The digitization of the school is something that has been going on for more than 35 years. Many initiatives have been taken by the government, municipalities and commercial forces to provide teaching that is in sync with society. The ambition has certainly been good and many successful advances have been made, but sometimes it has, of course, deteriorated.
Among the initiatives that have been taken in recent years can be mentioned partly the national action plan for digitizing the school system, which was developed in collaboration between the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) and the Swedish Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools. In addition, changes in the school's curricula have been made, highlighting the importance of digital competence and the use of digital tools. On the commercial side, much has been done over the years, ranging from technical solutions and administrative tools to the development of digital learning materials of various types.
The fact that development will continue is given because the digitization in society is increasing. The challenges encountered have to some extent been similar over the years. Teachers are presented with technical solutions that do not meet the educational needs. Or staff lacks the competence needed to make use of the latest developments. It can be difficult to find the right tools on the market and sometimes other forces decide what is actually purchased.
At the same time, the Swedish Education Act clarifies that pupils and students should have access to the books, learning materials and tools that they need. It also means that books and tools for learning must meet the accessibility requirements and individual needs of the student.
In conclusion, development over the past few decades has had many positive elements which have certainly been of benefit to both students and society. At the same time, there is still a lot to do to get even greater positive effects.
It is an extensive question where several parts are included. My experiences come a lot from the work I have done on such issues when I was employed at the Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools, but also from both the design of accessible teaching materials and practical work as a teacher using digital tools.
One way of defining the accessibility of a teaching material is that it is a property that allows a person with disabilities to access the content of the teaching material on equal terms. A teaching material can be accessible through its basic design or by having it adapted. There may be different levels of accessibility. A learning material that is accessible to a person need not be accessible to another. Accessibility is based on the individual's needs.
There are several things to consider in order to achieve the greatest possible accessibility when designing digital learning material. One thing is to comply with existing standards that, another to follow the laws and guidelines that exist. It is of course also important to start from the individual's needs.
Laws and regulations are often based on the standard that exists. One example is the Web Accessibility Directive. It is one of the reasons for complying with the standard, apart from the fact that the product must function well in different environments and with different cooperative tools.
Today, the measurable success criteria for accessibility that exist for digital products are not comprehensive for all needs and development, not least in the field of cognition.
The advantage of legislation is that it can cover products in general. The mainstreaming of accessibility is very important. Special solutions can be perceived as stigmatising by the student. At the same time, of course, they are sometimes necessary.
There is a good example of when something has gone from a special solution to mainstream and at the same time the usage by student with special needs has increased. The example is read out loud books that previously required special equipment and programs but can now be accessed via general interfaces such as computers, tablet or smartphones. They are also used by many; from those who have to, to those who just think it is a good solution. It is something to keep in mind for those who make proposals for a mobile ban in the schools, which is being discussed in Sweden. That may disadvantage student groups with special needs.
It is important to be observant of what is happening in other countries.
One example is the Web Accessibility Directive, which allows for member states to exclude learning education. In Sweden, that is not the case, but in Norway, one has been bolder and also requires that teaching materials be included in the accessibility legislation.
Experiences from what happens there can be an inspiration for us.
Something that educational material developers could already proceed with is an accessibility declaration of the teaching materials they develop. This would be useful for users and purchasers who then know what they are getting. In addition, the publishers are prepared when the law starts affecting them, if that ever happens.