NOU 2015: 8

The School of the Future — Renewal of subjects and competences

To table of content

3 Renewal of the school subjects

Figure 3.1 Illustration Chapter 3

Figure 3.1 Illustration Chapter 3

While Chapter 2 discusses and describes the competences pupils should develop in the school of the future, in Chapter 3 the Committee assesses and gives reasons for how the subjects can be developed to promote these competences. The subjects in the Knowledge Promotion Reform and the Knowledge Promotion Sami Reform need renewal to meet the future requirements for competence in working life and society.

For schooling to help pupils as private individuals, citizens and workers/professionals, school must support them in their development of a deep understanding of what they learn in subjects and across subjects. The knowledge foundation in the interim report indicates that learning that leads to in-depth understanding and which pupils can also transfer to other contexts, will increase in importance in the future. In this chapter some principles are recommended for renewal of the subjects. The aim is that the renewal should be knowledge-based.

If the subject curricula are to be productive governing documents and tools for teachers and teaching staffs, the content must be connected to the key building blocks in the subjects, which means the important methods, ways of thinking, concepts, principles and contexts in the subject that the pupils need to learn. The Committee recommends that the renewal should start in the disciplines in school. The four areas of competence presented in Chapter 2 will be part of all the disciplines in school.

3.1 Subject renewal

This section elaborates on why subject renewal is necessary, and which important considerations should underlie the rationales for the subjects. Following this, principles will be recommended for the renewal of the subjects.

When subjects are to be renewed grounds must be given according to the needs for competence in society, and according to how they will help realise school’s social responsibility and in-depth learning and advanced progression in the pupil’s learning. Sections 3.1.1–3.1.3 elaborate on these three considerations.

The social responsibility of primary and secondary education and training comprises objectives for society as well as the individual pupil. In sum, the objects clause and the objectives of the main curriculum have goals for the pupils’ academic, social and personal learning and development. It is a challenge today that a number of the competences that are concentrated on in the main curriculum generally are described in the Quality framework, the Core Curriculum and the objects clause. Objectives for the social development of the pupils are not, for example, a systematic element in the school subjects. The Committee has been asked to assess the degree to which the content of the objects clause is adequately reflected by the subject content in primary and secondary education and training. The Committee recommends renewal of the school subjects where the ability to learn, ability to communicate and interact and the ability to explore and create are highlighted together with subject-specific competence. The Committee argues that if this recommendation forms the basis for a future renewal of the school subjects, they will reflect the objects clause better than today.

3.1.1 Competences for the future

The Committee recommends that some of the competence areas should be included in all subjects and others in some of the subjects. This will be explained in more detail later in the chapter. An argument for the presence of some competences in all subjects is that they are crucial requirements for learning. Another argument may be that the competences are so relevant and important in society and working life that the pupils should work with them in different ways throughout their entire learning trajectory.

Including a number of cross-curriculum competences in the curriculum can add breadth to the subjects if nothing is removed. This shows that the relationship between breadth and depth in school’s content may be a challenge. The desire to highlight a theme, a competence or an area of study by allowing some or all subjects to have some responsibility may increase the breadth of the subject curricula at the expense of a pupil’s opportunity to undertake in-depth studies in individual topics.

The balance between breadth and depth is one of the many dilemmas a future curriculum development will have to address to find optimal solutions. But it is not immediately possible to equate breadth in the subjects with superficial learning in the subjects. In might be necessary for pupils’ understanding and in-depth learning to have insight into the breadth of a field of knowledge. They will also learn to work in accordance with thematically cross-curriculum knowledge.1 Optimal solutions for this dilemma may be found by combining insights from learning sciences and subject didactics. Designing a curriculum will then involve connecting development and learning sciences to the key concepts, principles and contexts in a subject that the subject didactics builds on.2

The four areas of competence from Chapter 2 are an answer to the need to set priorities in subjects when the body of knowledge is endless and rapidly changing. The Committee proposes attaching greater importance to central building blocks in the subjects. Cross-curriculum and subject-specific competences constitute building blocks in the subjects, but how they will be expressed in the competence objectives will vary from one subject to the next. See more about highlighting the four areas of competence in section 3.2.

In the Committee’s overall proposal, social responsibility, competences for the future and renewed subject curricula constitute a comprehensive whole as illustrated in Figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2 Subject renewal

Figure 3.2 Subject renewal

3.1.2 School’s social responsibility

To realise school’s social responsibility the subjects must be relevant. The relevance of the subjects is connected to rational arguments as to why a particular content must be an element of a school subject. From school’s social responsibility, as defined in the objects clause, it follows that the content the pupils encounter in primary and secondary education and training is not only an objective in itself, but that it must also satisfy a number of social requirements. The subjects must be relevant in the sense that they have value for society and working life, and also are adapted to the experiences, abilities and aptitudes for pupils’ learning.

Choosing relevant content in school is connected to prioritising subject content and areas of competence that are important for the personal development of the pupils, future vocations and professions and participation in society. It is part of the Committee’s mandate to examine the school subjects in a perspective stretching 20 to 30 years into the future.

Pupils experience relevance if they can connect what they are learning to what is deemed to be important knowledge in social and working life, and to what they are personally interested in and personally consider valuable. If the experiences and aptitudes for pupils’ learning are considered when the subjects are to be renewed, this may give pupils experiences of mastering and motivation in their school work. The belief that the content in school subjects must also be chosen with a view to the experiences pupils already have gained has been an important consideration in pedagogy and didactics for a long time. The experiences pupils have, and the knowledge and skills they have developed through these provide the point of departure for further learning.3 The content of school must reflect the fact that pupils are living in the here and now, have a history and have hopes and ambitions for the future.4

Traditionally school subjects have had broad rationales based on liberal education and utility, but with varying degrees of importance.5 A liberal education in primary and secondary education and training means that school should have validity for all, for those who will be working in vocations later in life and for those who will pass on to academic subjects in university.6 In a school for all, a liberal education may be considered to comprise a certain minimum of general knowledge, cultural understanding and cultural ways of thinking that are considered to be important for all members of a society. That compulsory school has a general liberal function means that it must stimulate pupil participation in social life and leisure time, regardless their personal interests and whether they will be taking higher education or are entering a vocation. If pupils are to be able to choose education and jobs based on their interests and abilities, and in a way that also ensures that school can recruit people to all areas in working life and society, school must give the pupils a broad basis in a wide range of practical, theoretical, ethical and aesthetic disciplines. The social responsibility of primary and secondary education and training thus requires a range of different subjects.

School as a social institution contributes to a liberal education through organised and purposeful processes, and here the subjects play important roles because all in all they help to create knowledgeable citizens who can be active participants in our culture in different ways. The school subjects are not, however, static quantities. They live in a field of tension between tradition and renewal.

The utility perspective for the subjects is based on the idea that what pupils should learn in school is primarily valuable for achieving a number of goals, for example relating to working life, the economy, business interests or research interests in the science subjects. Utility also means that knowledge and skills in a number of subjects may help individuals to master day-to-day life, both in nature and the man-made world in a modern society, and is thus connected to school’s broad mandate. When renewing the school subjects, the utility aspect, as well as the liberal education aspect, must be made relevant in a perspective that takes the individual, working life and society into consideration. In subject didactics, systematic attempts have been made to give grounds for the place subjects have in school. For an example of this relating to natural science see Box 3.1.

Textbox 3.1 Grounds for natural science’s place in school

Why should all pupils learn natural science?1

The economic argument: Natural science is a beneficial preparation for a vocation and education in a high-technology and science-based society.

The utility argument: Natural science is important for practical mastering of day-to-day life in a modern society.

The democracy argument: Natural science knowledge is important in order to have informed opinions and to be a responsible member in a democracy.

The culture argument: Natural science is an import part of human culture.

This list illustrates that school subjects are based on many considerations, and when these are to be explained, a number of these considerations interact and their importance is seen in relation to each other.

1 Sjøberg 2009

3.1.3 Facilitating in-depth learning and advanced progression

In-depth learning

The consequences of societal developments for the individual, as outlined in Chapter 2, are an increase in the demand for the acquisition of new knowledge and competence throughout one’s life and the need to use what one learns in new contexts. The knowledge foundation in the interim report indicates that lasting learning which the pupils may transfer to other contexts will be even more important in the future. This means that school has to lay the groundwork for better development of the pupils’ comprehensive and lasting understanding in a subject or across disciplines, i.e. in-depth learning. This means that there is a need for renewal of the subjects in school with in-depth learning in focus.

The goal for pupil development of competence in subjects is that they should be able to apply it, i.e. that they should be able to use knowledge and skills to solve tasks and master challenges, cognitively, practically and in communication with others. Knowledge about when one can use what one has learnt and skills relating to how to do this are a result of in-depth learning. Hence, in-depth learning and competence development are closely linked. In many cases, acquiring competence requires in-depth learning.7

Developing competence that can be used is equally important for theoretical knowledge fields as for practical-demanding skills areas. In-depth learning is equally important for developing competence in all subjects, subjects in primary school as well as common core subjects and programme subjects in upper secondary education. It is important to learn and master the subjects’ methods and ways of thinking in all subjects in school. With an education more adapted to each individual, the pupils will have varying needs for what to study in depth, and how. In-depth learning does not mean in depth in everything for everybody. Studying in depth in individual topics assumes that the pupils have the opportunity to make choices.

In the interim report the Committee finds that curruculum overload challenges the school’s aim of providing learning and understanding that will last, more specifically, the challenge that arises when new subject matter is added without something else being removed. The subjects must be developed in ways that will make in-depth learning possible. Research shows that it takes time for pupils to develop understanding. This raises the issue of how many disciplines it is realistic that the school subjects should consist of if pupils are to have the opportunity to develop robust understanding during a given learning trajectory. If the subject curricula are to be productive governing documents and tools for schools and teaching staffs, the content must be connected to the key building blocks in the subjects. The competence focus in the subject curricula may function as a way of reducing curruculum overload as the issue is not whether any material from a subject should be removed when something new is included, but rather which subject matter and which ways of working should be chosen to promote the desired competence.


In the report, progression has a learning science aspect which refers to how pupils’ understanding develops over time throughout the learning in a discipline. Progression also has a subject didactics aspect relating to how the building blocks in the subject can be described according to a progression from one stage with descriptions of objectives to the next in the subject curricula. The Committee emphasize that by applying learning sciences and subject didactics together it will be possible to clarify the desired progression in pupils’ learning. Learning progression will then be about connecting development and learning sciences to the key concepts, methods and contexts in a subject.

Traditionally the development of subject curricula has been oriented towards deliberate choices relating to which skills are to be trained, which knowledge is to be taught and in which school year this should take place. Curriculum development has at times attached less importance to how the knowledge and skills actually are learnt by the pupils. Close collaboration between learning sciences and subject didactics will have a positive effect as it will make the desired progression clearer for pupils’ learning.

To facilitate good progression in the learning a good subject didactics understanding of probable learning trajectories in a subject is required. Some teachers will have this competence, while others, who may not have sufficient subject or subject didactics competence, may need support to be able to guide the subject development of pupils. The concept of taxonomy is often used, meaning systematisation of how knowledge or competence is constructed in a discipline. A pupil’s learning trajectory is a dynamic process, something which is not covered well by the taxonomy construct. A taxonomy is a classification/categorisation of different types of cognitive functions, expressed in varying situations, and therefore cannot be seen as stable abilities in pupils.

Taxonomies may, however, be useful in the development of the subject curricula. In didactics research they are used to identify the degree of expected cognitive complexity.8 To put it in a simpler way, it may be claimed that surface learning is on a low taxonomy level, while in-depth learning will be on a higher/high taxonomy level. These taxonomies may also be connected to social functions, such as a pupil’s capacity to participate in complex problem-solving, which may refer to the knowledge and social competence needed to participate in demanding activities. The SOLO taxonomy (Structure of Observed Learning Outcome) is thus interesting. This describes increasing levels of complexity in pupils’ understanding of subjects, and endeavours to state something about the quality of their learning.9

See more about progression in the subject curricula and pupils’ learning progressions in Chapter 4.

Textbox 3.2 Eiksmarka School: With problem formulations as the point of departure for in-depth learning

Eiksmarka School, in the municipality of Bærum in Akershus County, is a primary school with pupils in Year 1 to Year 7.

Each year in school, all the pupils from Year 2 to Year 7 work on a project where they use a recognised research method. They are allowed to choose which discipline they want to work with, and must then formulate a hypothesis connected to a problem formulation or research question. The class works together to develop, choose and implement surveys to test the hypotheses. On completion of the project the findings will be assessed, the pupils have to summarise and draw their conclusions, and finally present their findings in a written report.

When working to find the answer to the research question they have chosen, the pupils must use subject-specific competences and competence in learning and communicating. The teacher must support the pupils in their planning and implementation of the project and the pupils must cooperate to arrive at a good result. This is also an excellent method for teaching the pupils that day-to-day life and the school subjects are interconnected.

In-depth learning over surface learning

The pupils learn how to find their way to new knowledge and how to present it, and they gain understanding of the field they have been working with in a way that they will remember for a long time. Moreover, teachers and pupils will experience that finding the answer to a hypothesis often leads to new questions. In-depth study of an issue contributes to better understanding and to giving the pupils the urge to learn more. Spending time on a project allows the pupils to improve the results through the work process.

Asking questions to find answers

In the lower school years the teachers put much work into teaching the pupils to ask questions, also when not involved in project work. The pupils may, for example, be required to prepare questions for a text. When they have learnt to ask good questions, they must learn how to find the answers. The pupils learn both how to find the answers and how to give reasons for them. Where can we obtain knowledge about this? Who can we ask?

The pupils learn from asking experts outside school. How should we formulate our question to get an answer? How can we write this so that others will understand what we mean? The pupils learn that it is important to present their findings using their own words, even if what they have found may be difficult to present to others.

For many pupils these projects have taught them that it is important to decide what the most important elements are to include in an assignment. What is it actually that we are trying to find out? What will the reader expect to find information about in the report? What is less important information this time around? Can we use humour to make the report more exciting to read?

Asking questions and finding answers has become part of the pupils work method, and is a good way of training in various academic approaches so that both pupils and teachers can start thinking in another way. For example, the pupils ask themselves more questions: Can I solve this more quickly? Are there other answers?

Important competences for later in life

If they are to obtain the best possible results, the pupils understand that it is not sufficient to carry out the assignment they have the main responsibility for. They must help each other. When the report is finished, they see that working together gives a better result than if they had done everything alone.

The pupils must make proposals, give grounds for these and dare to discuss. They must cooperate to achieve a common result, and they also learn to compromise. The school is working to give the pupils tools that will allow them to deal with disagreements in a good way. This is an important competence for them to have when they are to solve the challenges of tomorrow.

The pupils also learn that persistence is important. Answers do not always arrive out of the blue. These are experiences and competences the school hopes the pupils will use throughout their whole lives.

3.1.4 Principles of subject renewal

A consequence of the knowledge foundation in the interim report is that renewal of the school subjects is necessary, and that the renewal must be especially focused on subject-specific and cross-curriculum competences, in-depth learning and progression in pupils’ learning trajectories. Future needs and findings from learning research cannot, however, stand alone as rationales for choosing content in the school subjects. In particular it will be important to combine learning sciences and subject didactics research. If the subject renewal is to take place in a systematic and knowledge-based manner, it is recommended that it is based on

  • the pupils’ expectations for learning,

  • pedagogical, didactic, subject didactic and learning research,

  • the relevant disciplines and competences for the future,

  • horizontal and vertical coherence in the curriculum and

  • the breadth of the school’s objects clause.

Requirements for learning

The content of school must be adapted to the cognitive, mental, social, cultural and academic abilities and aptitudes of the pupils. The general point of this principle is that the development of the school subjects requires that the various disciplines and stakeholders are updated on research-based knowledge on pupils’ learning and development. The Committee attaches particular importance to the possibilities for in-depth learning and progression in pupils’ learning trajectories. Research tells us that pupils’ development of understanding takes time. The choice of content and planning of progression must take this fact into consideration.

Pedagogical, didactic, subject didactic and learning research

Subject curricula are didactic texts, and curriculum development must build on research-based knowledge from pedagogy and didactics. As a field of study, didactics deals with the what of teaching (content – what the pupils must learn), the how (teaching forms – how learning should take place) and the why (objectives and grounds – why they should learn this or that).10 Furthermore, questions such as when and where may be added to emphasise context perspectives that are important for learning. Schemes and forms of pupil assessment in subjects are also part of didactics. Subject didactics, such as mathematics didactics and social studies didactics, works with didactic questions in the school subjects, and also complies with the science tradition(s) that are the underpinning of the school subject in question. When subject curricula are developed, subject didactic arguments may be connected to issues relating to determine the most important concepts, principles and contexts in what pupils are to learn. Are there aspects of a school subject that are more fundamental than others? What is appropriate progression in the subject when taking how pupils learn into consideration? Are there aspects of the subject that are particularly useful to consider in conjunction with other school subjects?

Relevant subjects and competences for the future

Trends in society and working life must be included in the considerations when choosing the competences in the school subjects. The interim report deals with this through the priorities and choices of cross-curriculum and subject-specific competences. The digitalisation of society is a natural example of a development trend demanding renewal of the content in the school subjects. The language subjects must for example include new digital text forms, genres and purposes of writing.11 Digital calculation tools lead to substantial changes in the content of the mathematics12 school subject and other natural science subjects.

Horizontal and vertical coherence in the curriculum

This principle refers to strengthening the connections between the various sections of the curriculum to make it appear holistic and consistent, both internally in subjects and across them.13 For example, vertical coherence may mean that the plan for the progression of pupils’ learning is clear between the various stages and years in the subject curricula. Horizontal coherence means connections across the curricula, for example, where multi-subject themes and research questions have goals in several subjects, an approach that can build bridges between subjects so they can reinforce each other in important areas.

The school’s objects clause

The relevant content of the school subjects must be chosen in light of the breadth of the school's objects clause. The core values the Norwegian school is founded on are expressed in the objects clause.

3.1.5 Consequences of applying the principles

Renewal of subjects must be a systematic process where the principles are considered together. Making the subjects taught in school more relevant for the future may mean assessing the subjects according to various types of challenges. Different assessments must be made in the different subjects, based on the nature of the subject and what responsibility it has in school. Below are some examples of such assessments.

Reviewing a subject may mean that new competence objectives must be embedded in the subject, or that the phrasing of the competences requires more precision. The reason may be that the subject must respond to particular challenges in societal development, or that research has changed the subject. For example, the music area of study has changed its content substantially due to technological developments.14 The subject has been expanded with the topic area of music technology.15 This challenges the framework of the content of the music subject in that digital competence is given a place,16 which then creates the need for subject didactics development work.

Subjects as well as society change over time. What is most important for children and young people to learn in a subject is not necessarily the same today as ten or 20 years ago. Renewal of a subject may mean another prioritising of competence areas in existing subjects. The subject curricula are often the result of academic and political compromises, and in many ways represent a summary of long subject didactics traditions and developments. The need for other priorities may demand that academic environments and curriculum developers must reconsider their own priorities.17

Subject renewal may also mean restructuring the distribution of subjects. Restructuring subjects may mean other compositions of disciplines, merging subjects or new formation of subjects. Chapter 2 points out that knowledge about physical health, mental health, nutrition, lifestyles and personal finances is important for mastering life in today’s society. Several of these topics are present in the current subject curricula, but they could be made more visible. See more about this in section 3.2.3.

The subjects may also be renewed through the use of other learning arenas. Linking the competence in subjects to different arenas, for example outside the classroom or school, may increase the relevance of school for pupils. Productive cooperation between school and other learning arenas may have impact on pupils’ understanding of subjects and have positive influence on motivation for learning. Some development work has taken place in this field in recent years. The examples in Box 3.3, the Lektor2 scheme and The natural school rucksack [Den naturlige skolesekken] are not about choosing school content on an cross-curriculum level, but rather about planning and implementation of teaching and organising the day in school. However, these projects may inspire school to make the curriculum objectives open for the use of resource and learning arenas outside school.

Textbox 3.3 Systematic use of resources and learning arenas outside school

The purpose of the Lektor2-scheme [a lektor in Norway is a teacher with a full 6 year university degree] is to strengthen parts of the teaching in natural science and increase pupil motivation for natural science subjects in lower secondary school and upper secondary education. This will be accomplished by implementing teaching programmes developed in cooperation between teachers in school and experts from industry and other areas of working life outside school. By involving experts from working life directly in the teaching as a “Adjunct teacher “ (teachers 2), the purpose is to give the pupils insight into how what they learn in school is useful in working life. In the evaluation of the scheme the pupils assessed the teaching with their “Adjunct teacher“ as more positive and interesting than other teaching in the natural science subjects. The teachers in the school gained better insight into the competence requirement of the companies, while the companies gained better insight into the day-to-day business of school and the competence required there. In sum, this strengthened the relationships between school and working life.1

The natural school rucksack is a national programme to promote curiosity and knowledge about nature and society, awareness about sustainable development and increase the involvement in environmental issues of pupils and teachers in school. The evaluation of the programme showed that pupils and teachers generally found that practical teaching in outdoor learning arenas motivates learning. Pupils in upper secondary school were more motivated than younger pupils by the more exploratory ways of working, such as looking for answers to questions they had made themselves. The schools pointed out the subject didactics benefit from participating, which refers to the teachers’ competence-raising in the use of more practical, varied and exploratory teaching in learning arenas outside the school/classroom.2

1 Sjaastad et al. 2014b

2 Sjaastad et al. 2014a

3.2 Renewal of the subjects in school

In Chapter 2 it is recommended that the following four areas of competence should be the basis for choosing priorities when renewing the subjects:

  • subject-specific competence

  • being able to learn

  • being able to communicate, interact and participate

  • being able to explore and create

This section describes the Committee’s recommendations as to how the four areas of competence may be made more visible in the subjects. Subject-specific competence will constitute the foundation in disciplines and subjects, even if there must be renewal here as well. When it comes to cross-curriculum competences, some should be present in all subjects, while others may be given a stronger focus in selected subjects.

The Committee recommends that a future subject renewal should be undertaken in close collaboration between the subjects and disciplines in the school:18

  • mathematics, natural science and technology

  • languages

  • social studies and ethics

  • practical and esthetic subjects

The Committee recommends that the subject renewal should start in the disciplines in school, and not in individual subjects. This recommendation means that the various subjects in each discipline must be considered together when highlighting the areas of competence. This means, for example, that if language learning and communication are to be strengthened in the language subjects, the development of the subject curricula in Norwegian, English and other languages must take place concurrently and be closely connected. The Committee argue that a requirement for a strong subject curricula coherence between the language subjects is that their formulations of objectives and progression must be mutually supportive in areas they have in common.

Common responsibilities and division of responsibilities are both keywords for good curriculum coherence between subjects that have many areas in common. The division of responsibilities will refer to finding methods, ways of thinking, concepts and principles the subjects have a common responsibility for in school so that they can jointly support pupils’ learning. When having greater focus on the common building blocks, the subjects in each of the school’s disciplines may be developed with more in-depth orientation by either having common responsibilities or shared responsibilities.

3.2.1 Common building blocks and closer cooperation between subjects

Building blocks

One answer to how the pupils may develop subject knowledge when the amount of knowledge is endless and changing rapidly is to put more focus on the important building blocks in the subjects. Learning in school generally occurs by working on the school subjects. If the everyday school is to be focused on pupils’ learning and development of cross-curriculum and subject-specific competences, they must be given a prominent place in the subjects. The most important work when the subjects are to be renewed will be to prioritise the competences in the subjects. Cross-curriculum and subject-specific competences may both constitute building blocks in the subjects.

The term “building blocks“ refers to the most important methods, ways of thinking, concepts, principles and connections in a subject or discipline. The Committee emphasize that the subjects’ methods and ways of thinking are a particularly important part of the building blocks, including the ability to think critically and solve problems – practical and theoretical, academic problems and everyday problems. The building blocks in all the subjects are of both a theoretical and practical nature. Practical subjects and vocational subjects have a knowledge foundation, and all theory subjects have a practical performance aspect.

The importance that scientific methods and ways of thinking can have in the various school subjects will vary. The school subject of social studies, for example, is connected to various science disciplines. What is considered important in the current curriculum is that the pupils must interpret, discuss, explain, describe and compare various matters that concern society and politics. In learning in social studies, pupils depend on different building blocks, such as scientific concepts and methods. The subject includes such concepts as values, norms, institutions, power, bureaucracy, democracy and the global society. Such key concepts are the gateway to learning about society. However, at the same time, many of these concepts are ambiguous. This makes social studies into a reflection and interpretation subject where pupils must train in assessing information and interpreting different presentations of reality. Reflecting on values, attitudes and various definitions of concepts will thus also be some of the important building blocks in the subject. The quantitatively oriented section of the social studies subjects and social research give us new knowledge about how society functions, which may be used as the underpinning for social planning and policy design. The methodological basis for this type of information and knowledge is part of the building blocks in these disciplines.

Closer collaboration between the subjects in the disciplines

The Committee argues that a more clearly defined division of responsibility and work between the different subject curricula can reduce the problem of curruculum overload because there will be less overlapping between the subjects and it will be clearer as to what each subject should contribute to. This may free up time which teachers and pupils can then use to work on areas over time and in depth, and thus help to increase understanding and lasting learning for pupils. The Committee therefore recommends that subject-specific and cross-curriculum competences in each subject should be integrated within the framework of the discipline where the subject belongs. See more about recommendations connected to subject development under section 4.3.

3.2.2 The areas of competence

Here follows a review of how the four areas of competence may be made emphasized in the subjects.

Subject-specific competence

The Committee points out that the disciplines described in 3.2.4 will be important in the coming years.

Methods and ways of thinking are an important part of the subject-specific competence. In the subject renewal, the importance of scientific methods and ways of thinking must be assessed for each subject. For example, there will be differences between subjects clearly building on natural science or linguistic and communication science, and subjects that have weaker or more complex connections to science subjects.

Digital competence must be closely integrated in the content of the school subjects and must continue to be a part of all the subject curricula. The information and communication technologies are so closely interwoven in all human activity that the various aspects of digital competence should be expressed in a subject context in school. If school is to keep pace with the digital day-to-day life of pupils and the digital environments used at workplaces they will encounter after their schooling, digital competence must be worked with and developed in subjects in ways that are relevant for the pupils. If this is to be done successfully, digital competence will have to be explicitly present in the competence objectives in all the subject curricula.19 The Committee acknowledges that the Norwegian school put digital skills in all the subject curricula as one of the basic skills at an early stage. For future curriculum development it is recommended that the various aspects of digital competence must be expressed as part of the competence in all subjects, but without continuing today’s scheme of basic digital skills.

Technological development leads to changes in all the subjects. But there are aspects of digital competence that are not connected to a particular subject, such as learning general aspects of using computers as tools. One consequence of this may be confusion in the everyday school when it comes to which subjects should assume responsibility for the pupils’ learning and development of basic “operational“ digital skills. The Committee proposes that responsibility for the teaching in this area should be placed with a particular subject, possibly several subjects, where the responsibility is clearly formulated and clearly assigned.

The Committee emphasize that digital competence must be learnt as part of being able to read, write and communicate verbally in the subjects. This will be decisive in working life, society and one’s daily life in a perspective of 20 to 30 years. Reading, writing, verbal competence and digital competence are all integrated in the current curriculum, but the collaboration between them could be much clearer.

The Committee emphasize that competence in mathematics should be strengthened in school, and proposes that this should be accomplished by making mathematics clearer in subjects where it is a key aspect of the competence. This should be done by strengthening mathematics in the subjects where it is most relevant. A good way of helping pupils to learn more mathematics is to have them work with mathematics in a number of relevant subject contexts. The Committee recommends that today’s design with numeracy as a basic skill in all subjects should be changed, see section 2.7. It will nevertheless be best to build on the experiences of numeracy as a basic skill in the Knowledge Promotion Reform.

Natural science and social studies are two subjects where strengthening mathematics competence would be important. Natural science, for example, applies maths by using concepts, measuring instruments, measurement units, formulas and graphs. This is in relation to comparing, assessing and arguing for the validity of calculations, results and presentations. In social studies, mathematics may be used to compare, analyse and present statistical material which illuminates a social-science topic.

Being able to learn

Metacognition and self-regulated learning are significant competences in themselves, while also being requirements for the pupils’ learning in the subjects. Therefore metacognition and self-regulated learning should be part of all subjects. Today learning strategies are focused on in the Quality Framework and in the competence objectives in some subjects, including English, but metacognition and self-regulated learning are not systematically integrated in the subjects.

Metacognition and self-regulated learning mean that the pupils learn to reflect on what, how and why they learn in the subjects, and learn to use learning strategies to focus on their own learning. Knowledge about when one can use what one has learnt, and how, is important for achieving competence and understanding of how one learns. Pupils should develop awareness on the development of their own competence in the subjects, and learn to reflect on why and how the competence they are developing may be relevant and lasting. Developing self-regulated learning and metacognition in school will generally occur in collaboration with others.

When metacognition and self-regulated learning are to be made visible in the subjects, they should be closely connected to the content of the subject. Pupils will, for example, need different learning strategies in different subjects. The competence should also be closely connected to progression in the subject. The requirement for using relevant learning strategies when reading natural science texts will increase, for example, when concepts and subject matter become more advanced.

Involvement in and reflection on the learning work and the objectives in the subjects are important for training the pupils in taking charge of their own learning processes. In each of the school years the teachers may involve the pupils in reflection on their own learning, as long as this is adapted to the ages and levels of the pupils.

An illustration of how competence in learning can be addressed can be found in the current curriculum for foreign languages. The plan on all levels has an objective which states that the pupil shall be able to describe and assess his or her own work on learning the new language. This consistent competence objective focuses on having insight into one’s own language learning and language usage. Competence in learning is about developing the capacity to use appropriate learning strategies, such as defining one’s learning needs, formulating goals, choosing ways to work, using learning aids and assessing the work process and goal achievement individually and in cooperation with others.

Figure 3.3 Illustration Chapter 3

Figure 3.3 Illustration Chapter 3

Being able to communicate, interact and participate

This area of competence includes reading, writing and verbal competence, as well as being able to interact.

It is recommended that all the linguistic competences should be included and developed in the subject curricula for all the subjects. The goal for pupil development of reading and writing competence and verbal competence in school must be that they should learn and master a diversity of communication situations. The Committee emphasize that the focus of the subject renewal should be to make aspects of reading, writing and verbal skills that are important parts of the competence in the different subjects clearer than is the case today. Reading natural science texts, for example, is part of the competence that must be prioritised as part of the subject. When developing the subject curricula, the connections between the progression in subject competence and reading should be assessed. This could for example refer to how complex subject terms and complex subject matter require increasingly complex understanding.20 In many subjects the development of competence in reading requires that pupils read often and a large amount of text, and that they should work systematically on reading strategies that are suitable for the purpose of the reading, and with different types of texts in the subject. The development of reading competence progresses from basic decoding and understanding of simple texts to understanding, interpreting, reflecting on and assessing increasingly complex texts from different genres. The subject curricula must reflect this.

The Committee recommends that verbal competence should be developed in all the subject curricula. For various reasons, the verbal use of language is the part of language competence that is least clear in the current subject curricula, and it is therefore here that the need for development is greatest. This development may mean putting more emphasis on the receptive, productive, listening, speaking and rhetorical aspects of verbal communication. This means that the situations the pupils are to communicate in must be varied, focus on the purpose of the use of language in different communication situations and have relevance outside school. The Committee point out that verbal competence must be considered together and turned in the direction of collaboration.

Chapter 2 has promoted competence in collaboration and participation and democratic competence. Today collaboration/participation is mentioned in most of the subject curricula, but the Committee finds that this should be done more thoroughly than at present, including in the competence objectives. The relationship between the Core Curriculum and the subject curricula can be clearer in this area. The Committee believes that competence in interacting, collaboration and participating should be part of all subjects. First, cooperation is important for learning in the subject. Second, it will be so important for pupils to master collaboration and participation in school, working life and society that they should train in this competence in all subjects.

It will be relevant to include several aspects of collaboration and participation in all subjects. Pupils will need to learn and collaborate in subjects and to develop positive attitudes to working with others. For example, collaboration in the subjects may mean development from speaking in turn in conversations, giving feedback to others, following up the input of others in cooperation on a subject and developing input from others. Collaboration may also mean to contribute input, to exchange experiences and knowledge and to create meaning when working with others. Choosing relevant strategies for collaboration together and interacting flexibly and efficiently in different situations will also be aspects of this competence that may be relevant in many subjects.

The Committee argues that it is relevant to attach importance to democratic competence in a selection of subjects, for example in the discipline of social studies and ethics. Democratic competence is part of these disciplines today, but the coherence between the subjects could be strengthened, see sections 3.2.3 and 3.2.4. Particular attention is given to democratic citizenship and knowledge of the political system and democratic decision-making processes. Part of school’s core values and objectives is that it must promote collaboration, cooperation and democracy, and this is thus embedded in the objects clause, the Core Curriculum and the Quality Framework.

In Chapter 2 the Committee emphasises social, emotional and attitudinal aspects of collaboration, participation and democratic competence. An example of such a goal from the current curriculum in Norwegian is that after Year 7 pupils should be able to express and give grounds for their points of view and show respect for those of others.

Pupil development of collaboration and participation in individual subjects must be supported by the school’s work with the psychosocial school environment and the breadth of the objects clause. Respect for others and responsibility for the community are values one should work with in all subjects. In the opinion of the Committee it is very important that pupils should learn the value of meaning something for others, standing up for others and assuming responsibility for others in light of the individualisation of society.

Being able to explore and create

Being able to explore and create comprises creativity, innovation, problem-solving and critical thinking. The objects clause states that pupils must learn to think critically, and that the education should promote a scientific way of thinking. Creativity and innovation are also embedded in the objects clause, where it says that the pupils should be able to demonstrate the joy of creating.

The Committee emphasize it is necessary to strengthen critical thinking and problem-solving in all subjects. Pupils will need to learn to think and assess critically, apply different problem-solving strategies and reflect on how they solve a task or approach an issue, and this is relevant in all subjects. Critical thinking and problem-solving includes the ability to assess claims, arguments and evidence from various sources, and to apply relevant procedures and strategies to carry out an assignment or solve a problem. In today’s subject curricula, critical thinking and problem-solving are connected in particular to scientific methods in natural science and mathematics.21

Critical thinking and problem-solving will play varying roles in the different subjects, and the terminology will also vary. In subjects such as natural science, Norwegian and social studies pupils will learn to interpret research, statistics and other information critically to enable them to draw logical/valid conclusions about issues, for example what the consequences of global warming might be.

In the current subject curricula the subjects of arts and crafts, music and food and health are the ones that promote creativity and creative work. In Chapter 2 the Committee finds creativity and innovation to be important competences in most subjects and disciplines, and that these should be developed through working with the subjects. Developing creativity is a process which often requires work with a subject or discipline over time. In-depth understanding and robust skills in a subject are a requirement for composing subject knowledge in new ways or applying knowledge and skills in new contexts.22 The Committee recommends that creativity and innovation should be systematically emphasised in all the subjects in ways that are relevant in the subjects. One example is that pupils must learn to think creatively and test different solutions to be able to master complex problems in maths.23

3.2.3 Interdisciplinary themes

When pupils are working with research questions or themes that require competence from a number of subjects, we call this interdisciplinary work. For example, pupils’ understanding of research questions relating to climate challenges requires knowledge from the natural sciences, mathematics, social studies and ethics. The Committee believes that three interdisciplinary topics are particularly important in the school of the future and must be clear in the curriculum:24

  • sustainable development

  • the multicultural society

  • public health and well being

For these three topic areas the Committee recommends objectives across the disciplines. The interdisciplinary organisation of key competences may be a way of ensuring in-depth learning in the sense of understanding relationships and connections.

Climate, environment and sustainable development

Sustainable development has been placed on the agenda on all levels of education through international obligations on the initiative of the UN system.25 There is an emerging recognition that school must raise topics relating to the existence of our globe more prominently than today. Sustainable development means that we need to think and act locally, nationally and globally.

Competences connected to sustainable development in the subject curricula have three main dimensions: the social environment, economics and the natural environment. These three fields are connected and give room to deal with the topic in an interdisciplinary way.

Topics that may be relevant in the social environment area include human rights, living conditions, health, culture, diversity, equal rights, education, working conditions, justice and responsibility. Topics that may be relevant in the economics area include reducing poverty, fair distribution of resources, national and global market economy, work and income, and financial security. Topics that may be relevant in the environment area include preserving nature and using natural resources and land areas in a sustainable manner. Sustainable development must be illuminated according to different considerations and interests, for example, what this means for the primary industries, such as agriculture and reindeer herding, and biological diversity, reducing climate change and preventing natural and environmental disasters, and assessing uncertain knowledge and precautionary measures.26

The teaching of children and young people here means developing robust understanding of the risks inherent in climate and environmental challenges. It is also just as important that they recognise that each one of us has responsibility for taking active and informed initiatives for a better environment. They must be motivated for climate-conscious choices today and in the future, and they must be given the ability and opportunity to act. Sustainable development is embedded in natural science, but is also interdisciplinary in nature and demands an interdisciplinary approach. The Committee believes that sustainable development should be strengthened in the curriculum and integrated in a number of subjects, particularly social studies and the natural sciences.

Textbox 3.4 Frederik II Upper Secondary School: Environmental research [Miljøforsk] – science subjects with emphasis on interdisciplinary aspects and competences for the future

Frederik II Upper Secondary school is located in Østfold County. The school leaders wanted to focus on science subjects as an arena where they would be able to develop the school’s ideas about learning and competence. In this school they have long aimed to shift attention from teaching to learning. Planning of learning should start with the question: What contributes to effective learning for an individual pupil in a social setting? The result was Miljøforsk, a class in Year 1 of upper secondary school in the education programme for specialisation in general studies and the science subjects.

Interdisciplinary subjects, new teaching arenas and cooperation with resources outside school

Miljøforsk is a science subject programme that focuses on interdisciplinarity. The class will work with interdisciplinary projects, teaching arenas outside school and education in cooperation with other resource people. The goal is that the pupils should have knowledge and curiosity about, understanding of topics/problem areas across the subjects. If the pupils are to learn, they must be allowed to spend time on the topics to obtain good understanding of what they are working on and be given the opportunity to learn subject-specific and cross-curriculum competences that are in demand in working life.

The subject for one of the projects the pupils have worked on is a small brook in the neighbourhood where agriculture has caused significant pollution, but where the local authorities now wish to include it in their urban planning. The learning programme started with basic concepts, and then allowed the pupils to actively apply their knowledge by observing, analysing, planning, implementing and reflecting. The pupils worked on such topics as urban planning, ecology, technical functionality, local climate and values connected to health and the quality of life. Towards the end of the project the pupils participated in a meeting on the zoning plan with the local authorities. The aim of the project was to stimulate the pupils’ appreciation of nature, create an understanding of the subjects and how they are developed, and give the pupils good insight into natural science work methods, democratic processes and presentation of knowledge.

In the course of the year the pupils have also worked on a number of other interdisciplinary projects. They have helped in the building of a hydroelectric power plant, solar collector and solar cell vehicles in cooperation with the wood processing plant Borregaard, and windmills in cooperation with the Inspiria Science Centre. They have also worked on sustainable and ethical consumption in cooperation with the University of Oslo and Ostfold Research [Østfoldforskning] and with marine ecosystems in cooperation with Ytre Hvaler national park and the Tjærnø marine biology research station.

Competences for the future

Building windmills, power stations and electric bicycles requires a high degree of competence in science subjects, but also places demands on the pupils’ ability to think critically, solve problems and cooperate, and on metacognition and creativity. In Miljøforsk such competences are trained through concrete assignments and guidance from the teachers. For example, the pupils work on their critical thinking when the tasks require them to plan, prioritise and act on given criteria.

The pupils experience that the competence they are developing in these projects is in demand in working life.

Requirements for succeeding with Miljøforsk

For these projects to succeed and contribute to pupils’ learning, sufficient time has to be allocated so the pupils have the opportunity to also use the cross-curriculum competences and have time to reflect on what they have learnt, in the projects and after their completion. Seeing the competence objectives as interconnected has been an important condition for finding time for in-depth study. This places demands on the way teachers work because it requires a joint analysis of the curriculum and interdisciplinary cooperation. Working in an interdisciplinary way may create productive conditions for pupils’ in-depth learning.

When using new learning arenas there is a need for more resources, for example, equipment and material, and transportation expenses. Some of the equipment has been loaned to the class by the local authorities. Several of the projects have been funded by applying for project grants. To move around in the neighbourhood to visit companies and undertake fieldwork the class has had the use of a fleet of bicycles. For the teachers it has been demanding and exciting to use different learning arenas and resources. This practice has been developed along the way, and they have found it necessary to dare to try new things. But they have been confident that what they are doing has been anchored in knowledge about pupils’ learning, and that what they are doing is improving the pupils’ learning.

The multicultural society

Ethnic, cultural and religious diversity is not only a global issue but also part of the day-to-day life for a large number of pupils in Norwegian schools. In the wake of local and global demographic changes it will be important to be able to live together in a society and world with differences, particularly in a perspective of 20 to 30 years. The Committee emphasize that this must have an effect on school’s responsibility for pupils’ development of their ability to interact, and their communication competence, tolerance and responsibility. School can counteract unwanted unsocial behaviour and undesirable attitudes by creating a good collective setting dominated by security, trust and respect and where being different is considered to be positive.27 In both the interim report and the main report the Committee finds that social and emotional competences should also be included in the curriculum and be worked on in all the subjects.

Cultural diversity in society and school is an example of a development trend which demands that the subjects are renewed. School has pupils who are indigenous people (the Sami) and pupils from national minorities, and has for decades also had pupils from many ethnic groups from other countries. The diversity of pupils is increasing and more geographically distributed than ever before. In the school of the future more attention will have to be paid to diversity and a positive approach to what different cultures can contribute to school and society. School has an important role in building identity and a sense of the collective community in the population. But this does not mean maintaining a narrow register of cultural expressions as representing “the Norwegian”. School’s role must be understood dynamically, meaning that it is under the obligation to facilitate a constantly expanding diversity of cultural forms of expression.28 These perspectives must be apparent in the subjects.

As an interdisciplinary topic area, the multicultural society may be connected to democratic competence. The social studies subject has responsibility for knowledge about various forms of democratic participation. First, democratic participation is about understanding and participating in the representative democratic system, for example by voting in elections. Second, it is about having the ability to engage in and being willing to participate in local clubs and associations. Third, democratic participation is about understanding and recognising what it means to participate with one’s voice in public, digitally or not, in a civilised manner.

The history subject also deals with competences in this field. Knowledge about events that have occurred in an anti-democratic and totalitarian spirit, such as genocide and ethnic cleansing, is important knowledge for the pupils to have.

The Committee argues that competence connected to living in a multicultural society should be strengthened in subjects where this is relevant and appropriate.

Public health and well-being

In light of the growing individualisation of society and the easy access to information, the Committee finds that competences connected to making responsible choices in one’s own life are important. Knowledge about one’s own body and health, including mental health, lifestyle, personal finances and consumption is an area that needs to be strengthened in school. The Committee recommends that importance should be attached to a public-health and life-science perspective in subjects where this is relevant and appropriate.

School shall help pupils to develop movement competence and give children and young people the opportunity to develop their individual motor-physical movement competence. This impacts pupils’ personal development, general education and give them a long-lasting positive relationship to movement. It is important for self-regulated learning, reflection and metacognition that pupils learn the importance of exercising their bodies and learn to understand what is happening in their bodies.29

Increasing health challenges such as obesity and mental disorders show the importance of helping children and young people to learn to take care of their own health and have knowledge about food and nutrition. Moreover, features of social development, such as individualisation, are relevant for pupil motivation and mastering in connection with taking responsibility for one’s own life.

3.2.4 The disciplines

This section outlines what closer collaboration, shared responsibility and division of responsibility may mean in the disciplinary areas in school.


Due to the increase in globalisation and internationalised working life and business, the Committee emphasize that language subjects must be strengthened in school. They should be strengthened by being more open for in-depth learning of what the language subjects have in common. This particularly refers to learning a language and communication. It is possible to develop the language subjects with more in-depth orientation if these common areas are considered more in connection with each other.30

The subject curricula for languages appear to offer few descriptions of what they have in common when it comes to the goals and aims for learning a language and communication. The exceptions are the subject curricula for Sami as a first and second language and the subject curriculum for Finnish as a second language. These subject curricula have emphasised the collaboration between each of these plans and the curriculum for Norwegian so that they can supplement each other and strengthen the language learning. In the systematic work on subject renewal, a clarification of what the subjects have a common responsibility for may strengthen the teaching of languages. At the same time, some of the cultural and literary aspects of the subjects can be made less comprehensive. The review of the subject curricula in Norwegian, English and foreign languages in the interim report shows that the total the language subjects cover a very wide area.

Renewal in the language subjects should start with a description of what is common in the subjects. Even if all the subject curricula for the languages subjects have a language learning part, a skills part and a culture, literature and social part, thus appearing to have been made according to the same model, they are quite different as language subjects.

When a language is taught, a system of concepts is used, such as phonetics, syntax and morphology.31 Different language subjects use different terminology for the same concept. Even at the level of textual linguistics it is not uncommon to have different terms for more or less the same thing. One example is the literary term “genre“ and the text linguistics term “text types”, which to some extent have the same meaning. A common system of concepts in all the language subjects is important if the pupils are to understand the different linguistic categories, and if experience of previous language subjects is to be used when the pupils set out to learn a new language. Previous experience may help them sort through new material.

Pupils learn in different ways. It is important for the pupils to develop a repertoire of learning strategies to support them when they are learning a new language. It must be made clear for the pupils that vocabulary learning strategies, strategies for reading and writing, and competence in understanding other cultures can be transferred from other languages or subjects they have learnt.32

The Committee recommends that other foreign languages should be introduced earlier in the educational pathway. The term “foreign languages“ refers to all languages except Norwegian/Sami, Danish, Swedish and English. Foreign languages are today offered from Year 8. It is up to the school owner to decide which languages are to be offered, but one of the traditional languages German, French, Spanish or Russian must be part of the programme. As of today it is not possible to choose a foreign language in vocational education programmes. A pilot project has been conducted where a foreign language is introduced in Year 5, which has been successful.33 There is also reason to assume that an earlier start would strengthen in-depth learning because learning which leads to understanding, and the opportunity of the pupils to apply what they have learnt, takes time.34 If we consider other countries, good reasons can be found to support the idea that the point in time for starting a foreign language should be on the primary-school level, as has been done in Denmark, for example.

Closer collaboration between the language subjects may mean that the total hours taught in the language-subject area may have to be somewhat reduced, while the language teaching for the pupils will in practice be strengthened, particularly if other foreign languages start at the primary-school level.

Social studies and ethics

In the interim report the Committee finds that the current social studies curriculum has such a breadth of content that it may be challenging to facilitate pupils’ robust understanding, also when considering the number of teaching hours in the subject. A curriculum development in the social studies and ethics area that starts with the common concepts, methods and connections in social studies and religious and ethical education (Norwegian acronym RLE) could for example take democratic competence and the multicultural society as its point of departure, cf. section 3.2.3. By using democratic competence as a common building block, the subject curricula could examine majority and minority issues in society from various points of view with the same progression and increasing complexity in the different subjects. The advantage of establishing common building blocks may be that the division of work between the subjects will become clearer. This may have consequences for the breadth of the subject curricula: It will no longer be necessary to include everything.

Practical and aesthetic subjects

In the long term, the practical and aesthetic subjects must be strengthened in school. The compulsory school must give pupils experience of and opportunities for development in a wide range of disciplines, whether they are aiming for higher education or a vocation. It cannot be expected that pupils will choose practical and aesthetic subjects if they do not encounter these subjects in primary and lower secondary school. Working life needs a high number of competences which the practical and aesthetic subjects in school offer. In order to summarize, the practical and aesthetic subjects represent a broad concept of competence which the subject renewal must reflect. Keywords such as physical activity, craft skills and understanding of food culture show how complex this discipline is.

The interim report concludes that, all in all, the profile of the practical and aesthetic subjects may be detrimental to pupils’ opportunities for in-depth learning because the subject curricula cover too wide an area. Being forced to “manage everything“ impact the possibility of conducting in-depth learning. In the music subject the performing aspects of the subject may appear to dominate over the experience and knowledge dimensions of the subject. The food and health subject appears to have become both more of a general studies and more of a vocational education programme. In the arts and crafts subject the main aim appears to be to embrace the breadth of the subject, but this may limit the opportunity for in-depth learning in individual topics.

The Committee emphasize that the interim report clearly shows that the subject curricula in the practical and aesthetic subjects are ambitious. An important first step to take in the renewal of these subjects would be to agree on how on the overriding level they should assume responsibility for the four areas of competence. There needs to be a thorough discussion on which place and function this discipline should have in the school of the future, and this discussion should examine issues relating to subject structure, purpose and content. The aim of the subject development must be to strengthen the practical and aesthetic subjects in the compulsory school so they will be relevant in a perspective of 20 to 30 years. The Committee argues that compulsory school, as well as the discipline environments, will benefit in the long term from a deep and thorough development in this discipline. Given the assignment to reduce and simplify, focus and clarify will encourage the discipline environments to prioritise.35

An example of subject development in the practical and aesthetic discipline may be to strengthen the public health perspective by creating a new subject based on well-being competence in how to master life. Knowledge about physical and mental health, lifestyle, personal finances and consumption are areas where it is necessary to improve what pupils should learn in school. The overriding rationale for the subject may be seen as being able to make responsible choices in one’s own life, and that capacity in this field can be learnt and developed in collaboration with others.

Health challenges such as obesity and mental disorders show why it is important that children and young people learn to take care of their own health and acquire knowledge about nutrition. As individualisation is a societal trend, it is relevant to provide a subject that gives pupils motivation and mastering experiences when it comes to taking responsibility for their own lives. Such a well-being subject can enable pupils to develop their competence in self-regulation and cooperation. Furthermore, critical thinking and problem-solving will be strengthened, for example in connection with assessing the plethora of at times conflicting health and dietary advice. If parallel topic areas in several subjects can be coordinated into a new subject, there will be better opportunities for creating learning processes leading to in-depth understanding.

Mathematics, natural science and technology

In a future renewal of science subjects the overriding goal should be to improve the competence of all children and young people in mathematics, natural science and technology. The committee recommends strengthening the position of natural science in primary and lower secondary education. The natural science subject in Norwegian primary and lower secondary school has a lower number of teaching hours than the subject has in very many other countries. Based on the importance of natural science competence for democratic participation and problem-solving in working life, the Committee finds that today’s number of teaching hours is too low. The teaching in the natural sciences at the primary-school level is particularly vulnerable due to the low number of teaching hours and the teachers’ low level of formal subject and subject didactics competence.36 The Committee recommends that the number of teaching hours should be increased in natural science corresponding to the reduction in the total number of hours in the language subjects. The Committee’s recommendation to strengthen the natural science subjects in compulsory school is supported by a new report that has reviewed the natural science subjects in Norwegian school.37

Mathematics, statistics and informatics will be more and more prominent in the classical natural science disciplines, such as biology, physics, chemistry and the geosciences.38 The natural science subjects in school can highlight mathematics competence, and natural science is also an important arena for practising mathematical skills. A change in the competence objectives will be required to link maths closer to the natural science and technological subjects that require mathematics.39

Figure 3.4 Illustration Chapter 3

Figure 3.4 Illustration Chapter 3

3.2.5 The common core subjects

While the pupils generally encounter common core subjects during all the ten years they are in primary and lower secondary school, they have more choices in upper secondary education. After the right to upper secondary education was introduced in 1994, and general and vocational studies were given equal status in the upper secondary structure, the extent of the common content in upper secondary education has been a recurring topic of debate among politicians, teachers, pupils and others. Pupils choose an education programme which either prepares them for university/college or vocational training, but still they also have subject curricula with competence objectives that are the same or similar up to a certain level in the subjects Norwegian, mathematics, English, natural science, social science and physical education. These subjects have curricula that cover the ideal learning trajectory from primary school through upper secondary school. The common core subjects have a general educational function in which they aim to stimulate pupil participation in social life and their leisure time regardless which vocation or education they choose.

There have been two rationales for why these general education subjects are also important for pupils who choose a vocational education programme. First, the common core subjects are important for the vocational education as such and for the vocation. For example, many will need good skills in English. Second, the common core subjects will make it possible for a pupil to change his or her mind in the system and then take supplementary studies to qualify for higher education.

The discussion of the common core subjects has primarily been in terms of the vocational education programmes. The intention of vocational orientation and relevance in the common core subjects has been clearly stated in the governing documents since Reform 94. This was initially formulated as a requirement that teaching in the common core subjects must be adapted to pupils’ education programme, and later defined so that subject matter, learning methods and vocabulary as much as possible should have relevance for individual practice of an occupation.40 Research shows that the understanding and practice in upper secondary education varies between teachers and schools, but in general there is a lot of productive solutions in practical adaptation for vocational orientation in the schools. The fact that there is structured cooperation between teachers teaching common core subjects and the teachers who teach programme subjects is seen as an advantage, but the most decisive factor for vocational orientation and higher pupil achievements is well structures classroom management and teachers who have solid common core subject knowledge.41

The Committee is aware that the structure of common core subjects and their content has been singled out by many as part of the reason for poor pupil achievements and high dropout rates in the vocational education programmes. The structure of upper secondary education is not part of what the Committee shall assess under the mandate here, but the content of the common core subjects must be assessed in the same manner as the subjects in primary and lower secondary school.

As mentioned above in this chapter, renewal of the common core subjects will follow the same principles for subject renewal as the subjects in primary and lower secondary school. The four areas of competence must also be emphasized in these subjects, and the subjects must allow for in-depth learning and good progression. Fewer competence objectives should contribute to reducing the amount of curriculum overload in the subjects. The common core subjects will be different from today’s subject curricula if the Committee’s proposal for subject renewal is accepted.

Another consequence of the subject renewal is that pupils can be expected to have better learning outcomes in primary and lower secondary school. The Committee finds that pupils in the school of the future will be more aware of their learning activities, that their progression in the subject will be clearer in all subjects and in all school years, and that they will have a higher reflection level than today because they will have had the opportunity to undertake more in-depth studies. These are important premises for the broadly composed curriculum groups that will be given the task of developing the subject curricula of the future for the common core subjects, cf. the discussion on curriculum models in Chapter 4.

The general education qualities of today’s common core subjects are also valid in the school of the future, and the Committee believes that it should continue to be possible for pupils to change their direction within the system. The Committee finds, however, that the common core subjects can be opened to the various education programmes and be made more relevant than is the case today, particularly for the vocational education programmes. The subject curricula in the common core subjects can be developed so that they give better support for the competence objectives in the programme subjects than is the case today, and thus help motivate the pupils for learning in all the subjects. This will require that the renewal of the common core subjects will maintain a high ambition level in the subjects, and that the competence objectives will be assessed as being of equal value, even if they are not the same. To create the desired horizontal coherence in the main curriculum, in the long term it will be necessary to revise the programme subjects in upper secondary education pursuant to the same principles for subject renewal as the common core subjects and the subjects in primary and lower secondary education. Then the common core subjects and the programme subjects will together form a more solid foundation for pupils’ learning and stimulate higher completion rates in primary and secondary education and training.

Pursuant to its mandate, the Committee shall assess neither the structure of upper secondary education and training nor the content required to prepare pupils for higher education. But it is important to point out that realising the Committee’s proposal for subject renewal will also have an effect on the content of the supplementary studies qualifying for higher education for pupils from a vocational education programme.

Textbox 3.5 The common core subjects

The subjects Norwegian, mathematics, English, natural science, social studies and PE have subject curricula that cover the whole learning trajectory, from primary school up, and are common for all pupils in upper secondary education, regardless the education programme. These subjects are completed at different stages in upper secondary education and training, but may be continued as programme subjects in some education programmes. All these subjects, with the exception of physical education, are part of the requirements for qualifying for higher education.

Through the common core subjects, pupils in vocational education programmes qualify for admission to universities and colleges in English and social science, while they must supplement their competence in Norwegian, mathematics and natural science if they to want to qualify for admission in these subjects.

3.2.6 Elective content in school

In primary and secondary education and training almost all subjects are common core subjects in the sense that all the pupils have the same subjects. This has been one of the main tenets listed under school’s responsibility as a holistic education arena preparing children for the future and giving them equally good opportunities to succeed, regardless their background. Primary and lower secondary school must, moreover, ensure that all paths to further education and vocations are accessible to all pupils, and thus primary and lower secondary school must give the pupils a foundation in many disciplines.

For several decades, and particularly in lower secondary school, there has been a discussion about the degree of common content as opposed to the need to allow the pupils to choose some of the content according to their interests and aptitudes. The right to upper secondary education and training, which was introduced in 1994, determined that the pupils needed the highest level possible of common competence to have high learning outcome from upper secondary education and training. Due to this, the elective subjects that had long been a feature in lower secondary school were removed. In the Knowledge Promotion Reform the pupils have possible electives in the languages discipline, as they may choose one of a number of foreign languages and choose either a foreign language or in-depth studies in a language, and an option has been introduced to choose mathematics instead of languages. Some schools also offer opportunities for students to get work life experiences.

The electives in lower secondary school were re-introduced in 2012 as a stage in increasing the motivation of pupils in lower secondary school.42 The electives have national subject curricula, are interdisciplinary and are assessed with grades. The elective subjects have recently been evaluated, and the main impression is positive.43 The evaluation finds that pupils appreciate the electives because they are practical and varied, as they may choose something they are interested in.

The subject renewal proposed by the Committee comprises all the subjects in primary and lower secondary school, including the elective subjects. The requirement relating to better in-depth learning and progression, the work with the four areas of competence across subjects and flexibility in the number of teaching hours within the framework of subject groups will together change school’s approach to the content of the subjects. The Committee finds that there will be much less need for elective subjects as a measure for motivation of pupils and to promote practical and relevant work than is the case today.

3.2.7 The Sami main curriculum

The principles underlying the subject renewal will also apply to the Sami main curriculum. The Sami Parliament is an important participant in the development of the subject curricula under the Sami main curriculum, as it is responsible for the curriculum in the Sami languages and duodji (traditional Sami arts and crafts). It is therefore important that the Sami Parliament is involved in the process of embedding the principles for subject renewal at an early stage in the process.

The main curriculum for the Sami Knowledge Promotion Reform has some subjects that are different from the ordinary curriculum for the Knowledge Promotion Reform (Sami and duodji), some subjects that are identical (mathematics and English) and some subjects that are parallel and equal. This means that they build on the subject curricula in the Knowledge Promotion Reform, but feature some special Sami elements and competence objectives (social studies, natural science, RLE, music, food and health).

Sami pupils have both Sami and Norwegian as their learning languages. They may have Sami as a first-choice language and Norwegian as a second-choice language, or the other way round. Some pupils also have a curriculum for both languages as first-choice languages. The subject curricula in Norwegian and Sami have been developed to supplement each other, and are thus good examples of how subjects in a discipline can cooperate on subject objectives. The ambition is that the pupils will become functionally bilingual. The distribution of subjects and teaching hours in the Sami Knowledge Promotion Reform provides a few more teaching hours than the ordinary curriculum to make room for both languages.

3.3 Examples of subject renewal

Earlier in the chapter the Committee recommended a set of principles that should be part of a systematic review of the school subjects to make them relevant in a perspective ranging over 20 to 30 years. It is recommended that a future renewal of the subjects in school should comply with these principles.

This section presents two illustrative examples of how curriculum developers might think and proceed when subjects are to be renewed. Neither of the examples cover the entire subject. Each of the examples rather examines particular aspects of developing a subject in accordance with the Committee’s recommendations: The four areas of competence, in-depth learning and progression. The purpose of the examples is to shed light on some important dimensions or to illustrate some important points.

The examples should not be understood as the Committee’s recommendations for how the subjects actually should be renewed. This is the responsibility of the expert communities, curriculum developers and the education authorities.

The example in 3.3.1 shows important building blocks in mathematics where engagement in the subject is one of them. Progression in the pupils’ development of engagement in the subject is outlined.

The example in 3.3.2 illustrates how the pupils’ social and emotional learning and development can be given a central place in the school subject of music, and how the competence can be assessed.

Figure 3.5 Illustration Chapter 3

Figure 3.5 Illustration Chapter 3

3.3.1 Mathematics

The example outlines a curriculum for the future with an in-depth learning perspective. It displays important building blocks in the subject and how engagement is one of these.44 The Committee’s ambition for the mathematics subject, stated in the interim report, is to examine in more detail how the subject may be developed with more in-depth orientation.

In this outline the relevance of the mathematics subject is related to a working-life perspective: The subject has links to many important areas in society, such as medicine, economics, technology, communication, energy administration and construction enterprises. Solid competence in mathematics is therefore important to qualify the pupils for working life and for strengthening Norway’s competitiveness. This relevance is also seen in a social perspective: A vital democracy needs citizens who can study, understand and critically assess quantitative information, statistical analyses and economic prognoses.

Components and topics in the subject

Competence in mathematics can be described by using five components.45

Understanding means building conceptual structures and seeing the relationships between concepts, ideas and procedures. Understanding is also about interpreting, understanding and applying different representations, and switching between representations based on what may be useful for a given purpose.

Calculation refers to the ability to carry out various mathematical procedures accurately, flexibly and appropriately. Pupils who carry out procedures flexibly may switch between different procedures and choose the procedure or procedures that would be most appropriate in a given situation, and they understand why it is valid.

Application (strategic thinking) means the ability to recognise and formulate mathematical problems, represent them in different ways, develop a solution strategy and assess how reasonable the solution is. Mathematical problems refer to both problems from daily life and society where mathematics may be applied, and also abstract mathematical problems and questions.

Reasoning refers to the ability to explain how one is thinking, to follow logical reasoning and to assess the validity of the reasoning. Reasoning also means the ability to see and give grounds for connections between different concepts, qualities and procedures, to argue for the validity of a hypothesis by forming reasoning based on known facts and to build the way to what is unknown and should be examined.

Engagement means being able to see mathematics as reasonable, useful and valuable, and includes believing that it is possible to acquire competence in mathematics, and that effort contributes to learning.

These five components are closely interwoven, dependent on each other and supportive of each other. Pupils must develop all five in parallel. The connection between the different components will then be reinforced, and pupils will have the opportunity to develop a mathematics competence that is lasting, flexible, useful and relevant.

In the development of the curriculum in mathematics one may envision collaboration between the components of competence in mathematics and topics in the subject: Numbers and algebra – measuring – geometry – statistics. One should work explicitly on the different components and topics, but it is also important to work with the connections between them.

Algebraic thinking and engagement

Below is an outline of how the competence engagement may be expressed in the topic of algebra. The outline shows how to envision the development of mathematics competence when focusing on algebraic thinking. Algebraic thinking means processes connected to generalisation, reasoning about “the general”, structure, patterns, connections and formalisations of these.46

Year 2

Engagement in algebraic thinking on the Year 2 level refers to looking for and using connections between numbers and operations as useful and interesting. Pupils should see the usefulness of representations of numbers, operations and various connections in different ways. They should also see the value of developing several approaches to the same type of problem.

Engagement also means that pupils should experience that it is possible to understand something eventually, even if it may appear difficult initially. What is needed is that pupils are willing to make an effort, and that they work with what is difficult.

Year 5

Engagement in algebraic thinking in Year 5 means seeing the value of representations of numbers, operations and various relationships in different ways, particularly using algebraic notation. This is also about finding it meaningful to see relationships between different quantities, and discovering structures and patterns.

Engagement also means believing that it is possible to understand (concepts, symbolic expressions, procedures) and learn to think algebraically, and to work with algebra if one makes an effort.

Upper secondary education Year 1

Engagement on the upper secondary level generally refers to being open, curious and inquisitive to algebraic issues, structures and expressions. It is about being open to exploring the algebraic landscape, and being willing to accept that one must invest time and make an effort to become acquainted with the concepts one is working on.

A metacognitive perspective on algebraic thinking, or pupils’ awareness about their own thinking processes, is important here. Then working with mathematics is not only about something foreign, but rather about the collaboration between personal cognitive development and the mathematics subject.

Summary of the example

In a development of the mathematics subject, as outlined in this example, the pupils can develop their attitudes and their engagement in the subject. The model itself with the subject components – understanding, calculation, application, reasoning and engagement – requires that pupils and teachers work with metacognition and self-regulation both within topics in mathematics and across them.

3.3.2 Music

The example shows how pupils’ social and emotional learning and development can be given an important place in the subject of music in primary and lower secondary school, and how this competence can be assessed. The example illustrates how interplay between the areas of competence in the subject may facilitate in-depth learning. Focusing on the relationships between areas of competence also has consequences for progression in the subject.47 The example does not cover all aspects of the subject, but rather outlines two areas of competence in the subject, creating music and experiencing music. Other important areas are performing music and analysing music.

Creating music

Creative activity in the music subject, for example by composing or producing music, may contribute to both development of knowledge about music and skills and to the development of creative thinking.48 Through creating music pupils may gradually gain greater understanding of the basic elements, styles and expressive possibilities of music. Creating music is also related to a flexible, open, spontaneous and free attitude to efforts to solve a problem.49 Creating music refers to the abilities and opportunities to create something new from something old, i.e. applying knowledge, skills and experiences to expand the already known or respond to new problem formulations. In pupils’ creation of musical ideas, in their communication of the ideas and their active response to the ideas of others (stance-taking), their improvisational and compositional competence and production competence may be developed from an everyday, explorative and play-like activity into more conscious subject knowledge.

Emotional aspects of creative music activities impact the identity formation of children and young people. Music is for better or worse an essential identity marker.50 Through creative work the pupils reveal themselves as and practise at being vulnerable, and they also take chances and express their own opinions, emotions and ideas. The pupils may experience the appreciation of their peers and social mastering through material and work forms the music subject can offer.

Progression and coherence can be expressed by means of

  • increasing levels of complexity in the musical expression, as well as methods and the use of technology in the creative process

  • increasing levels of stance-taking on the expressive aspects of creating

  • increasing levels of independence, responsibility and cooperation in the creative process

Experiencing music

Experiencing music is an important part of the performing and creative work in music, and in the analysis and contexualisation of music. The experience of music is a complex multisensory and bodily phenomenon, and may involve much more than just listening.51 Experiencing music may give valuable encounters with familiar and unfamiliar cultures and may contribute to pupils’ understanding of themselves and others.

Major portions of children’s musical repertoire, interests and preferences are acquired outside school.52 This preparation for musical interest is not necessarily homogenous, particularly in societies with increasing cultural diversity. Pupils who recognise “their“ music in school may have their personal identity confirmed. Music may unite but also confirm and reinforce differences and splits in society, not only during the adolescent years but also among children of day-care institution ages.53 The music subject may contribute to creating common musical experiences and a shared musical repertoire among the pupils.54 Such a sense of community may be very important and include forms for in-depth learning of music and interpersonal relationships.

Progression and coherence may be expressed by means of

  • experiencing music typical of historical and cultural diversity, through listening, dancing and other forms of experiencing

  • developing the ability to listen, both auditively and through the body, in one’s own performance and creating

  • increasing the ability to encounter music by means of analytical and contexualising concepts

Assessment of the social and emotional learning and development of the pupils

The competence concept applied by the Committee may bring important social and emotional aspects of musical competence to the foreground as part of the basis for assessment. Under the Knowledge Promotion Reform the competence objectives were designed with few social and affective dimensions. Formative assessment occurs continuously in the activities, in the form of feedback from the teachers and pupil self-assessment. Teachers may also assess the relationships between reflection and process.55

Table 3.1 offers an example of competence objectives for practice and performance, which are also subject and social objectives.

Table 3.1 Example of competence objectives in music

Competence objectives

Years 1–4

Shall be able to comply with simple instructions and practise and perform with co-pupils

Shall be able to follow the path of the music or the instructions of the director

Shall be able to remain focused in concerts, and on the teacher and co-pupils

Years 5–7

Same as Years 1 to 4, and also:

Shall be able to work, practise and perform independently with music alone and in groups

Years 8–10

Same as Years 1 to 7, and also:

Shall be able to contribute to establishing cultures for practice that are dominated by confidence and trust. Must be able to accept the musical initiatives of others

Summary of the example

The example illustrates that social, practical and emotional aspects of the competence concept provide opportunities to point out important aspects of the music subject in compulsory school. As a performing subject, a creative subject and an experience subject music deals with practical, social and emotional aspects of pupils’ learning and development in several ways.

Figure 3.6 Illustration Chapter 3

Figure 3.6 Illustration Chapter 3

3.4 The Committee’s recommendations

The content of the school subjects must be renewed to satisfy the future competence needs in working life and society, and to open for better understanding and learning that pupils may use later in life. The Committee believes that the most important consideration when the subjects are to be renewed is that the four areas of competence in Chapter 2 form the basis for making priorities and choices.

Research shows that pupils’ development of understanding takes time. This raises the issue of how many disciplines it is realistic that the school subjects should consist of, if the pupils are to have the opportunity to develop robust understanding in a given learning trajectory. If the subject curricula are to be productive governing documents and tools for the teaching staff, the content should be connected to important building blocks in the subjects, i.e. the key methods, ways of thinking, concepts and connections in the subject that pupils need in learning to develop a competence that will enable them to use what they have learnt.

The Committee recommends that the subject renewal should start in the disciplines in school and not in individual subjects. This means that the different subjects in each discipline must be considered together when the competences are to be focused on. Attaching greater importance to the key building blocks in the subjects in each discipline may eliminate some of the curruculum overload.

The Committee recommends a set of principles for renewal of the subjects in school. The purpose is to lay down premises to ensure that a future choice of competences in the subjects is undertaken in a systematic and knowledge-based manner.

The Committee recommends the following:

  • A future renewal of the subjects in school should follow the principles

    • the expectations/conditions for pupils’ learning

    • pedagogical, didactics, subject didactics and learning research

    • relevant disciplines and competences for the future

    • horizontal and vertical coherence in the curriculum

    • the breadth of the school objects clause

  • The four areas of competence shall be used to set the priorities in the subject renewal and should be highlighted in all the disciplines: subject-specific competence, competence in learning, competence in communicating, interacting and participating and competence in exploring and creating.

  • Subject renewal should start in the disciplines in school, and not in the individual subjects.

  • The subject renewal must focus on a close collaboration between learning sciences and subject didactics, and must facilitate in-depth learning in the subjects.

  • Principles must be established for strengthening the vertical and horizontal coherence in the subject curricula, for example to clarify the expected progression in pupils’ learning.

  • Mathematics competence must be visible in subjects where applying mathematics is an important aspect of the competence in the subject, and mathematics competence must be strengthened particularly in the natural sciences and social studies subjects.

  • A second foreign language should be introduced in primary school.

  • The subject renewal includes that interdisciplinary themes, such as the multicultural society, public health and life science, as well as challenges connected to sustainable development, should be addressed in curricula for several subjects in a systematic manner.

  • The common core subjects in secondary education should be renewed in accordance with the same principles as the subjects in primary and lower secondary school, and build on the competence achieved by the pupils in primary and lower secondary school. To achieve stronger relevance in the common core subjects, particularly in vocational education programmes, it is also recommended that curricula are also made for the common core subjects that fit the various education programmes, and which can fit together with the programme subjects for better learning for pupils.



Håkansson and Sundberg 2012


National Research Council 2012


Dewey 1996


Dewey 1916, Erstad et al. 2014


Aase 2005


The Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs (1993), Common Core Curriculum (L93)


Pellegrino and Hilton 2012


See for example Andersen and Krathwohl 2001


Biggs and Collins 1982


Gundem 1998


Hultin et al. 2014


The Directorate of Education 2014


Muller 2009


Hultin et al. 2014


Kvidal 2009


Savage 2005


Espeland 2014


In accordance with section 2-3 Content and assessment of lower secondary education of the Norwegian Education Act


Hultin et al. 2014


Alexander 2012


Hörnqvist and Björnsson 2014b


Sawyer 2012, Erstad et al. 2014


Mevarech and Kramarski 2014


Cf. Klafki 2001: Om tidstypiske nøkkelproblemer [On key typical time problems]


IPPC UN’s Climate Panel 2014: Femte synteserapport [Fifth Synthesis Report]


Isnes 2015


The Ministry of Education and Research 2011a


Cf. NOU 2013: 4 Kulturutredningen 2014 [The Culture report]


The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences 2015


Norwegian National Centre for Foreign Languages in Education [Fremmedspråksenteret] 2015. The Committee is responsible for the interpretation and use of input from the Foreign Language Centre.


Helland 2014


Haukås 2014


Mordal et al. 2013


Delord 2014


Espeland 2014


Cf. Bergem et al. 2015


The Directorate of Education 2015b


Isnes 2015


For a more detailed analysis of mathematics, natural science and technology see Bergem et al. 2015


NOU 2008: 18 Fagopplæring for framtida [Vocational training for the future]


Iversen et al. 2014


Meld. St. 22 (2010–2011) Motivasjon – Mestring – Muligheter [Motivation -mastering- opportunities]


Dæhlen and Eriksen 2015


The example is based on a submission to the Committee from the Norwegian Centre for Mathematics Education, see Valenta et al. 2014 and Valenta et al. 2015. The Committee is responsible for any interpretation and use of the input.


Kilpatrick, Swafford and Findell 2001


Kaput 2008


The National Council for Music 2015. The Committee is responsible for any interpretation and use of input submitted by the National Council for Music


Hickey 2003


Kaufman and Sternberg 2010


DeNora 2000, Ruud 2013


Jensenius 2009, Godøy and Leman 2010


Folkestad 2006


Vestad 2013


Ruud 2013


Eisner 1985

Go to front page