STOCKHOLM: As young children went back to school across Sweden last month, many of their teachers were putting a new emphasis on printed books, quiet reading time and handwriting practice and devoting less time to tablets, independent online research and keyboarding skills.
The return to more traditional ways of learning is a response to politicians and experts questioning whether the country’s hyper-digitalized approach to education, including the introduction of tablets in nursery schools, had led to a decline in basic skills.
Swedish Minister for Schools Lotta Edholm, who took office 11 months ago as part of a new center-right coalition government, was one of the biggest critics of the all-out embrace of technology.
“Sweden’s students need more textbooks,” Edholm said in March. “Physical books are important for student learning.”
The minister announced last month in a statement that the government wants to reverse the decision by the National Agency for Education to make digital devices mandatory in preschools.
It plans to go further and to completely end digital learning for children under age 6, the ministry also told The Associated Press.
Although the country’s students score above the European average for reading ability, an international assessment of fourth-grade reading levels, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, highlighted a decline among Sweden’s children between 2016 and 2021.
In 2021, Swedish fourth graders averaged 544 points, a drop from the 555 average in 2016. However, their performance still placed the country in a tie with Taiwan for the seventh-highest overall test score.
In comparison, Singapore — which topped the rankings — improved its PIRLS reading scores from 576 to 587 during the same period, and England’s average reading achievement score fell only slightly, from 559 in 2016 to 558 in 2021.
Some learning deficits may have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic or reflect a growing number of immigrant students who don’t speak Swedish as their first language, but an overuse of screens during school lessons may cause youngsters to fall behind in core subjects, education experts say.
“There’s clear scientific evidence that digital tools impair rather than enhance student learning,” Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement last month on the country’s national digitalization strategy in education.
“We believe the focus should return to acquiring knowledge through printed textbooks and teacher expertise, rather than acquiring knowledge primarily from freely available digital sources that have not been vetted for accuracy,” said the institute, a highly respected medical school focused on research.
The rapid adoption of digital learning tools also has drawn concern from the United Nations’ education and culture agency.
WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden late Wednesday brushed off the House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry, saying the way he sees it, they launched the investigation against him because they want to shut down the federal government.
Biden, speaking at a Democratic fundraiser in Virginia, said that instead of being concerned about the probe, “I’m focused on the things the American people want me focused on.”
The president’s remarks were the first since Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced the launch of a Biden impeachment inquiry while the Republican House leader is also struggling to shore up votes to fund the government and prevent a federal shutdown.
“The best I can tell is they want to impeach me because they want to shut down the government,” Biden said.
He also made a reference to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a top ally of his chief rival heading into the 2024 election, Donald Trump. “The first day she was elected, the first thing she wanted to do was impeach Biden,” he said.
“Look, I’ve got a job,” Biden told his audience. “I’ve got to deal with the issues that affect the American people every single, solitary day.”
McCarthy’s sudden decision to direct an impeachment inquiry into Biden over the business dealings of his son, Hunter, and the family finances has won over even the most reluctant Republicans, with some GOP lawmakers pushing for swift action while others expect it to drag into the 2024 election year.
McCarthy opened and closed a private meeting Wednesday of House Republicans justifying his reasoning for the inquiry sought by former President Trump.
The moment is a politically pivotal one for the embattled McCarthy, whose job is being targeted by Trump’s right-flank allies. He has already signaled potential charges of abuse of power, corruption and obstruction for possible articles of impeachment.
“There’s a lot of accusations out there you just want the answers to,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol.
The White House mobilized to fight what it called the “unprecedented, unfounded claims” against the president regarding his son, Hunter, and family finances.
In the inquiry, House Republicans are trying to link Biden to the business dealings of his son and deflect attention away from Trump’s own legal peril.
The White House has said that Joe Biden was not involved in his son’s business affairs. And so far, Republicans have unearthed no significant evidence of wrongdoing by the elder Biden, who spoke often to his son as vice president and did stop by a business dinner with his son’s associates.
In a 14-page memo to news media leaders, the White House urged them to hold Republicans “accountable for the fact that they are lurching toward impeachment over allegations that are not only unfounded but, in virtually all cases, have been actively disproven.”
Biden did not respond early in the day to shouted questions about impeachment during a White House event on cancer research.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called it “a political stunt.”
The Republican front-runner for the White House in 2024, Trump is the only president to be twice impeached — acquitted both times — and he is the first to face criminal charges in four separate indictments, including for trying to overturn the 2020 election he lost to Biden.
The sooner the better to go after Biden, some GOP lawmakers feel.
“I hope we can get it through as quickly as possible,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Kentucky, the chairman of the Oversight Committee leading the impeachment inquiry.
Comer and the other House chairmen involved in the impeachment inquiry headed across the Capitol later Wednesday and spent nearly an hour walking Senate Republicans through the evidence they said they had gathered in the past eight months.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has warned the House off impeachment. And GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, after announcing he would not seek reelection in 2024, told reporters Wednesday afternoon, “I haven’t heard any allegation of something that would rise to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor.”
But John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said the briefing by House members left him feeling “there’s enough smoke there that there are legitimate questions.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and other senators said they urged the House chairmen to solidify the process by holding a House vote to move forward with the inquiry.
“I think they’d be better off having a vote. It does give it more legitimacy,” Graham of South Carolina said.
With no vote to launch the inquiry, the impeachment probe is being done without formal House-passed ground rules. That allows Republicans to conduct the investigation in ways the Democrats say are not always transparent, releasing only partial information to the public.
On another front, McCarthy’s decision to launch the impeachment inquiry appears to have done little to appease conservative lawmakers he needs to win over for his more immediate task: persuading the GOP majority to pass the federal spending bills needed to avoid a government shutdown in just over two weeks.
Hard-right Republicans still want McCarthy to slash federal spending below the levels he and Biden agreed to as part of a budget deal earlier this year. And that stand risks a federal shutdown if they don’t fund the government by Sept. 30, when current money runs out.
Democrats are expected to oppose those Republican efforts as well as fight Biden’s impeachment.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the first impeachment of Trump, said McCarthy’s failure to bring the inquiry before the full House for a vote was “an acknowledgement that he lacks the support in his conference to move forward.”
“He is beholden to the more extreme elements,” Schiff said as lawmakers returned to Washington late Tuesday. “It is yet another indication of the weakness in the speakership and the degree by which he is manipulated by Donald Trump.”
Yet moderate Republicans representing districts that Biden won in 2020 over Trump and who are most at risk in next year’s election generally were supportive of McCarthy’s decision to launch the impeachment probe.
“I would have voted for it,” Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., said about the impeachment inquiry.
Garcia said, “There’s smoke there so we have a requirement to go investigate that and see if there’s fire there.”
Rep. Nick LaLota of New York, another one of the Republicans from districts Biden won, said he wasn’t worried about any backlash back home. “I think my constituents deserve some answers,” he said.
The freshmen lawmaker and other potential holdouts like Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colorado, were offered private briefings from leadership this week in order to assuage any concerns.
On the government-funding issue, McCarthy does not appear to have a viable plan to keep the government open, several lawmakers said.
The chamber came to a standstill Wednesday. A massive House Republican bill to fund the Defense Department and related military affairs was scheduled for a vote, but it was shelved amid the clash over spending levels.
Conservative Republicans are demanding that McCarthy commit to a total spending amount for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, a request he is not likely to be able to fulfill.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland: The US military has resumed flying drones and manned aircraft out of air bases in the Niger more than a month after a coup temporarily halted all those activities there, the head of US Air Forces for Europe and Africa said Wednesday.
Since the July coup, the 1,100 US forces deployed in the country have been confined inside their military bases. Last week the Pentagon said some military personnel and assets had been moved from the air base near Niamey, which is the capital of Niger, to another in Agadez. Niamey is about 920 kilometers away from Agadez.
In response to a question from the Associated Press on how the US was able to continue its counterterrorism missions without those flights, Gen. James Hecker, the top Air Force commander for Europe and Africa, said in recent weeks some of those intelligence and surveillance missions have been able to resume due to US negotiations with the junta.
“For a while we weren’t doing any missions on the bases, they pretty much closed down the airfields,” Hecker said. “Through the diplomatic process, we are now doing, I wouldn’t say 100 percent of the missions that we were doing before, but we’re doing a large amount of missions that we’re doing before.”
In a statement, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed that the US was flying missions again but said they were confined to protecting US forces.
Hecker, who spoke to reporters at the annual Air and Space Forces Association convention at National Harbor, Maryland, said the US is flying both manned and unmanned missions and those flights resumed “within the last couple of weeks.”
The significant distance between the two bases also means that the while flights are going out, some missions are “not getting as much data, because you’re not overhead for as long” because of the amount of fuel it takes to get out and back, he said.
The US has made Niger it’s main regional outpost for wide-ranging patrols by armed drones and other counterterror operations against Islamic extremist movements that over the years have seized territory, massacred civilians and battled foreign armies. The bases are a critical part of America’s overall counterterrorism efforts in West Africa.
The US has also invested years and hundreds of millions of dollars in training Nigerian forces.
In 2018, fighters loyal to the Daesh group ambushed and killed four American service members, four Nigeriens and an interpreter.
West Africa recorded over 1,800 extremist attacks in the first six months of this year, which killed nearly 4,600 people, according to ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States.
The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram operates in neighboring Nigeria and Chad. Along Niger’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and Al-Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat Al-Islam wal-Muslimin pose greater threats.
SINGAPORE: Governments have no time to lose when it comes to implementing a new global ocean treaty to protect the high seas as threats from human activities intensify, a report by environmental group Greenpeace said on Thursday.
In March, more than 100 countries completed a groundbreaking treaty to protect the high seas after years of negotiations. It was adopted at the United Nations in June and states can signal their intent to ratify it at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 20.
The treaty will create ocean sanctuaries that are off-limits to fishing and other human activities. Environmental groups said the agreement was a crucial part of efforts to meet a goal enshrined in last year’s global biodiversity accord to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s land and seas by 2030 — a target known as “30 by 30.”
The high seas, or international waters, constitute more than 60 percent of the world’s oceans but have not been under any protection. While the treaty addresses a major regulatory gap, it still needs to be ratified at a national level before it goes into effect.
Greenpeace said fishing hours on the high seas increased by 8.5 percent from 2018 to 2022, and were up 22.5 percent in areas that need special protection.
Unsustainable practices have also risen, including longlines that ensnare marine mammals or seabirds. Species like Pacific Bluefin tuna have lost more than 90 percent of their population in 30 years, the report said.
Sea temperatures hit a record 21.1 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) in April and are driving ocean acidification and deoxygenation. The problems of plastic, oil and noise pollution have still not been brought under control, according to the environmental group.
Greenpeace warned that “new industries wait in the wings,” including the mining of minerals in the seabed as well as ocean carbon removal technology, which are not yet properly regulated.
The UN treaty will only go into effect when it has been ratified by 60 countries. Greenpeace said that needs to happen before 2025 if there is any hope of achieving the “30 by 30” target. Funding the treaty could be the next challenge.
“We believe over 60 countries intend to sign the Treaty (at the UN General Assembly) on Sept. 20, which would send a very strong signal of continued global unity and momentum toward ratification,” said Chris Thorne of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign.
“Reaching 30 by 30 means protecting more than 11 million square kilometers (4.3 million square miles) every year from now to 2030, so there is hardly any time to waste.”
WASHINGTON: The UN human rights expert for Myanmar on Wednesday called on the United States to further tighten sanctions on the country’s military rulers to include their main revenue source, the state oil and gas enterprise.
UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews, a former member of the US Congress, also said it was vital for Washington to at least maintain levels of humanitarian support for victims of the junta inside and outside Myanmar.
Andrews told a hearing of the US Congress’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission he was “alarmed” by reports that some donors, including the US, might reduce support for Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar and said a Joint Response Plan that includes food rations for Rohingya children in Bangladesh was only 32 percent funded so far this year.
Andrews praised Washington for imposing sanctions on the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank in June, but said more needed to be done.
“We need to have more sanctions imposed… I urge the US to join the European Union and immediately impose sanctions on the junta’s single largest source of revenue, the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise,” Andrews said.
“If you can stop the money, you can cut their ability to continue these atrocities,” he said referring to civilian deaths at the hands of the military.
Andrews also urged Washington to work with other countries to block the junta’s access to weapons.
Last month, Washington expanded its sanctions against Myanmar to include foreign companies or individuals helping the junta to procure jet fuel it uses to launch air strikes, while estimating that the military had killed more than 3,900 civilians since taking power in a 2021 coup.
In January, the United States targeted the managing director and deputy managing director of the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise with sanctions, but has yet to go further against the firm, despite the urgings of rights groups and dissidents.
Myanmar military officials have played down the impact of sanctions and say their air strikes target insurgents.
Andrews said in a May report that Myanmar’s military had imported at least $1 billion in arms and other material since the coup and called out Russia and China for aiding its campaign to crush its opposition.
WASHINGTON: A US appeals court has ruled that some of the contents of Republican Representative Scott Perry’s cellphone should be shielded from the criminal probe into former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, but found that some of his other communications may not be protected.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the US Court of the Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — dated Sept. 5 and unsealed publicly on Wednesday — handed a partial victory to the Trump ally who helped spread false claims that the election was stolen through widespread voting fraud.
The judges found that Perry’s communications with other members of Congress discussing the certification of the 2020 election results “are quintessential legislative acts” that can be shielded from executive branch agencies. But they found that not all of Perry’s texts and other communications with people outside of Congress were necessarily protected, and ordered a lower court to go back and review each communication.
Perry, a retired US Army National Guard brigadier general who represents a district in Pennsylvania in the US House of Representatives, has sought to prevent the Justice Department from reviewing the contents of his cellphone since it was seized by the FBI last year.
“The D.C. Circuit’s decision is a full-throated vindication of Congress’ protection from intrusive and overreaching inquiry into the legislative deliberations of Members of Congress,” John Rowley, one of Perry’s attorneys, said in a statement.
US Special Counsel Jack Smith has brought four criminal charges against Trump, the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 election, related to efforts to overturn the election.
Trump has pleaded not guilty and called the charges politically motivated. He also has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges brought in three other cases, including in Georgia where he faces state charges related efforts to undo his 2020 election loss in that state.
A spokesperson for Smith declined to comment on the Perry ruling.
Perry’s conduct is under scrutiny in Smith’s investigation because of the prominent role he played ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters who sought to block Congress from certifying Biden’s election victory.
The legal dispute focuses on whether the contents of Perry’s cellphone are shielded from disclosure under a provision of the US Constitution that gives members of Congress immunity from civil litigation or criminal prosecution for actions that arise in the course of their legislative duties.
Justice Department attorneys in February had urged the D.C. Circuit to uphold a ruling by Judge Beryl Howell, who had found that Perry’s communications were not within a “legitimate legislative sphere” and therefore could be reviewed by the FBI.
The panel included Judges Gregory Katsas and Neomi Rao, both appointed by Trump, and Judge Karen Henderson, appointed by Republican former President Ronald Reagan.