Speech/statement | Date: 08/01/2008
In his New Year's Address Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said the Government in 2008 will meet with parents and school workers for dialogue on the quality of schooling.
Good evening, everyone,
The first day of the year is drawing to a close, and a new year lies ahead. The New Year’s babies will soon be one day old. As they blink for the first time at the light, at us, at the world, we see hope and expectation in their eyes.
We do not know what awaits them. But we do know that most of them will live longer than people of our generation. Life expectancy in Norway is increasing by one year every five years. If this trend continues, it will be normal in this country to live to a hundred when these New Year’s babies are old men and women.
By then, people will be living twice as long as they did when my great-grandfather was born in the 1860s. There can scarcely be a stronger indication of progress than this. More people have more of the gift of life. Societies with a high life expectancy do not come about by themselves. Such societies are created by people.
In six years’ time, these New Year’s children will start school. We all remember our first day of school. And as adults, many of us have seen the excitement and wonder in the eyes of young children as they enter the school for the very first time and glimpse a boundless universe of knowledge.
People have valued knowledge since time immemorial. In the poem “Håvamål” (The Words of the High One) in the Edda, it is said:
A better burden | may no man bear
For wanderings wide than wisdom
Fortunately, the Norwegian school system has many positive aspects, and many fine teachers who have my deepest respect.
We in Norway are used to being at the top of international league tables. But just a month ago, an international report showed that Norwegian schools are far from the top in important areas of performance. We are in fact below average. This is a serious warning.
The Government has got the message. We will carefully review the educational reforms that have been implemented in recent years. Have we gone too far in relaxing the structural framework surrounding the learning process? Have we transferred too much responsibility to individual pupils and parents?
We are going to invite parents and those working in and with education all over the country to take part in discussions. But above all, we will increase the focus on schooling. We will improve the teaching of reading, we will provide better teacher training, and we will ensure that more teachers have the opportunity to take part in further education and training programmes.
We will introduce longer school days and more supervised homework sessions. Schools are to be places of learning, for gaining essential skills in reading, writing and mathematics. Teachers are to have a clear responsibility for what children and young people learn in school.
In the years leading up to 2030, today’s New Year’s babies can look forward to growing up and finding their place in the adult world. Learning is something we all do, every day, throughout our lives. But it is at school that the foundation is laid. We must take this seriously, as others do. During a visit to UN headquarters in New York, I once found myself walking behind a petite young Chinese woman with the following printed on the back of her T-shirt: “You’ll be working for me one day”. This T-shirt shows the self-confidence and winning spirit of people who are not going to give up until they have the same standard of living as we do.
It used to be the US that fostered the most university graduates. Today China is producing twice as many. We are seeing an educational revolution that is lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. These young people thirst for knowledge and learning; they know it is the key to a better life.
This highlights the fact that we who are in positions of responsibility today must take action and meet our obligations to our children – namely providing them with the best possible education. Not just as means of getting a job and earning money. Knowledge in itself is a source of pleasure. And there is enough knowledge for everyone. The body of knowledge is not diminished when we share it with others. On the contrary, it becomes greater.
In a few years’ time, the North Pole may be ice-free in the summer. One thing we know for sure is that this year’s New Year’s babies will grow up under the threat of climate change. We must not allow things to get to the point where these children look at us with reproach and ask how we could let the earth get into such a terrible state. Not only is the ice at the poles melting. So is the snow on Kilimanjaro. And the glaciers in the Himalayas, which provide water for 750 million people.
We see ice melting and water courses flooding. Hurricanes mowing down people and buildings. Droughts destroying crops and taking lives. We have known about the threat of climate change for a long time. But the magnitude of the problem is now proving to be greater than scientists first forecast. The consequences are more dramatic. And the space of time we have to put things right is shorter than we thought. We realise the gravity of the situation. But it is important not to despair. These climate problems have been created by man. They can be solved by man too.
We must all do our utmost. This is why I proposed in April that Norway should undertake greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions than we have committed ourselves to. No other country has taken such a step. We are also setting an example in committing ourselves to reducing global emissions by the equivalent of our own level of emissions. This is what is called being carbon neutral.
During the climate change negotiations in Bali, prospects looked bleak for some time. But we have now started negotiations on a new international climate agreement that will be signed in Copenhagen in less than two years’ time. The rich countries must take a greater share of the responsibility. We must cut our own emissions. And we must help to pay for cuts in developing countries. This is fair, and will make it possible to achieve major reductions rapidly.
We must ensure that forest protection is included in the agreement. For forests have the capacity to absorb and store large amounts of CO2. This is also a way of achieving rapid reductions. This why Norway announced at Bali that we will intensify our efforts to preserve rainforests. Norway is taking the lead in this important environmental effort. If we are successful, our investment will lead to emissions cuts that are many times greater than Norway’s total emissions. The technology is simple. Everyone knows how not to cut down a tree.
We must also implement carbon capture and storage (CCS). This will take longer. The technology needs further testing. But all in all, we have the potential to halve the world’s emissions. The CCS project at Mongstad is under way. It is pushing the boundaries of what is technologically possible. This is why I referred to the Mongstad project as “our moon landing” in my New Year’s address last year.
We are on the way. There may be some disappointments on this journey – indeed we have seen that this may be the case – and we will overcome them. But we are still on the way. And we are not going to give up until we get there.
We must act in time! Martin Luther King put it this way:
In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. [...] We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late”.
Our New Year’s babies are among the most privileged children in the world. They have been born into a country of peace and prosperity. But the sun that rose above the mountain tops outside Kabul today did not shine on a country of peace and prosperity.
In his book The Kite Runner, Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini gives us an insight into life under the Taliban – a life of daily fear and terror. He describes the beatings of defenceless girls and women. Killings. Even music was forbidden. We read how football matches were stopped and the stadiums used for executing innocent people. And this was going on in our own time!
In November, I had a meeting with Afghanistan’s Minister of Education at the Oslo Public Library. The library includes in its collection a number of Afghan-language books, which are frequently borrowed. The Minister comes from a country where schools used to be closed to girls. Now there are nearly five million children in school, and nearly two million of them are girls. Nearly half a million girls started school in 2007 alone. The Minister said that Norwegian soldiers are helping to make all this possible. We will now further intensify our civil efforts in Afghanistan in the areas of health, governance and education. It is these areas that will shape the future of the country.
I would therefore like to send a special New Year’s greeting to the Norwegian soldiers and aid workers in Afghanistan, to this small band of people who are giving their time and their energy to make a difference on behalf of us all. Our military and civil personnel in this long suffering country are doing a tremendous job. For it is also New Year’s Day in Kabul, in Meymaneh , and in Mazar-e-Sharif, where a number of Norwegian servicemen and women are celebrating the occasion far from home.
I would also like to send a greeting to all our other countrymen who are serving the cause of freedom and reconciliation outside Norway’s borders. We are proud of the work you are doing.
We would like to express our gratitude to Their Majesties the King and Queen for their tireless efforts for our country. We extend to them and all the rest of the Royal Family our best wishes for the new year.
By now, most of the New Year’s babies have probably closed their eyes and fallen asleep. They know nothing of the opportunities that lie ahead of them. My generation will not see all that these children will come to see. But I believe that they will live in a world that is better than our world today. They will have opportunities that no previous generations have had. Opportunities to promote peace, protect the environment and bring about development. We need great achievements. And we need many small achievements too. Our generation will be judged by those who are now starting out on how well we equipped them for their journey, the knowledge and opportunities we provided them with, and the care we took of this earth that each generation has on loan.
This is the test that we must pass. Let us make the best use we can of the new year.
Happy New Year!
 Translation by Henry Adams Bellows.