 1 July 2024.
The Government has tasked the Swedish Schools Inspectorate with reviewing pupils’ access to textbooks and other course material.
Access to both good fiction and non-fiction is needed to ignite a passion for reading. The Government has made an investment to enable preschools and schools to purchase more literature, and an investment in skills development for teaching staff to strengthen pupils’ language, reading and writing development and mathematical skills. Investment in books and certain skills development will amount to SEK 179 million in 2024, followed by an estimated SEK 500 000 annually.
Pupils should have access to staffed school libraries
School librarians and well-equipped school libraries play an important role in promoting both an interest in reading and reading skills. Despite this, access to staffed school libraries varies greatly. The Government considers that pupils should have access to staffed school libraries and has proposed to allocate SEK 216 million in 2025, followed by an estimated SEK 433 million annually. The Government will also propose amendments to the Education Act to enable pupils to have access to staffed school libraries.
It is important that the official library statistics provide an overview of access to staffed libraries throughout the country. SEK 1.2 million has therefore been allocated in 2024 to the National Library of Sweden to develop the statistics. An equivalent amount is expected to be allocated in 2025.
Assignment for learning aids to provide more reading time and less screen time
Teachers’ ability to choose and use learning aids is crucial to the quality of instruction and to learning. Compiled scientific empirical data and proven experience show that basic skills such as relational skills, attention and concentration, and the ability to read, write and do arithmetic, are best acquired through analogue activities in analogue environments. Focus should be on physical books at younger ages, and on digital learning aids only being used when they have positive effects as children grow older, under the condition that this is done selectively and based on clear scientific support and documented educational added value. The Government has therefore tasked the National Agency for Education with drafting general guidelines or recommendations, and support material on the selection and use of learning aids in instruction.
Government wants to remove digital learning aid requirement in preschools
The preschool curriculum currently includes that teachers should be responsible for every child being able to use digital tools. On behalf of the Government, the National Agency for Education is currently carrying out a review of the area of digitalisation in the preschool curriculum. The Agency will also propose amendments that remove the requirement for digital learning aids to be used in preschools. Potential use of digital learning aids in preschools should take place selectively, based on clear scientific support and documented educational added value. The final report will be presented by 4 June 2024.
National tests in year 3 should not be digitised
The National Agency for Education is tasked with developing digital national tests and assessment support in compulsory schools and at upper secondary level. In January 2024, the Government amended the Agency’s task in order for the national tests and assessment support in primary schools to no longer be digitised. There is scientific support for pupils in the lower years of compulsory school learning best by using pen, paper and physical books. National tests in primary school should therefore be analogue as well.
Government will not proceed with digital strategy
The Government will not proceed with the National Agency for Education’s proposal for the digital strategy. The strategy was circulated for consultation and received criticism from neuroscientists and paediatricians.
Clearer curriculum wording regarding reading
The Government has appointed the Inquiry on clearer focus on knowledge in curricula, which will review the curricula. The Inquiry Chair will submit proposals on how the area of reading and reading comprehension can be strengthened in the curricula and will present them by 28 February 2025.
Teacher education to be developed
The Government has appointed an Inquiry that will propose how the admissions requirements for teacher and preschool teacher education programmes can be raised, and on how the programmes can gain focus on subject knowledge, cognitive science and practical methods. The Inquiry will present its proposals by 29 November 2024.
Reading lists of Swedish and international fiction to be created
In order for all pupils to have the opportunity to read both Swedish and international fiction, the Government has proposed creating reading lists of such material. These lists can serve as support to teachers when they are choosing literature for their instruction. This assignment will be presented in an interim report on 4 June 2024, when a draft reading list will be submitted to the Government. Final reading lists will be presented by 4 December 2024.
Increased contributions to Swedish Institute for Children’s Books
The Government wants to increase knowledge and research on children’s and young people’s reading, and has strengthened the activities of the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books through a SEK 6 million increase of their annual budget in 2024.