Why Scandinavian schools are superior (and what we can learn)

What are some of the big education trends in Sweden around technology?

Renman: For students, there are six big trends. One is the cloud computing, Google apps for education cluster. That’s one huge thing going on all over the Scandinavian countries right now.

The second is the maker movement, programming, pro-digital thinking, robotics. There’s a lot of talk about programming as a new languages. It’s super hot. The biggest conference for internet and education in Sweden has two separate [tracks] for education and both of them this October will be about programming.

The third trend would be the flipped classroom. That’s really popular these days. The fourth would be gaming, game-based learning driven by the strong culture of the gaming industry here — Minecraft and so on.

The fifth would be kind of a dark horse revolving around cognition, neuroscience and how the brain works. It’s also a digital trend because we have discovered that when students are working more digitally they learn different ways, and sometimes you just have to catch up to how people learn inside their brains. Other conferences are becoming big in these countries about what goes on when you actually learn.

And the last one I’d say would be the mobility trend — one-to-one, iPads in education, BYOD — which has been going on for ten years now. It’s not that different from the U.S.

Are there lessons to be learned for U.S. administrators?

Renman: I think so. That brings me to the other trends, those about teachers. I think it’s a bit of a new thing. For one thing we’ll discover that moving in a digital direction means that you become a different person in your role as a professional, as a teacher. Perhaps it means moving away from being a content expert to becoming the guide-on-the-side. It’s not saying that content knowledge is not important, but we’ve added other competencies, like the TPACK model, that has become included in teacher colleges and so on.

And the other thing is that teachers are learning in new ways. We’ll use social media, #edchat and Twitter, and social learning in much more advanced ways than before when you were forced to have professional development in two or three conference days a year that the principal decided on. Today, you actually learn just by going to work. That’s a really new thing for teachers. Another trend or something we’ve managed to change is that principals have realized that they can’t just manage the status quo anymore; they have to be much more focused on their job as managing change and working as a leader on change and for change. It’s a struggle for a lot of Scandinavian principals, since they’re not used to that. That’s a management trend in any field, but education is especially vulnerable. Education changes with digitalization and we’re just discovering the really huge impacts these days. There’s very little research around it. We need to be really observant and share what’s going on. We’re not super good at it but we’re definitely much better at it than in the old days.

However, I’ll say it’s a catch 22. In the Scandinavian countries, I’m not sure if you have this in the American school system, it says that education development must be based on research and evidence. So those two words, research and evidence, are portals so to speak, but from a digitalization perspective there is no research or evidence connected — at least not very much. So that means on the one hand we want to move in that direction but on the other hand we can’t move in that direction because there isn’t research in that direction. That’s why I call it a catch 22. We’re stuck where we are.

There may be less of an emphasis on that in the U.S. Teachers are innovating as they go along.

Renman: Exactly that. I’m quite sure the American mentality is much more open for innovators, doers, adventurers. All the way from the founding fathers you’ve been very positive around people who are actually doers and build around success. In Scandinavia, we do it together, wisely though political decisions and research. There’s absolutely a different kind of a culture. You won the lottery in the future of education. These days the development of education is so rapid that if you’re using the Scandinavian way of developing things, slowly and wisely, you will be No. 2 on the ball all the time, while the U.S. has a much more innovative society in general.

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