An impending challenge in today’s school is to ensure that all students have access to an equal education, which should in turn improve social and economic conditions for both individual and society (Lundahl, 2016). The equality aspect is especially accentuated in rural areas which, unlike metropolitan regions, often have significant difficulties related to long distances between schools, lack of qualified teachers and problems filling the classroom due to diminishing birthrates. This in turn restricts students' right to an equal education in rural areas (cf. Pettersson, 2017).
At the same time, digitalization of society is one of the fundamental challenges for the future. The development and broad availability of digital technologies has created new unique opportunities, and pitfalls, for rethinking and reinventing students’ equal access to learning, education and collaboration in the digital age (Collins and Halverson, 2009). Distance and remote teaching are such examples used to ensure equal access to education, not least in rural areas (cf. Hilli, 2020; Pettersson and Olofsson, 2019). Using digital technologies for remote teaching have thereby also, to some extent, changed the way that schools operate and the ways that teaching is being conducted (cf. From, Pettersson and Pettersson, 2020). However, research, networks and collaborations within this area can be said to be scarce not only at a Nordic, but also at an international level (Barbour, 2013; Toppin and Toppin, 2016).
Based on the lack of research, networks and collaboration for developing remote teaching as a practice, the significance of a symposium was identified. In May 2020, the international research symposium Remote teaching to ensure equal access to education in rural schools was held at Umeå University in Sweden. At the symposium different strategies to systematically and proactively increase access to education at upper secondary school level using digital technologies were discussed. One basic assumption that emerged during the discussions was that the existence of, and access to, new information technologies is necessary but not sufficient. In the discussions it became obvious that it will be of complementary importance who is empowered to design, create, invent and choose to use the technologies that enhance their personal and professional lives.
The symposium resulted in an open call for a special issue of Education in the North, which resulted in a huge interest not only from the Nordic countries but from researchers all over the world. As can be seen in this special issue, research from Australia, Azerbaijan, Finland, Iceland, Scotland, and Sweden with different focuses on aspects of equal access to education in schools are represented. The great promise of this special issue lies in its potential to provide research of interest to a wide audience, including researchers, practitioners and policymakers in both Nordic and international contexts.
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