Sweden turns to kids to shape future IT policy
31 May 2013, 14:21
Published: 31 May 2013 14:21 GMT+02:00
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In many respects, Emma Wiksfors is just an average 11-year-old. She enjoys playing handball and football, and likes texting with her friends at the Jonsered school in Partille in western Sweden.
But earlier this month, as her classmates walked through the classroom doors after a long holiday weekend, Wiksfors instead found herself walking through the doors of the Government Offices in Stockholm to tell heavyweight politicians and government officials about how technology will be used in the future.
"My classmates think it's fun that someone from our school is a member of the commission but they're also a little jealous of me," Wiksfors tells the Local.
The 11-year-old found herself face to face with IT and Energy Minister Anna-Karin Hatt as one of eight young Swedes selected to be part of an expert group tasked with helping the Swedish Committee for Digitization (Digitaliseringskommissionen) achieve the goal keeping Sweden a top IT nation.
Referred to as the "Little Commission" (Lilla kommissionen), Wikfors and her other young commissioners have attracted a lot of attention as they help policymakers grapple with how to shape Sweden's IT policies.
"I wasn't prepared for the media attention it would receive, but IT seems to be a huge thing right now," Wiksfors explains.
While it might be hard to imagine how a group of youngsters who are normally in class learning geography or multiplication tables could help a team of seasoned policy experts, the chairman of the Committee for Digitization Jan Gulliksen thinks the reasoning behind the decision to assemble a team of adolescent advisors is crystal clear.
"They are the biggest and best experts for the job," he explains.
"When you think 'what does our future look like?' you immediately look to the young people."
The young commissioners gathered at Swedish government headquarters earlier this month where they met with Hatt to learn what they will be working on for the next three years.
"When the children met with Anna-Karin Hatt everyone was instructed not to treat them as children, but as commissioners," Loth Hammar, Head Secretary for the Committee for Digitization, tells The Local.
"Their teachers had been instructed to serve as the students' assistants, preparing things for them much like a civil servant would do for a minister ahead of an important meeting."
The youngsters were able to share stories about how they use their mobile phones, computers, and other devices that are an increasingly common part of everyday life for young Swedes.
They also tried to savour the moment of having a chance to come to the Swedish capital and participate in shaping their country's future.
"It was the first time I was in Stockholm, so that added to the excitement," Wiksfors says.
According to Gulliksen, the "Little Commission" included young people with a wide range of talents, from building their own computers from scratch to creating websites about their favourite animals.
He adds that the idea of assembling a young expert group had been under discussion for some time and that officials in the ministry were positive towards it.
"They instantly saw potential and considered it an exciting idea," he says.
Gulliksen describes how these young people have never experienced a life without Facebook and that if there were ever people who could help politicians see new possibilities for modern technology, it was these young minds.
"When we have access to people who live in the midst of the technological era, it would be a shame if we didn't utilize those resources," he says.
When asked about her personal interest in IT, 11-year-old Wiksfors says that while she does not spend that much time in front of the computer in her leisure time, she often uses a computer when doing her homework. One of her favourite things about technology is the possibility to keep in touch with people who are far away.
"It's cool that you can stay in contact with your friends even if you're in separate areas of the country or even different countries," she explains.
"It's more fun to meet up in real life but having the possibility of keeping in touch with them long distance is pretty awesome."
Gulliksen hopes the panel of young experts serves as another step towards reaching the Swedish government's goal of being the best in the world when it comes to IT.
"That's why we have to keep being creative and come up with new solutions to stay among the best," he explains.
The May meeting revolved around the use of technology in schools, but according to Gulliksen the expert group will also look into areas such as privacy and freedom on the internet, charity work, the environment, and other questions of interest to the youngsters.
The next meeting is scheduled for November, giving the "Little Commission" enough time to complete the homework they were given during their recent stay in Stockholm.
"We're going to study how we use phones in school," Wiksfors says.
"We're looking into what you can, cannot, or could do to make mobile phones a tool for learning. For example you can take a picture of a specific assignment or a couple of pages from a book, as a reminder for later."
The young commissioners have a busy summer ahead of them, completing the tasks assigned to them, but they will return in the fall to help the Swedish government chart its IT future.