from Technology & Learning
In November 2007, a delegation from the Consortium for School Networking visited three Scandinavian countries to examine best practices. Following a reselected excerpts from their debriefing document.
Much of our interest was motivated by our desire to understand the high achievement levels of students in Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. For several years, students in these countries have been outperforming their U.S. counterparts. Could it be information technology, referred to in Europe as Information and Communications Technologies, or ICT, was being used in new and innovative ways? Could we apply these lessons? Or as one delegate asked, "How can we take what we hear and see, and create a sense of interest and urgency in the U.S.?"
In Scandinavia, the teacher is most often viewed as a mentor, someone who has both knowledge and wisdom to impart and who plays a key role in preparing students for adulthood. Teachers are regarded as wise professionals whose jobs involve high levels of judgment. For example, in Finland, where all teachers have masters degrees, teaching is one of the most venerated professions; only one in eight applicants to teacher education programs is accepted as competition for jobs is tight for the limited number of places.
During our school visits, students seemed remarkably mature and responsible, and able to handle the autonomy in the school. Perhaps one reason for this behavior is that students start formal schooling at age seven, after extensive early-childhood/pre-school programs that focus on self-reflection and social behavior, rather than academic content.
Concerning Internet use, content filtering policies tend to be based on student responsibility. Putting a filter on a school computer, other than for protection from viruses or spam, is not considered an option. As the school librarian in Copenhagen put it, "The students understand that the computers here are for learning [and] the filter is in their head." Asked about the number of transgressions, teachers and administrators told us they could individually deal with any true abuse, but indicated that abuse was not a problem.
Participating in education discussions in Stockholm during a recent CoSN trip include, from left, Sheryl Abshire, Jim Bosco, Katie Lovett, Annelie Stigund from the U.S. Embassy, Jo-Ann McDevitt, and Ann Flynn.
Contrary to the stereotype of European countries with centralized control of their education programs, these Scandinavian countries actually have made an effort to ensure that educational decision-making is as near to the student and teacher as possible.
The local administration plays a key role in the daily education operations. Teachers and schools function with a high degree of autonomy. At the school level there is flexibility in providing educational services according to their administrative governance and needs and interests, just as long as the basic policy functions are followed.
Technology and Innovation
Though these countries are highly connected, with more than 98 percent of homes having computer and broadband connections, this connectivity does not seem to translate into widespread sophisticated uses of ICT in schools. While technology is used in some creative ways, ICT has yet to be realized as a catalyst for overall innovation in learning. We did not hear talk of needing to make deep level changes in the nature and structure of schooling, nor did we get the sense that ICT was provoking efforts to reconstruct the nature and role of schools in an "extensively wired" society.
ICT is viewed as important, primarily, to ensure student success in future careers. There is little or no effort to embrace the one-to-one model increasingly prevalent in the U.S.
We also observed that in countries that had scored highly on international comparisons, there was less focus on the use of ICT for innovation. Perhaps success on traditional high stakes tests encourages policymakers and educational administrators to view technology as a tool for improvement versus transformation.
Leadership and Vision
A recurring theme from our Scandinavian visit was the critical importance for policymakers and education administrators to see how technology can improve teaching and learning.
In Sweden, which was an early adopter of ICT in schools, the national government disbanded its national technology initiative in 2002 because "ICT was ubiquitous throughout Swedish society." The presumption was that with technology in every home and school, it was unnecessary to have a policy specifically focused on getting teachers/students to use technology. Yet there seemed to be a sense by the experts we met that without a specific focus on the pedagogical role of technology, ICT is not being used in profound ways in many classrooms. Technology was mostly being used by students outside of school or simply to do their work. Access to technology does not inherently mean the technology will be used to transform learning. Leaders need a coherent vision to change the way teaching and learning happen.
The current discussion about providing U.S. students with the skills and knowledge to succeed as effective citizens, workers, and learners did not surface during our visit. Though Finland, Sweden, and Denmark are not particularly focused on 21st-century skills as an articulated goal, it appears that their philosophical approach to education matches the very skills identified as essential—critical thinking, real life application of knowledge, and collaboration of learning all supported by technology as a strong enabler for that learning.
Editor's Note: For more about the CoSN trip, visit www.cosn.org.
CoSN Delegation Who's Who
Sheryl Abshire, district administrative coordinator of technology, Calcasieu Parish School System, Lake Charles, Louisiana
James Bosco, professor emeritus, Western Michigan University
Trina Davis, ISTE president and director of eEducation, Texas A&M University
Ann Lee Flynn, EdD, director of education technology, NSBA
Kathy Hurley, senior vice president, Strategic Partnerships, Pearson School
Keith R. Krueger, CEO, CoSN
Katie Lovett, CIO, Fulton County Schools, Georgia
Tim Magner, director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education
Jo-Ann McDevitt, publisher, Technology & Learning
Mark Nieker, president and executive director, Pearson Foundation
Michael D. Quesnell, PhD, director, Research and Business Development, Atomic Learning, Inc.
Helen SoulÃ©, PhD, executive director, Cable in the Classroom
Irene Spero, COO, CoSN
Barbara Stein, manager, NEA
Julie A. Walker, executive director, AASL
The delegation was made possible through support of the Pearson Foundation with additional support from Atomic Learning, Nokia, and Texas Instruments.