Learning through ICT in Swedish Early Childhood Education from a Pedagogical Perspective of Quality

Article excerpt

Information and communication technology (ICT) has swept into modern society and rapidly been brought to use in various areas. Sweden has enthusiastically adopted the technology and in the process has become a world leader, in terms of numbers of computers per capita and frequency of Internet use (Next Generation Forum, 1999, 2000). Today, ICT is an integrated part of the Swedish society; most of the adult population is using it in one way or another and we dare to predict that use will increase in the next generation. ICT is everywhere around us, both in society at large and in our homes, and it influences many aspects of most children's everyday lives.

The aim of this article is to discuss how teacher education and teacher competency affect children's capabilities to learn through ICT. Our focus here is limited to the uses of computers and the Internet, although ICT has a broader definition and includes a variety of technologies.

Sweden's political leaders have set out to make the country a leading IT nation, and to ensure that all of its citizens have access to information (Ministry for Industry, Employment, and Communications, 2000). To fulfill this ambition, the government has focused on the education system. A large-scale national government scheme, IT in School (ITiS), was implemented in 1999 to guarantee that every child and teacher in school would have his or her own E-mail address and access to the Internet (Ministry of Education and Science, 2000). Since then, more than half of the teachers in Sweden (75,000), from the preschool level to adult education, are occupied with ICT competency development, with the support of specially trained ICT consultants.

The ITiS government program excluded preschool children between the ages of 1 to 5, as well as their teachers, because many preschool teachers and decision-makers question the benefits and suitability of ICT for these youngest children. It is important to clarify that preschool is the first step in the Swedish education system, which continues up to age 19 (early childhood education extends until approximately age 10). Both preschools and grade schools adhere to nationally mandated curricula that are linked by shared goals (Ministry of Education and Science, 1994/98, 1998).

The dual aims of the curriculum are to promote a child's learning and development in accordance with the overall goals and to enhance quality throughout the education system. It is also important, however, to point out that no specific methods or tools to improve education and/or enhance quality, such as ICT, are mentioned in any of the Swedish curriculum (Pramling Samuelsson, in press). From one perspective, ICT is regarded as just one tool among many in the education system.

Nevertheless, in many ways ICT has become part of children's everyday lives, even in preschool. One reason for this is that Swedish preschools and schools are under the jurisdiction of the community, and most communities have decided to include preschools when they allocate funding for computers. It is estimated that many Swedish preschools have at least one or two computers to be shared among 3 to 4 units (akin to classrooms), with some kind of technical support. Grade schools have at least one computer for each classroom. Some preschool teachers also attend programs to develop their skills. Most pedagogical software programs for young children require high-capacity computers, but many preschools still need computers and an Internet connection.

Although ICT is strongly related to learning, there is no self-evident connection between access to technology, changes in working methods, and improved learning for the children (Alexandersson, Linderoth, & Lindo, 2001). Therefore, the following questions need to be raised: What are the conditions that would allow ICT to become a tool for the kind of learning that is the goal of preschool and school curricula? Can ICT be used in preschool and beyond to create alternative scenarios, thereby making it possible for a child to discern something he otherwise would not have? …