Health News

Sweden to allow more distance learning at high schools as COVID cases rise

FILE PHOTO: Irmelie Olander, Ebba Palmaer, Siri Landstrom and Mathilde Ingrosso Hildingsson study at home as high schools have been closed in the country due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Stockholm, Sweden March 19, 2020. Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s high schools will be able to conduct more distance learning from next week to help control the pandemic, the government said on Wednesday, though it encouraged them to remain open as far as possible as they provided a vital social service.

Sweden has taken a mainly voluntary approach in ensuring social distancing during the pandemic and has kept most schools open, though high schools and universities switched to on-line classes during the spring.

But new cases of COVID-19 infection have hit record levels in recent days and the government has introduced tighter rules on public gatherings and doubled down on calls for citizens to avoid social contact.

The government said it would give high schools more flexibility in determining the extent to which they could switch to distance learning to further social distancing.

“The change means that high schools can switch, partly, to online and distance learning if it is necessary to avoid overcrowding on school premises,” Education Minister Anna Ekstrom told reporters.

However, Ekstrom said the government wanted schools to remain open as much as possible.

“We know from the spring that many students struggled with motivation while they were learning online or at a distance, and we know that it was particularly tough for students who need school most - those with special needs, who are at risk or live in poverty,” Ekstrom said.

Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard