“Most of the successful schools that use ICT use it as a tool for individualization,” Sweden’s Suss Forssman Thullberg says.
Jan 09 2007

Spreading Education Technology in Sweden

“There are no good excuses for not moving forward,” says Suss Forssman Thullberg.

As the home of mobile phone manufacturer Ericcson, Sweden is recognized for its tech-savvy mobile users. Many Swedes own more than one telephone handset and do not bother installing landlines in their homes. Yet, when it comes to adopting other types of technology throughout the country’s schools, the pace of adoption has been much slower.

On a stormy, snowy morning in Stockholm, roving EdTech reporters Bernard Percy and Annica Swenne, met with Suss Forssman Thullberg. As the head of the Information and Communication Department for the Swedish National Agency for School Improvement, she leads the government agency that helps school leaders throughout Sweden meet the national education goals. This includes supporting the widening use of information and communications technology (ICT).


EdTech: What program have you developed that has made a real difference and could be a model for the United States?


Thullberg: We developed Web-based, in-service training for teachers, covering everything from how you turn on the computer to becoming a professional creator of digital resources. We developed a simple structure that enables local schools and communities to work together and provide them with materials and a plan. We also have an examination system, and when teachers achieve the intended level of ability from a course, they receive a certificate of completion.

EdTech: When did Sweden begin implementing ICT?

Thullberg: We are taking care of the ICT legacy from the 1990s. The Swedish government invested 1.2 billion kronas [$170 million] in developing the hardware and infrastructure so that every school would have broadband and Internet connections. At the end of six years, the task was completed and schools were given the responsibility to develop and implement ICT, so it becomes an everyday life experience.

Our main targets are the school leaders. They are the important agents for change. In Sweden, schools are a local matter — we have a national curriculum that everyone tries to follow and achieve. But it is up to every school to decide how to do it, including what resources and methods to use. That leaves the choice between using ICT or not up to the schools.

EdTech: What is your agency’s role in making this happen?

Thullberg: One thing I learned is that plans don’t do the job. Our role is to find and demonstrate good examples of the use of ICT and to define in what areas more continuing development is needed. We determine what should be done on the national level and what must be done on the local level.

EdTech: What is the biggest problem you face in getting the schools to use ICT?

Thullberg: What I find remarkable in 2006 is that the problem for so many Swedish schools and educators is not how to use ICT but overcoming the unwillingness of those who choose not to use ICT. Teachers, even if they use ICT at home, do not use it in their schools. Schools must understand that ICT should be a part of the everyday life of the students; they can’t have the choice in whether or not to use it.

EdTech: What do you see as an important role ICT can play in the education of students?

Thullberg: The individualization of schooling to meet students’ needs is of great importance. Sweden has a strong focus on the importance of individualization. However, we have the same school system as all over the world. We put 30 students in one classroom and say, “Now, you are all going to do this.” If you provide ICT, they can work at their own speed. Most of the successful schools that use ICT use it as a tool for individualization.

EdTech: Has Sweden adopted one-to-one computing?

Thullberg: There are very few initiatives in Sweden ensuring one-to-one computing — notebooks for every child. We don’t focus on hardware on a national level; that is the responsibility of local school boards. Most schools or local authorities don’t think they can afford notebooks and try to find other solutions, such as having fewer computers. However, without a clever, developed pedagogical idea to begin with, notebooks will make absolutely no difference.

EdTech: You have a very large remote northern area in Sweden, are you using ICT to help overcome the isolation of remote schools?

Thullberg: In the northern part of the country, a teacher in one school could do a broadcast to other schools using videoconference technology. It is so easy, and we see more and more of it. However, we have to change some regulations to make it legal. For example, when it comes to giving grades to students, regulations are based on the schoolhouse model of teaching, and you have to be face-to-face with students to give them a grade.

EdTech: Are there any random acts of innovation that you would like to see broadly implemented?

Thullberg: A school in Stockholm started to podcast math lessons that would be shown to students who were at home sick. Teachers knew that others would see them teach, and they wanted to be seen at their best. They started to think, “How do I act and look when I teach?” This helped them improve their teaching.

EdTech: Do you consider this to be the biggest problem in Swedish schools today?

Thullberg: No, the biggest problem is that too many students don’t learn to read, write or do math well enough. In Sweden, we picture ourselves as being very good in schooling. We think that we have a system that provides everyone with good [educational results]. We have to face that today this is not the fact. I get the feeling that [for many] the role model for schools is how they were in the 1950s. But children today are not the children of the ’50s, and ICT is one of the main reasons for this.

About Suss Forssman Thullberg

Suss Forssman Thullberg has been working with the Swedish national school administration for 13 years. After her university studies in political science and communication, she began working as a freelance writer, focusing on issues related to education. Her writing led to her evaluating school programs and activities, especially as related to monetary matters and budgets. This began her career focus on ICT, and has led to her current position as head of the Department of ICT for the Swedish National Agency for School Improvement, www.skolutveckling.se.

About Sweden

Sweden is a technologically advanced country, characterized by its coastlines, large forests and numerous lakes. It has 9 million inhabitants, and its three largest cities are Stockholm, Goteborg and Malmo. Sweden, about the size of California, is the third largest country in Europe.

Sweden’s Education System

Children ages 7 through 16 have a nine-year compulsory school program, though a child may begin at the age of 6. Most students continue on with their education for three years in upper-secondary schools, called gymnasiums. The upper-secondary education is divided into 17 national, three-year programs. The programs offer a general education and can result in being eligibile to continue studies at the post-secondary level.

Grades are awarded for each term in year eight, year nine and when mandatory school attendance ends. The possible grades are: Pass (G), Pass with Distinction (VG), Pass with Special Distinction (MVG). If a student does not pass, no grade is given.

The Swedish government determines the curriculum, national objectives and guidelines for public education, but individual municipalities determine how its schools are to be run. A local school plan is adopted based on the curriculum, national objectives and guidelines..