1. The education system...

1. The education system at the end of the 20th century: an overview


During the 1990s, education increasingly became a priority area of Norwegian political debate. It has been generally and nationally recognised that education is a key to economic, social and cultural development. Furthermore, at the dawn of the 21 st >century education is seen as essential for greater cohesion, solidarity and international understanding in a world of religious, social and political tension.

The Norwegian Government's vision of society encompasses a nation of tolerance and mutual respect, a society free of discrimination, where citizens master the art of living together, and where everyone may feel included and safe – independent of cultural origin, political conviction or religious belief.

Knowledge, skills and capacity can make a better life possible. The Government also has a vision of Norway as an advanced society, a knowledge society ranking among the best in the world, and a society able to make knowledge and competence available to all citizens, as well as to utilise the resources of all citizens.

The basic principles and priorities of Norwegian education policies today are

  • a high general level of education in the entire population
  • equal opportunity for all in access to education
  • decentralisation of educational administration
  • meeting long-term and short-term qualification requirements of the labour market
  • emphasis on a broad and general initial education, leaving specialisation to later stages and further training at work
  • lifelong learning (based on a "cradle to grave" definition)
  • a comprehensive education system with easy transition between levels and courses

The above-mentioned priorities cannot be reached without high-quality education and training available to all. Education for all is a basic precept of Norwegian education policy. The principle of equality in terms of educational provision has long traditions in Norway. During the last ten years of the 20 th> century, the overall aim of the Government has been to ensure equal rights to education for all independent of gender and social, geographical and cultural background.

Norwegian education policy is also based on the belief that people's ability to receive and to be motivated for new knowledge to a large extent depends on the quality of educational provision, focussing on the content and quality of education. The guiding principle for the 1990s has been to improve educational standards for the whole population by means of sector-wide improvement and consolidation of the system.

Compared to most other countries of the world, Norway is indeed in a favourable position as regards education. The public education system, the network of non-governmental organisations and other providers of education constitute a broad range of educational opportunities also for adults. Large resources are invested yearly by both the private and public sectors in in-service capacity building. There is a broad political consensus that the qualifications, skills and competencies of the population are essential prerequisites for economic development and further development of the welfare society. High and widespread competence is also a means to prevent unemployment.

Briefly on the status of Norwegian education at the turn of the century

Facts about Norwegian Education and Training
  • 590,000 pupils in compulsory education
  • 164,000 pupils in upper secondary education
  • 174,000 students in higher education
  • Approx. 1 million adults in various full time or evening courses
  • Approx. 85,000 teachers in compulsory education
  • Approx. 23,000 teachers in upper secondary education
  • 11,300 academic staff (full time equivalents)
Facts about Norway:
  • 4.3 mill people
  • 324,000 km 2>>
  • 14 inhabitants per km 2>>
  • 19 counties
  • 435 municipalities

The Norwegian education budget equals 6.9 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the year 1998. The average for countries with membership in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is 5.7 per cent (1998). The educational level of the population has risen considerably in recent years. 85 per cent of people aged 25 to 64 have upper secondary education or higher. 94 per cent of people between 25 and 34 years of age have upper secondary education or more.

A note on pre-primary education

In Norway early childhood or day-care institutions are the responsibility of the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs and participation is voluntary. The institutions are run by the local municipality or on a private basis. Some key data are given below.

Although not being part of the formal education system, day-care institutions serve a dual function: they provide care during parents' working hours while at the same time contributing to the education of children of pre-school age.

In 2000, approx. 51 per cent of all children in Norway between the age of 0 to 5 attended early childhood institutions. The coverage, low for the youngest children, increases with the age and reaches 81 per cent for 5-year olds.

The demand for early childhood institutions is relatively low for children less than a year old. The main reason is that employed women in Norway have a legal right to ten months maternal leave with 100 per cent salary. The cash support arrangement implemented in 1999 has somewhat decreased the demand for early childhood institutions as regards children between 1 and 3 years of age.

  • Early childhood or day care institutions cater for children from birth to five and are fee-paying.
  • The national level of coverage in early childhood institutions was approx. 51 per cent in 2000.
  • A substantial amount of kindergartens are run on a private basis with public support.
  • As an alternative to income-generating work, parents of children 1-3 years of age may choose to receive cash support from the State

The Day Care Institution Act instructs the Ministry to lay down a framework plan for the operation of day-care institutions.

A national Framework Plan was implemented in 1996. This plan states the fundamental principles, objectives, contents and activities of these institutions, as well as giving guidelines for the organisation and administration of municipal and private institutions.

Primary and lower secondary education

Compulsory schooling in Norway is of ten years' duration, and children start school at the age of six. Compulsory education is free and net enrolment is close to 100 per cent. The responsible administrative unit is the local municipality.

  • The number of primary and lower secondary schools in Norway is 3,260. The schools are situated in 435 municipalities.
  • 38 per cent of Norwegian primary and lower secondary schools practice multi-grade teaching (i.e. teaching children of different ages in the same classroom ).
  • In 1999, about 1.6 per cent of pupils attended private schools.
  • The teacher-pupil ratio in Norway is as high as 12.6 students per teacher, partly due to the many small schools.
  • The number of pupils in compulsory education (grades 1 to 10) was 580,000 in 1999.

Since 1997 the three main stages in compulsory education are:

  • Lower primary stage (grades 1 to 4)
  • Upper primary stage (grades 5 to7)
  • Lower secondary stage (grades 8 to 10)

As a result of Norway's scattered population, close to 40 per cent of primary and lower secondary schools are so small that children of different ages are taught in the same classroom (multi-grade teaching). Also, 59 per cent of lower secondary schools are combined with primary schools.

Primary and lower secondary education in Norway is founded on the principle of a unified or comprehensive school system that provides equal and adapted education for all on the basis of one single national curriculum. All young people are to share a common framework of knowledge, culture and values.

Compared with other countries, Norway has few private schools and no specific private school tradition. In 1999 only about 1.6 per cent of the pupils at compulsory school level attended private schools. The percentage is increasing slightly at the turn of the century.

Private schools are primarily considered as supplementary and not supposed to compete with public instruction. According to the Act schools can be approved on condition that they are:

  • established on religious or ethical grounds:
  • based on alternative pedagogical ideas;
  • established for Norwegian children abroad;
  • considered to fulfil a quantitative need;
  • providing vocationally orientated education which is not offered in the public system.

Private schools recognised by the State are given state support of 85 per cent of the running costs of equivalent public schools.

Upper secondary education and training

Upper secondary education normally covers the 16-19 age group (11th to 13th grade) and includes general, academic studies as well as vocational and apprenticeship training. Since 1994, everyone between the ages of 16 and 19 has had a statutory right to three years of upper secondary education. Upper secondary education is offered at county (regional) level.

  • The number of upper secondary schools in Norway is 512.
  • Upper secondary education is provided throughout the 19 counties of Norway, designed to make equivalent educational courses available to all.
  • In 1999, about 5.1 per cent of pupils at upper secondary school level attended private schools.
  • The total number of students in Norwegian upper secondary education was 200,380 in 1999.
  • The ratio of students to teaching staff in upper secondary schools is 9.9 students per teacher.

Upper secondary education embraces all courses leading to educational qualifications above lower secondary level and below the level of higher education.

In other words, upper secondary education in Norway may lead either to higher education, to vocational qualifications, or to partial qualifications.

  • General theoretical education and vocational training are offered side by side, often in the same school building.
  • Pupils take one of 15 foundation courses during the first year.
  • Specialised courses are offered in the second and third years (advanced courses I and II) and in apprenticeships after completing course 1.
  • Apprenticeship schemes are parts of the upper secondary school system.

After the implementation of the Competence reform (see Chapter 1.1 below) adults born after 1978 who have not completed upper secondary education, have the same legal right to such education as the 16 to 19 year-olds.

The law obliges county authorities to provide a follow-up service for young people between 16 and 19 years of age who are currently neither attending a course of education nor employed.

Adult education and training

Educational opportunities for adults and lifelong learning are two basic tenets of Norwegian educational policy. The focus of adult education lies increasingly on the provision of courses aiming at paving the way for adults to learning relevant for vocational life and/or higher education.

The aim of Norwegian adult education policy in the last decade of the 20 th> century has been

  • to raise the level of education of the entire adult population,
  • to meet the labour market's needs for skills and competencies, and
  • to satisfy the needs of individuals for professional, social and personal development.

Adult learning is an important prerequisite for the participation in economic activity, and for promoting social, professional and personal enrichment.

Furthermore, investment in human capital is essential to qualifying people for a constantly changing labour market, to improving the quality of life of individuals and to the strengthening of democratic participation.

Adult learning has a long tradition in Norway. Today adult education takes place in many different learning arenas: the public education system, regional resource centres, study associations, the so-called Folk High Schools 1Folk High Schools are mainly boarding schools owned and operated by a diversity of groups and bodies, ranging from Christian organisations to local communities and private foundations. Folk High Schools focus especially on the holistic development of personality and character of students. The schools offer general courses to young people and adults. Though the courses do not aim at formal examinations, they are meriting for entrance into institutions of higher education., distant education institutions, and in other private institutions and enterprises.

Higher education

Higher education in Norway is mainly offered at state institutions, notably four universities, six specialised university institutions, 26 university colleges and two national institutes of the arts, adding up to a total of 38 state institutions.

There are as many as 26 private higher education institutions with recognised study programmes, compared to the 38 state institutions. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of students attended the state institutions at the close of the century, i.e. 156,322 students or close to 90 per cent of the total of 173,961 registered students in 1999.

  • Higher education in Norway offered by the State is tuition free.
  • A financing system consisting of one part State grant (pt. 30 per cent) and one part State loan is designed to increase the social equity in access to higher education.
  • The total number of students in the higher education sector in 1999 was approx. 174,000.
  • Universities and colleges increasingly offer courses designed to meet the growing need for flexibility in distance and time as well as educational content, providing learning opportunities in higher education for new groups of the population.

The universities and specialised university institutions are engaged in both teaching and research. They offer lower and higher degree courses varying from four to seven years and also doctoral programmes. Particular efforts are currently being made to encourage students to register for courses in mathematics, science and technology subjects.

The aim of the 26 state university colleges is to make higher education more widely accessible while increasing the amount of academic expertise available to the different regions of Norway. The colleges thus make an important contribution to the decentralisation of higher education. Primarily they offer shorter courses of a more vocational orientation than those offered by the universities. In addition to teacher training and courses in engineering, health and social work and other courses of two to four years' duration, the colleges also offer undergraduate courses interchangeable with those offered by the universities.

Entrance to higher education institutions is normally gained on the basis of upper secondary education. Admission can also be granted on the basis of 5 years of work experience or a combination education and work experience, in addition to minimum requirements in certain theoretical subjects. After the implementation of the Competence Reform (see chapter 1.1 below), admission can also be granted on the basis of non-formal/informal competence.

A financing system consisting of one part State grant (30 per cent) and one part State loan (70 per cent) is designed to increase social equity in access to higher education. From 2002 the grant will be increased to approximately 40 per cent.

1.1 Major reforms and innovations in the 1990s

  • Norwegian educational reforms in the 1990s included
  • a reform of higher education in 1994
  • a reform of upper secondary education in 1994 ('Reform 94')
  • a reform of compulsory education in 1997 ('Reform 97')
  • a reform targeting the adult population in and outside the labour market in 1998 ('the Competence Reform').

The decade between 1990 and 2000 in Norway may be characterised as a period of reform encompassing the educational system as a whole, i.e. both structural reforms and reforms of the content of education from the primary stage to higher education.

The main motivations for the comprehensive reforms implemented in the 1990s were

  • the conviction that education will increasingly have to be considered in a lifelong learning perspective
  • the need to re-structure the educational system in order to create a more integrated, better co-ordinated, flexible and unified system
  • a need to review the content of education in order to enable the population to meet and master the major changes in society in adequate ways – in terms of technology, vocation, flexibility, culture, values etc.

Today, educational provision for children and young people is seen in the context of a coherent and continuous course of 13 school years. This has been made possible thanks both to the introduction of a common core curriculum for primary, secondary and adult education in 1993, and to the adoption of a common Education Act for primary and secondary education in 1998.

Generally speaking, the reforms undertaken in Norway during the 1990s are based on a broad concept of knowledge, where ethical values and attitudes, theoretical and practical knowledge and the promotion of creativity, initiative, entrepreneurship, cooperation and social skills are all part of a whole.

The legal framework of education

A common Act relating to primary and secondary education as from 1999

In 1998 the Norwegian Parliament adopted a new Act relating to primary and secondary education (the Education Act). This Act replaced a number of former educational Acts:

  • the Act concerning primary and lower secondary education from 1969 (establishing 9 years of compulsory education),
  • the Act concerning upper secondary education from 1974 establishing the principle of co-ordination of general upper secondary education and vocational training, as well as the statutory right to three years of upper secondary education for all young people,
  • the Act concerning vocational training from 1980,
  • and to some extent the Act on adult education from 1976.

In 1995 it had became clear that both the time that had elapsed since these Acts were adopted, and the major reforms being undertaken, did necessitate a thorough revision of the current legislation, with a view to preparing a legal framework better adapted to the new situation. The Ministry therefore appointed a committee to submit a report assessing to what extent the existing acts were instrumental in achieving national goals of education in the 1990s.

10 years of compulsory education

On the basis of recommendations presented by this Commission the Government in 1998 submitted a White Paper to the Parliament, proposing a common educational Act for primary and secondary education. The Act upholds the right and obligation to 10 years of primary and lower secondary education and the statutory right to 3 years of upper secondary education.

According to the Education Act of 1999, disabled pupils and pupils with special needs are entitled to instruction offered in the compulsory school, and they are integrated into the ordinary 10-year compulsory school. The municipalities are responsible for the education and training (both at primary, lower and upper secondary level) of children, young people and adults with special needs. Disadvantaged pupils may get up to 5 years of upper secondary education.

The Act lays down provisions relating to curriculum content, participation by pupils and parents, class size and mixed age groups, working environment and school premises, transport and lodging and a number of other topics. The Act normalises employment protection for teachers, while at the same time imposing requirements of police certificates and prohibiting the employment of persons found guilty of gross indecency.

The Act introduces an individual right to Saami tuition in primary and secondary education. Pursuant to the Act, the Saami Parliament is allowed greater influence on the content of Saami tuition and is also given the authority to decide parts of the content within a framework laid down by the Ministry.

Similarly, the Act also introduces a statutory right to Finnish tuition if at least three pupils attending a primary and lower secondary school in the two northernmost counties require such tuition.

Finally, the Act upholds and clarifies the responsibility of the State for supervision of primary and secondary education.

Acts on adult education and training

In 1976, Norway was the first country in the world to introduce a separate Act on Adult Education. The Act states that the aim of adult education is

"... to contribute to giving adults equal access to knowledge, insight and skills which will promote individual growth and encourage personal development as well as strengthen the basis for independent achievement and co-operation with other people in work and community life."

In 1999 those parts of the Act which applied to primary and secondary education for adults were included in the new Education Act. With reference to the current Competence Reform the Norwegian Parliament decided in June 2000 that adults in need of primary or secondary education be granted an individual and legal right to such education. The right to upper secondary education has already been put into force from autumn 2000, while the right to primary and lower secondary education will be implemented from August 2002.

Moreover, the Parliament has also amended relevant paragraphs of the Act on universities and colleges of higher education from 1995. This amendment gave adults aged over 25 and without upper secondary education the possibility to commence studies at a university or a college, provided that their non-formal/informal learning is approved by the institutions in question.

Finally, the Parliament in 2000 adopted an amendment to the Working Environment Act from 1977, giving employees an individual right to study leave as from January 2001. This right does not include any economic compensation. However, adults may now obtain study loans on better terms than hitherto. A commission appointed by the Government is currently considering economic compensation for adults with study leave from their place of work.

Acts on higher education

The legal basis for higher education was thoroughly revised at the beginning of the decade. In 1992, the Government set up a commission to propose a new law for all types of higher education. Based on the proposals put forward by the commission, the Government presented a Bill to the Parliament in 1994. Act no. 22 of 12 May 1995 on Universities and Colleges was put into effect as of 1996, and the 1989 Act on universities and 'university colleges' was superseded.

The new Act introduces a common legal basis both for the university and non-university sector, including the 'higher education Network Norway', and provides a common framework for student regulation, as well as for the management and organisation of the institutions to which it applies. The Act has been amended twice, in 1997 (regarding the merger of some institutions) and in 2000 (regarding admission to higher education, cf. the Competence Reform described below).

Private higher education is regulated by an Act of 11 June 1986 No 53 on the Recognition of Study Programmes at, and State (i.e. government) Funding of, Private Higher Education Institutions, a law administered by the Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs.

Norwegian private higher education institutions are not automatically entitled to such support. In 2000, there were 20 private higher education institutions receiving state funding for (part of) their activities, and 6 institutions with recognised study programmes without such funding. All of these have to send budget proposals, and yearly accounts and reports on examination procedures, numbers of registered students, graduates, etc. to the Ministry.

The organisation, structure and management of the education system

Primary and secondary education

Decentralisation of decision-making has been a general trend in Norwegian education since the late 1980s. The professional autonomy of educational institutions at all levels has gradually increased. A major step in the direction of decentralisation was made by the introduction of a new sector grant system in 1986, in which local and regional authorities receive a block grant covering all central government subsidies for school education and culture as well as the health service. As a consequence, the municipalities and counties now enjoy greater autonomy as regards educational provision.

Counties (regional) and municipal (local) authorities determine their activities in accordance with current legislation and regulations.

In addition, the Ministry emphasises the importance of placing responsibility for educational interpretation and local adaptation of curriculum and syllabi within the individual school. Standards and general frameworks of teaching are centrally determined by means of syllabuses stating objectives as well as national regulations for the conduct of examinations.

Administrative levels

Administratively, Norway is divided into 19 counties and 435 municipalities. These two administrative levels have the following responsibilities as regards education:

The municipalities(local administration)are responsible for primary and lower secondary schools (10 years of compulsory education). The local authority responsible for education is the municipal council. The municipality is responsible for the fulfilment of each pupil’s legal right to education, for the administrative running of schools, for the building and maintenance of school buildings, and for appointing teachers.

The counties (regional administration) are responsible for upper secondary education. Their responsibilities cover the running of schools, the intake of pupils and the appointment of teachers. The county is responsible for the fulfilment of each pupil’s statutory right to upper secondary education and training, for the administrative running of schools, for the building and maintenance of school buildings and for the appointment of teachers.

The State (The Ministry of Education, Research, and Church Affairs) has overall responsibility for higher education. With the introduction of a new Act on Universities and Colleges, applicable from 1 January 1996, the non-university sector (the State Colleges) has been given the same administrative responsibilities as the universities.

A characteristic feature of the Norwegian education system until the early 1990s was a large number of advisory bodies concerned with specific types of education. Through a comprehensive revision of the education sector, the majority of these were dissolved in January 1992, with the exception of the Council for Vocational Training, the Saami Education Council and the National Parents' Committee.

National support institutions

A National Education Office was established in each county in 1992. The head of the office has the title of Director of Education. The main emphasis lies on consultation with each school and municipality, though the offices also have functions related to quality control. Maintaining and facilitating communication among national authorities, teachers' unions, parental associations, and pupils' associations is also the responsibility of the National Education Offices.

In addition to the responsibilities common to all offices, the Ministry may choose to charge certain offices with special assignments. Their responsibilities have been extended to cover all levels of education, with the exception of higher education, where their responsibility is limited to that of co-ordinating higher education activities of relevance for the school sector, notably further education and in-service teacher training.

Two new national bodies were established during the year 2000, in part to address new tasks within education sector, and partly to take over tasks from former national educational institutions.

The Norwegian Board of Education, established with effect from September 2000, is a state institution with its own board of directors. The Board is a national centre for the education sector, replacing the former National Centre for Educational Resources and the National Examination Board. The new Board has also been assigned certain tasks, i.e. operative responsibility for curriculum development, educational research and development work, certain topics related to information and communication technology (ICT) in education, examinations in lower and upper secondary schools, and certain tasks related to information.

The Norwegian Institute for Adult Education (VOX), established with effect from January 2001, replaced three earlier institutions, i.e. the former Norwegian Institute of Adult Education, the Norwegian State Institution for Distance Education, and the State Adult Education Centre. The institute is assigned to initiate, coordinate and document research and development projects, to facilitate contact and collaboration among national actors, to establish networks for adult education, and to disseminate results.

Figure 1: Administrative levels and bodies in Norwegian education (2001)

Figure 1: Administrative levels and bodies in Norwegian education (2001)

Higher education

The 1995 Universities and Colleges Act prescribes a common organisational and administrative structure for the institutions to which it applies. Under this Act, the universities and colleges are governed by a board and as a rule also by a council.

In 1996, the Ministry issued a set of general rules concerning the elections of rector, pro-rector, board and council at universities and colleges (including provisions concerning the election of election committees). Elections of student representatives to the board and the council are done by ballot among all students to be represented.

It is worth noting that students must have at least two representatives in all collegiate bodies that are given decision-making powers, unless the delegating body unanimously – i.e. including student representatives – decides otherwise. Student bodies are legally entitled to be heard on all questions relating to students at the level concerned.

National support institutions in higher education

Network Norway was set up in 1994 to promote specialisation, cooperation and communication in order to reduce duplication between the higher education institutions.

The Network Norway Council became operational in the beginning of 1998 as an advisory body to the Ministry, particularly concerning long-term cross-institutional and national issues within higher education. Its activities are mainly related to

  • the distribution of disciplines and study programmes between higher education institutions
  • quality assessment in higher education
  • the academic assessment of applications concerning the recognition of private higher education
    • information about and recognition of higher education.

The universities and the specialised institutions of higher education are represented in the Norwegian Council of Higher Education, created in 2000 from the former independent councils of the university sector on the one hand, and of the university colleges on the other. Its aim is to coordinate the activities of the member institutions, and to contribute to a national policy on higher education.

A central body for open and distance learning at higher education level (SOFF) was established in 1990, with the main task to register and coordinate distance teaching offered by institutions of higher education. SOFF works to include different units in a national network and administers funds for research and development activities related to distance teaching and learning based on recommendations by the Ministry.

Evaluation policies, methods and instruments

Primary, secondary and adult education and training

The reforms in the educational sector are intended to ensure high-quality education and promote coherence in children’s and young people’s learning and development.

A continuing process of school assessment and teacher and management training accompanied the systemic and curricular reforms of primary and secondary education implemented in the period 1994 to 98. The reforms themselves have been subject to ongoing evaluation throughout the period of reform.

The primary and lower secondary school reform (Reform 97) is under evaluation by the Research Council of Norway during the period 1998-2003. The reform must be considered in conjunction with the reforms within upper secondary education (Reform ‘94) and in higher education. In addition to a final report, annual summaries and analyses will be prepared. The evaluation will address legal, economic, administrative, subject content and educational aspects.

The reform of upper secondary education (Reform 94) was subject to research-based analysis and evaluation from 1994 to 1998. The evaluation was designed to show to what extent the central aims of the reform were realised. The analysis provided information about and understanding of the ongoing processes in a form that made it possible to effect rapid adjustments and corrections with a view to better achieving the aims of the reform. The evaluation also formed the basis for a White Paper to the Parliament.

The following four areas were assessed:

  • scale and capacity
  • pupil through-flow and levels of competence
  • organisation and cooperation
  • the content and structuring of educational programmes.

There has also been considerable interest in how the reform affected marginal groups. Projects have been initiated related to ethnic minorities, to the statutory follow-up service, and to pupils and apprentices with special needs.

Higher education

The Network Norway Council carries out national evaluations and undertakes development work in the field of evaluation systems and methodology. The Ministry has instructed the Network Norway Council to develop guidelines and procedures for the institutions' internal quality assurance work.

The Council summarises the results of evaluations and follows them up with the aim of making them contribute to the general assurance and enhancement of quality in higher education. The Council's mission also includes the tasks of developing the knowledge bank that has been built up on evaluations and evaluation methodology, and to maintain international contacts in this field.

The Council's evaluations of higher education aim to:

  • produce relevant information about the quality of higher education in Norway
  • to support the institutions in their work to enhance the quality of higher education
  • to analyse educational outcomes in relation to defined aims and invested resources
  • to advise the Ministry in matters relating to the quality of higher education
  • to attain the same levels of professionalism as corresponding activities in other countries.

In all its evaluations, the Network Norway Council aims to ensure through standard procedures that the institutions under evaluation are involved at all important stages; i.e. in the process of formulating the mandate, in the general planning process and in the collection of data. The purpose of this is to ensure the relevance, quality and legitimacy of the process and thus the results of the evaluation.

Furthermore, higher education institutions have instructions to take systematic steps to assure and enhance the quality of their education, research and other dissemination of knowledge.

An evaluation of the Competence Reform is currently being planned, and will be effected within one or two years.

Objectives and principal characteristics of current and forthcoming reforms

The reform of primary and lower secondary education ('Reform 97')

During the last decade of the 20 th> century, the overall principles of primary and lower secondary education in Norway may be summarised as follows:

  • Education for all – free public education, equal access to education, education adapted to individual needs.
  • Integration – mixed-ability teaching, with integration of pupils with special needs into the ordinary schools.
  • Participation – pupils should be encouraged to cooperate in school activities and to be active in the life of the local community; close links should be established between school and home and between school and local community.
  • Decentralisation – the local authorities are made responsible for compulsory education. Local curricula may be developed.

From 1987 to 1997, teaching in compulsory education was based on Curriculum Guidelines drawn up by the Ministry of Education. This included learning to cooperate, taking responsibility, and having a say in the activities of the school: i.e. pupil participation and school democracy.

In 1993 the Ministry decided to provide a common formulation of the Common Core of the Norwegian curriculum, with a view to emphasising how the stages of education were linked together. (See chapter 2.1.b for more information on the common Core Curriculum.)

One flexible curriculum, with adaptations for certain minority groups

The new national curriculum for primary and lower secondary education was implemented gradually as from 1997. In 1999 new subject syllabuses had been introduced in all grades, i.e. grades 1 to 10. A special Saami curriculum was prepared for Saami pupils, the indigenous group of people living mainly in the northern regions of Norway. In addition, Finnish was introduced as a second language in the northernmost counties. (See chapter 2.1.b for more information on the new national curriculum.)

In accordance with the principle of integration and inclusion, all pupils in compulsory school in principle follow the same course of schooling, and work on the same subjects. There is no repeating of classes. The school is expected to adopt a variety of approaches in order to meet the needs of pupils with different backgrounds, interests and abilities. The syllabi stress that pupils should be active, enterprising and independent. Pupils should learn by doing, exploring and experimenting. Hence, active working methods are an important part of the 1997 curriculum (L97).

The reform of upper secondary education and training ('Reform 94')

At the beginning of the 1990s, changes in society in general and within the educational sector in particular, called for reform of Norwegian upper secondary education. The private sector called for a workforce with a broader and more updated competence, especially in technological subjects. There was also a call for greater flexibility and a better foundation for advanced training and in-service competence building.

The main elements of the reform launched for Norwegian upper secondary education and training in 1994 were

  • a statutory right to upper secondary education for all adolescents aged 16 to 19
  • improved coordination between school, business and industry
  • better recruitment to higher education from vocational training
  • the introduction of a follow-up service in each county
  • the reduction of the number of foundation courses and study areas.

Upper secondary education provides the pupils with either

  • university entrance qualifications, (certificate of upper secondary education)
  • vocational qualifications (trade or journeyman’s examination)
  • documented competence without certificate of upper secondary education or trade or journeyman’s examination
  • or the acquisition of other vocational competence.

The large majority of upper secondary schools in Norway offer both general studies and vocational training. Through the reform young people who seek craft or vocational qualifications are given the opportunity to achieve this in the school and/or at the workplace.

13 Foundation Courses, Advanced Course I and II

An objective was to take into account the need for broad general knowledge, i.e. avoid too much specialisation. Before the reform there were more than one hundred Foundation Courses. In 1994, the number of such courses was reduced to 13 (see Chapter 1.3). Specialisation now takes place gradually, in Advanced Courses I and II.

The main model for vocational training introduced by the reform consists of two initial years (Foundation Course and Advanced Course I) in the school and the final training (Advanced Course II) in business and industry, combined with productive work.

After 1994, pupils and apprentices who wish to obtain university entrance qualifications in addition to vocational competence, could take additional courses on completion of their technical or vocational training.

If a sufficient number of apprenticeship places cannot be secured, the counties are obliged to provide specialisation in the form of a final year in upper secondary school. The final examination (craft or journeyman's examination) is the same, regardless of whether the final training has taken place at school or a workplace. After 'Reform 94', the counties are also under legal obligation to establish a follow-up service for young people with a statutory right to education, but who are neither in training nor employed, including those whose education is discontinued.

Teaching methodology, advisory services and syllabi

Upper secondary education has been made available over the entire country in order to ensure that all young people have the same opportunities for education and training at this level. Reform 94 places special demands on educational methodology for differentiation, and on advisory services in upper secondary schools.

All groups receiving education based on the common core curriculum use one single set of syllabi. The syllabi are designed to facilitate teaching in modules. The adaptation of methods is the responsibility of the professional educator, assisted by the methodological teaching guides that accompany the syllabi.

The Competence Reform of adult education and training

Though Norway has a highly educated population compared to many other countries, research early in the 1990s gave rise to concern about the level of competence in knowledge based industries especially, and about the potential for flexibility and professional renewal among adults in a rapidly changing vocational landscape.

In 1996, a Government committee was established to inquire into continuing education and training for adults. The committee’s recommendations were included in a White Paper to the Parliament. The report was debated and passed in January 1999. An agreement between the Government and the social partners in connection with the wage settlement in 1999 is also an important basis for the reform. The reform has a long-term perspective and will be implemented as a process and in co-operation between the Government, the social partners and the various providers of education.

The main elements of the Competence Reform is

  • a statutory right to primary and secondary education for adults born after 1978 who did not complete upper secondary education;
  • entrance to higher education for adults above 25 years of age, based on non-formal competence acknowledged by an institution of higher education.
  • Legal rights to one year of study leave after two years of employment by the same employer.
  • The opportunity for adults to obtain documentation and recognition of non-formal/ informal learning at all levels of education.

The Competence Reform affects formal education as well as non-formal and informal learning provided in organisations and in the workplace. The reform is based on a broad concept of knowledge, where values and attitudes, theoretical and practical knowledge and the promotion of creativity, entrepreneurship, cooperative ability and social skills are all part of a whole.

The aim of the Reform is to embrace the whole adult population in and outside the labour market. It is focused on the needs of the workplace, society and the individual. Adults’ non-formal and informal learning will be assessed and validated upon entry into a regular programme in the public education system.

Substantial effort is also being put into the provision of educational opportunities for groups of adults with particular challenges, e.g. adults with inadequate schooling, mental or physical disabilities, reading and writing difficulties or an inability to speak Norwegian.

The reform of higher education

At the end of the 1980s, a process was started that would reform the structure of higher education in Norway dramatically. It was decided to review various aspects of higher education. Three royal commissions were appointed to discuss inter alia the national structure and organisation of higher education and research. Based on reports from these commissions, the Government in 1991 presented a White Paper on higher education.

Important proposals of the 1991 White Paper on higher education were

  • the establishment of 'Network Norway'
  • a reduction in the number of institutions by reorganising and merging existing colleges
  • a strengthening of core school subjects in teacher education, without extending the study period
  • the extension from ^2 to 1 year of the study period in practical and didactic training required for future teachers graduating from universities
  • an increased power of decision-making and responsibility to the operative units within the system of higher education, and development of better evaluationprocedures
    • stronger emphasis on internationalisation of higher education.

In 1994, the 98 former regional and vocational colleges were reorganised and merged to form 26 university colleges. Later on, seven colleges and academies of arts, crafts and design were merged into two new fine arts institutions.

The overall growth of the higher education sector in the 1990s has been remarkable. While in the 1980s about 25 per cent of a year's cohort took higher education, in the 1990s this had increased to about 40 per cent. From the autumn of 1988 to the autumn of 1999, the total number of students has increased from approximately 103,000 to approximately 174,000. Most of this increase came in the period 1988 to 1995. Since then, the enrolment figures have stabilised or decreased slightly.

It is worth noting that most of the increase in student numbers during recent decades has taken place within the non-university sector, and in 1995, approximately 50 per cent of the students in higher education institutions were attending a university college. Women were only admitted to university studies in 1884. In 1999, on the other hand, women constituted 61 per cent of all students, and 38 per cent of those obtaining a doctoral degree.

Higher education reforms in progress

In 1998, a Commission on Higher Education was appointed, and its report was submitted in May 2000. The main recommendations were related to

  • autonomy
  • governing structures
  • funding formulas
  • degree structures
  • the institutional landscape
  • accreditation
  • internationalisation and globalisation.

In March 2001, a White Paper was submitted to the Parliament on the basis of the report. The White Paper will be discussed in June.

1.2 Major achievements

Access to education

Equal opportunity for all in access to education is a basic precept of Norwegian educational policy. Wherever they live in the country, all citizens must have an equal right to education, independent of gender and regardless of social, geographical, cultural, religious and ethnic background.

Another fundamental objective of the education policy is to make sure that children, adolescents and adults with special needs receive an appropriate and meaningful education, including individually adapted teaching, preferably in their home community.

During the last decade the right to education has been gradually expanded both in quantitative and qualitative terms. Of a population of 4.5 million, more than 900,000 are currently undergoing education. In addition, approximately 1 million persons participate regularly in adult education courses.

The educational level of the population has risen considerably in recent years:

  • Approximately 83 per cent of people aged 25-64 have education in addition to the compulsory school.
  • 54 per cent of people over 16 years of age have completed upper secondary education, while 26 per cent have higher education.
  • The number of students has increased by approximately 70 per cent during the last decade.

Continuous efforts are made to facilitate access to higher education to students from all social groups, for instance by means of state scholarships and loans.

With the reform of compulsory education in 1997, the duration of the compulsory school was extended from 9 to 10 years. The 10-year compulsory school is based on, and consolidates, the principle of "one school for all". The same guiding principle is established in Norwegian adult and higher education.

After the introduction in 1994 of a statutory right to three-year education following the completion of the compulsory primary school (Reform 94), 96 per cent of all 16-year olds avail themselves of this right. This implies that today virtually all young persons in Norway receive 13 years of schooling. Hence primary school, lower secondary school and upper secondary school is being developed more and more on the basis of a comprehensive perspective of 13 years of uninterrupted schooling.

A recent legal amendment to the Act on Higher Education improves the access to higher education for adults. The amendment gives universities and university colleges the right to admit mature students (25 years or older) on the basis of both formal, non-formal andinformal competence gained at work and life in general, subject to tests of core academic skills (written Norwegian, English, in some cases mathematics). These students are admitted on probation, but may be awarded a general study competence after having passed their first-year exams.

In the following the principle of equal access to education will be presented more in detail with regard to special needs education and minorities.

Special Needs Education / Inclusive education

A legal right to five yeas of secondary education and training has been introduced when the need is documented

Sign language training has been introduced at a higher education institution

Cross-sector cooperation is emphasised in development of educational resources

Multifunctional learning resources based on digital media improve learning possibilities for disabled pupils and students

Capacity building is strengthened at local level

Priority is being given to adapting educational buildings to pupils/students with disabilities

As from 1991 a reorganisation of special education has taken place. A main objective of the reorganisation has been to change from a system of special schools to a system of full integration. Pupils with special needs are, whenever possible, integrated in ordinary schools. As a result only 1 per cent of the total pupil population is now offered education in special schools or special classes. The special schools run by the state were closed in 1992 with the exception of schools for the deaf.

The Core Curriculum states:

"The school shall have room for everybody, and teachers must therefore have an eye for each individual learner. The mode of teaching should not only be adapted to subject and content, but also to age and maturity, the individual learner and the mixed ability of the entire class. The pedagogical design must be pliable enough to permit the teacher to meet the pupils' differences in ability and rhythm of development with kindness and ease."

Important elements of the reform of special education have been:

  • The establishment of resource centres for pupils with various types of disabilities,
  • A five-year research programme (1993-98) administered by the Research Council of Norway.

All the educational reforms of the 1990s have paid special attention to vulnerable groups, such as pupils with special needs. The development is considered positive. However, there is still a need to develop further the services at local level.

Educational resources

The policy of including pupils with special needs in ordinary classes requires special measures concerning educational resources. The teacher today needs to be provided with a variety of resources that can be used when teaching pupils with different needs in the same classroom. Among other criteria are equal access to quality resources, regardless of where pupils live and the fact that the resources must be based on the national curriculum (L97). Educational resources should also strengthen social interaction.

As from the year 2000 the Norwegian Board of Education is responsible for co-ordinating development and production of resources in special education on a national level. In order to fulfil this task there is a state-funded cooperation between the Board, publishers, resource centres and developers of digital resources. During the last four years deaf, blind and dyslectic pupils have been given priority.

Multifunctional resources can be produced either in print or digitally (preferably designed for web publication). Digital media provide new opportunities for differentiation and media-independent publication. New resources will be evaluated to secure the quality and functionality of the products.

Recent research on the situation for adults in special needs education has concluded that although this group has a statutory right to adapted and individual assistance, there is still a need for both more knowledge and prioritising at local level. The local capacity building in kindergartens and primary schools has been positive. Research shows that parents are to a large extent positive as regards local special needs education.

At the same time, teachers, schools and kindergartens are mostly satisfied with the regional competence centres, covering different areas of special needs (for the blind, those with hearing impairments etc.) and other service centres in the national competence network.

Ten years of Action Plans for people with disabilities

As a follow-up to the United Nations Decade for Disabled Persons (1983-92), Norway adopted a national Plan of Action for people with disabilities in 1991. Based on experiences from the first two planning periods, the National Assembly decided in 1998 to prolong the plan. The third and final period runs from 1998 to 2002 (see References).

The plan of action is run in close co-operation between relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Education. Within the framework of the plan of action the Ministry of Education in 1998 asked all universities and colleges to develop plans of action at institutional level, with a view to ensuring equal access for students with disabilities.

Language minorities

  • The Saami people is an indigenous people living mainly in the northernmost counties of Norway
  • A special Saami curriculum was introduced in 1997
  • Language minorities are especially monitored in relation to reform evaluations
  • Norwegian as a second language and teaching of mother tongue until education can be followed in Norwegian language
  • Increased number of lessons of Norwegian with civics offered to adult immigrants
  • Development of a database on educational resources for language minorities

In the autumn of 2000, around 40,000 (or 6.8 per cent) of the 590,000 pupils in Norwegian compulsory education had a language minority background. Half of the pupils were given education in their mother tongue/first language, while more than 70 per cent were given additional training in Norwegian language. Among the 164,000 pupils in upper secondary education, around 6,800 (or 4.15 per cent) had an ethnic minority background.

Language minorities include small groups who have lived in Norway for a long period of time, such as the indigenous Saami people, cf. chapter 2.1 b) below relating to the introduction of a Saami curriculum in 1997. This curriculum enables Saami pupils to receive a sense of security in relation to the pupils' own culture and to develop Saami language and identity, as well as equipping them to take an active part in the community and to acquire education at all levels. State support is provided for the development of textbooks written in the Saami language.

The Saami College has a special responsibility for teacher training. According to the Education Act adopted in 1998 all children at primary and lower secondary level living in Saami districts have the right to receive tuition both in Saami language and through the medium of Saami. Outside these districts, if at least ten pupils in a municipality wish to receive tuition in and through the medium of Saami, they have the right to such education as long as there remain at least six pupils in the group.

Other language minorities include small groups who have lived in Norway for a long time as well as groups of more recent immigrants, including refugees and asylum seekers. Within compulsory education, pupils from language minorities are entitled to the same opportunities and rights, and have the same obligations, as pupils with Norwegian as their mother tongue.

Based on the right to have suitably adapted education, the municipalities have an obligation to provide Norwegian as a second language and teaching of the first language until the pupil has reached a sufficient level in Norwegian language to benefit from subject teaching in Norwegian.

The government allocates extra money to the municipalities for this purpose. The subsidy received depends on the number of language minority pupils and the number of language groups in the municipality. The government also provides grants for extra language teaching for pupils from language minorities in upper secondary education.

The Norwegian Board of Education works to improve the situation concerning educational resources for language minorities in primary and lower secondary school, upper secondary school and adult education. A database on educational resources for language minorities is developed. The Board supports the development of teaching aids within the following categories:

  • Norwegian as a second language
  • bilingual subject learning
  • different mother tongues
  • Norwegian with civics for adult immigrants
  • literacy training material for adult immigrants.

Gender equity in education

Genuine gender equality is seen as an important goal for society at the same time as it is an overall goal within education and research.

Gender equality features as an integral part of the Education Act and the common Core Curriculum as well as within the curricula and subject syllabuses for primary and secondary education. According to this education and training shall provide boys and girls, men and women with the same rights, obligations and opportunities for further education, family life, working life and other activities in society. The learning process should prepare them for education and a choice of profession according to ability and interest, irrespective of traditional gender expectations.

  • Special programmes have been established to recruit women to the sciences and engineering
  • Conferences have been arranged on themes related to women and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
  • A handbook, 'Handsome and Attractive', has been developed as a tool for teaching and learning about gender issues in primary and secondary schools
  • Special professorships reserved for women have been established
  • Gender issues have to been mainstreamed, i.e. considerations related to gender must be included in educational sector plans, frameworks and development schemes in general

There is a broad consensus on Norwegian policy issues related to gender equity in education. However, it must be admitted that there are still inequalities when it comes to the actual opportunities of boys and girls, as well as to those of men and women. It may also be argued that the overall aims and guidelines are rather generally stated, and that practical educational means and methods have been insufficient. Efforts are therefore continuously been made to improve gender equality, and this is a priority area in Norwegian educational policy.

As a practical way of meeting the need for teaching aids relating to gender equity, the Ministry of Education has quite recently published a handbook entitled " Handsome and Attractive". The aim is to inform and support cooperation between pupils, teachers and parents in gender equity activities at primary and secondary level.

The handbook also addresses the issue of vocational choices, aiming to stimulate young girls and boys to make less traditional choices – i.e. choices that in its turn could lead to a higher degree of gender equity in vocational life.

Gender equity in higher education

Also in higher education male and female students still make traditional choices: there is a majority of male students in science and technical branches, whereas female students dominate in arts, health and social studies. In quantitative terms, however, gender equality has been achieved, at least at undergraduate level. There are more female than male students entering higher education (61 per cent), but slightly fewer female students complete higher degrees. At doctoral level women are still underrepresented in many fields of study (except in the arts, education and nursing).

Special programmes have been started to recruit more female students to the sciences and engineering, including reserved places. There have been some local successes, especially in computing, but when it comes to total student numbers the effect has so far not been satisfactory.

Although the share of women among doctoral students is reasonably high (38 per cent), too few female graduates are able to start an academic career. It appears that women have special trouble making the transition from the doctoral programme (which normally is a four-year, paid position that includes some teaching duties) to a permanent academic position.

In order to ease this transition, some temporary postdoctoral positions have been created. To further correct this imbalance in teaching staff, the government has announced in its 2001 budget the establishment of special professorships reserved for women.

Quality and relevance of education

  • A 'Quality Development in Primary School' programme was launched in 2000
  • Activity related to development of quality indicators
  • Development and renewal of teaching practices and competence in each school is focused upon in in-service training programmes

Quality has been a major underlying concern and an objective of all governmental efforts within education over the past ten years. Structural reforms, efforts to ensure access for all to education, efforts for integration and inclusion, as well as focus on the development of social skills and pupil/student participation in education must be seen in this perspective.

Furthermore, participation in international cooperation, including involvement in international mobility programmes and development of quality indicators, is considered important for quality development and is given high priority.

Specific national programmes on quality have been developed as a follow up to the school reforms. A new programme, Quality Development in the Primary School, was initiated in 2000, giving particular priority to lower secondary education.

The work undertaken in quality development in school aims to raise the quality of the teaching to make it more in tune with the framework of the Education Act and the L97 and L97-Saami curricula. Local activities in particular aim to develop better conditions for the individual pupil's learning and development, and to develop and renew teaching practices and competence in each school.

Four perspectives should permeate local development activities:

  • adapted instruction
  • educational use of information and communication technology (ICT)
  • entrepreneurship
  • equal rights and opportunities.

State funds will particularly be used for further development of the learning environment, the pupils' work with subjects and areas of knowledge across subjects, pupil and teacher roles, the flexible organisation of schooling and new ways of working.

The Network Norway Council’s activities will also be related to quality assessment in higher education and to academic assessment of applications concerning the recognition of private higher education.

Quality Reform is the name of the forthcoming reform in higher education, and issues around quality will be key topics in the coming debate. Legal and administrative frameworks will have to be introduced to further ensure the quality of education and research in our higher education institutions.

Participation by society in the process of educational change

  • A recent survey indicates that close to 80 per cent of Norwegian parents are satisfied with their cooperation with school
  • Entrepreneurship has been introduced as a school subject
  • Establishment of school partnerships with local industries and enterprises
  • 'The Competence Building programme' aims to exploit the great potential for adult learning at the workplace

Cooperation between home and school

The national curriculum established in 1997 states the importance of close cooperation between home and school. Cooperation both within the school and between schools, parents, and local communities is seen as a vital means for achieving quality education for all. Homes and schools are seen as mutually dependent, and the curriculum encourages schools to draw subject matter from the local community.

A survey carried out by the Ministry in 1998 aimed at documenting the experience of parents of compulsory school pupils regarding cooperation between school and home. 78 per cent reported satisfaction with the cooperation. Half of the parents stated that they would like to take part in the school’s self-evaluation, and the same percentage responded that they were actively part of the decision-making process which they saw as important for the schooling of their children. 4 out of 10 parents felt that parents should have bigger influence and responsibility in school. The least satisfied parents expressed, inter alia a need for more information and a better dialogue with the school.

Cooperation between vocational life and the school community

At the national level there is a continuing dialogue between the social partners and the Ministry as regards the importance of cooperation between schooling and working life. An important body in this field is The National Council for Vocational Education and Training, an advisory body to the Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs in questions related to subject syllabi and the assessment of apprentices.

Enterprising skills and entrepreneurship as a separate subject or subject area have been implemented in many schools.

Entrepreneurship is a priority area in school, supported by seven ministries. The concept of entrepreneurship includes readiness for action and competence for innovation and creativity, enterprising activity and establishment both in a social, cultural and economic context. Pupils' enterprises/youth enterprises are important methods in the work of fostering entrepreneurship. A special project in this area is being carried out in three counties, the objective of which is to develop a strategy on how entrepreneurship can be implemented in an adequate way in school.

Partnerships between Education, Business and Industry

A partnership between a school and a local enterprise consists of a contract of mutual cooperation. The school achieves better contact with and information about the firm, and the possibility to organise and work out projects in cooperation with the firm, which may receive responsibility for the teaching and instruction in specific subjects and topics in the school. Until now, approximately 1,000 educational institutions including 30 higher education colleges have agreed on partnership contracts with enterprises.

Cooperation and interaction between higher education institutions and nearby public and private institutions are highly encouraged. This applies to pupil and teacher mobility as well as in program development and research.

The Competence Building Programme

As mentioned above, the Competence Reform affects all levels of the Norwegian system of education. With regard to both the preparation and the implementation of the reform, the authorities have cooperated closely with the social partners. This comes especially into view in connection with theCompetence Building programme, the general aim of which is to develop educational opportunities exploiting the great potential that lies in the workplace as an arena for learning.

The planning of the Competence Building Programme began in 1999 in close cooperation between the educational authorities and the social partners. The programme, which was launched in 2000, involves joint projects between the workplace and providers of education, in order to plan systematic learning and competence building. Projects are initiated by single enterprises, networks of enterprises, municipalities, branch organisations, tariff partners etc. Projects involving primary and secondary education for adults are also financed in this way. The use of ICT and multimedia are important elements.

1.3 Lessons learned

  • Upper secondary teachers are reluctant to change their traditional role with a facilitator's role
  • Offering choice and broad competence is crucial in upper secondary education and training
  • Relevant educational use of information and communication technology and digital media needs to be further developed
  • Good quality information and communication with the public and affected partners is crucial during reform work

The comprehensive school reforms are being followed up through evaluation. The outcome of the evaluation of the reform in compulsory education (Reform 97) will be considered in 2003.

In general, the research-based evaluation of Reform 94 shows that the upper secondary school system is more integrated, flexible and better co-ordinated. It also offers the pupils a broad foundation of competence. The quality of the education and training has improved, and so has the total use of resources.

The system of today has improved in promoting integration between levels, and facilitates transition from one level of education to the next. The research, however, also demonstrates that the change of the "traditional" role of the teacher into that of a facilitator of learning processes is a demanding one and takes a long time.

Modifications to Reform 94 deemed appropriate after the evaluation, are:

    • The implementation of Reform 94 led to a reduced participation rate of adults in upper secondary education and training. This was in part connected with the fact that the statutory right gained by young people resulted in fewer training places for adults. However, as part of the Competence Reform, adults lacking full upper secondary education and training have been entitled to such education and training as from 1 August 2000.
    • The Parliament has introduced two new Foundation Courses as from the academic year 2000, thus increasing the number of foundation courses from 13 to 15. The Ministry is discussing the possible combination of foundation courses, and a reduction of the number of advanced courses in the vocational areas of study. The motivation is to give pupils better opportunities, and also to offer the business and local industry a broader basis for recruitment of personnel.
    • Regarding curricula and working methods, the main principle of offering broad competence to education seekers is being further developed. The subject-specific curricula should secure a good continuity and connection between the primary, lower secondary and upper secondary school. Simultaneously, they should provide a solid basis for higher education and lifelong learning.
    • Specific nationally initiated measures have been taken to strengthen the work with individual adaptation regarding education and training for all groups of pupils. Further emphasis is put on resources related to the pedagogically relevant use of information and communication technologies in education and training, and on the use of digital media in the development of teaching material.
  • A three-year project aiming to enhance the guidance and counselling service for pupils and others with a need for education and training has been launched.

A note on the role of information and communication in periods of reform

During the ten-year period of reform in the education sector, the Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs experienced a steep rise in the demand for information and communication among the Norwegian public. This demand was related to two main aspects:

  • a strong need for general information from the Government about the contents of the reforms, about ways in which the various parties were affected, and on the time schedule for the carrying through of each reform,
  • an almost equally strong need for channels to submit information to the Government, giving their opinions, reactions and, at times, frustrations related to the changes affecting pupils, students, teachers, parents and other parties in the education sector.

Involvement by the general public in times of educational reforms is a positive sign in a democratic state. It signifies that the ordinary man and woman perceive education as an important part of his or her community. In the case of Norway during the 1990s, all reforms were debated by the Parliament and by the public in general.

To a large extent, the Ministry was during the whole reform period aware of the importance and relevance of information, and chose to give high priority to public information and communication before the implementation of major changes. It seems correct to draw the conclusion that in periods of reform, the public should be provided with relevant and good quality information at the right time.

1.4 Main problems and challenges

The Norwegian educational reforms during the 1990s aimed at securing access for all to education of good quality throughout all stages of life, starting with compulsory education from the age of six to 16.

However, there are still challenges ahead.

Challenges related to primary and secondary education and training

During the introduction of Reform 94, focus was put on the fact that giving all or almost all 16 to 19 year-olds access to upper secondary education and training would be a pedagogical challenge. A major challenge was to include pupils with physical, psychological or social disabilities.

  • It is important to monitor youth that drop out of the education system after lower secondary school.
  • Cooperation with other sectors is a primary concern.
  • With ageing of teaching staff, there is growing concern related to recruitment of teachers.
  • The full inclusion of pupils with physical, psychological or social disabilities is a challenge primarily at upper secondary level and in higher education.
  • There are not enough newly-trained young people available to meet the need for new competence.
  • Some immigrant groups are underrepresented in higher education.
  • The poorest educated participate least in in-service related educational activities.

The evaluation of Reform 94 shows a positive development. Further work with adaptation and differentiation for each individual pupil, without reducing the factual knowledge and competence requirements, will be a strong concern also in the time to come. The evaluation of Reform 94 shows that the greatest challenges remain in this area.

School dropouts

The follow-up service in each county is responsible for monitoring pupils who do not apply for a place in the upper secondary education and training system, who drop out, or are about to drop out from the education and training system. The follow-up service has a good survey of the target group. Between six and seven per cent of the pupils need contact with the follow-up service, which cooperates with other national, municipal or county bodies on the follow-up of each individual. The experience so far is that the follow up service is important and necessary.

However, while the educational follow-up service may be well functioning in itself, there are challenges related to the cooperation with other sectors. The cooperation between school and vocational life, as well as between educational, social and vocational authorities, should be enhanced in order to establish even better measures – i.e. measures that motivate individual school dropouts to return to school or to school-like activities.

Gender equity

Reports show that Norwegian schools work with gender equity issues to a modest extent. Consequently, the main challenge will be related to raising the level of consciousness and to securing the use of a newly produced tool for focusing on gender equity; the handbook entitled Handsome and Attractive (mentioned in chapter 1.2).

In particular, it will be important that the compulsory school makes use of the handbook as a source for choice of learning methods that

  • puts the focus on the increasing pressure on children and youngsters (through the media as well as through channels and models in their local community) related to body, fashion, sexuality and gender-biased violence,
  • can provide good education and highlight issues related to career counselling at an early stage, in order to stimulate less traditional educational and vocational choices.

Changes related to gender do not come easily. Nevertheless, in order to change the tendencies to an, in part, extremely gender-divided labour market, gender sensitivity should become an explicit part of the work with career counselling in the schools. Experience shows that contact with models of the same age as the pupils or direct experience at a workplace or area of study will be important. Some kind of support or incentive for those choosing an untraditional pathway might be considered.

The recruitment of teachers

With increased numbers of pupils at all levels of education and training in the years to come, and with the ageing of teachers, there is growing concern related to the recruitment of teachers. The authorities are following the situation carefully and are discussing specific recruitment measures to teacher training education institutions.

The situation is not satisfactory, especially when it comes to the recruitment of teachers in science, technology and foreign languages. Special measures have therefore been taken and a recruitment campaign has been launched in order to try to reverse this somewhat negative trend.

Challenges related to adult education and in-service training

Compared to most other countries of the world, Norway has a high level of education. Still, some adults lack basic education. The implementation of the Competence Reform granting adults the right to complete primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education and training, represents a considerable effort to establish an inclusive educational system comprising all citizens.

An essential condition for the building of competence in working life as well as in society at large is the ability and capacity of public and private schools, institutions, organisations and enterprises to meet the demand for education characterised by flexibility, accessibility, openness, quality and relevance. Furthermore, adults’ learning needs to be adapted to their everyday life situations in general, and to their job situations in particular.

Recruitment to production, industries and vocational life

There is a developing gap between the need for and access to new knowledge in the workplace. This is due to the rapid pace of change in society and in working life, and the fact that the labour force is growing older. There are not enough newly trained young people available to meet the need for new competence. Competence development initiatives must therefore be aimed more intensively at adults.

Though considerable sums are invested in competence development in the workplace by both the private and public sectors, many companies have no competence plans. There are major variations between industries and trades. It is particularly important to focus on competence development in small and medium-sized companies and development in the regions.

Challenges related to higher education

In its report, the 1998 Commission on Higher Education attempts to provide answers to questions resulting from developments during recent years within the institutions and in society at large.

It is the Commission’s view, based on clear signals from the universities and colleges, that many institutions and academic departments have difficulties with internal administration, organisation and coordination, and with finding sufficient resources for teaching and research. Both learning and research communities are afflicted by such problems.

To a certain extent, this may be due to the resource flow, and there seems to be a broad political consensus that a financial boost must be given to these institutions. However, there are also indications that large parts of the sector are suffering from structural problems that probably require more fundamental changes.

It is the responsibility of the universities and colleges to ensure that society is provided with an adequate supply of knowledgeable, competent and creative graduates able to make valuable contributions to cultural, social and industrial developments. The national and overall responsibility lies not only with the superior authorities, but also with each individual institution. The measures to be taken will be decided in the follow-up of the White Paper submitted in March 2001.

Access to education

Equal and fair access to higher education is a major goal of government policy, and the ambition in recent years has been to match the total supply of study places with student demand.

As a result of the recent slump in demand, some programmes nominally under numerus clausus, such as teaching and certain branches of engineering, have fewer applicants than study places, at least at a national level (not all colleges are equally popular). The shortage of graduates is expected to lead to serious manpower shortages in these professions.

Access to higher education for disabled young people and adults has become an area of political interest. In a White Paper (Report No. 21 to the Storting (1999-2000) Focus on Human Dignity – A Plan of Action for Human Rights), access to higher education for persons with disabilities was in focus.

Connected to its follow-up of the White Paper, the Government will evaluate the opportunities for persons with disabilities in the area of higher education and the need for closer co-ordination between the ministries concerned. A special working group has been appointed under the Committee of State Secretaries responsible for overall policy relating to persons with disabilities.

The recruitment of national minorities/indigenous people and recent immigrants

Another challenge is the recruitment of minorities to higher education, both indigenous people and recent immigrants. The Saami (indigenous) people have their own higher education institution, Saami University College in the north of Norway, where the language of instruction is Saami. The main programme offered is teacher training for Saami primary schools. In addition, some places at the northernmost university are reserved for Saami students.

Some immigrant groups are underrepresented in higher education, especially those with an Islamic background. Oslo University College has started a special introductory programme for students with Norwegian as a second language. This University College also has outreach programmes to immigrant communities where the tradition of higher education is weak.

Towards an inclusive education system

A society providing full access to good quality and relevant education for all requires on-going efforts affecting the whole education sector. Furthermore, an inclusive society in the 21 st> century encourages tolerance and acknowledgement of diversity. Some aspects of current Norwegian challenges related to diversity are mentioned below.

Language and ethnic minorities

Strong focus has been put on ethnic integration in Norwegian education and training. A recent report to the Ministry on young people with ethnic minority background in upper secondary education describes a conflict between the statutory right to education and training and the right of the enterprises to select their apprentices. The transition from school to training for an apprentice from a language minority has been difficult. In particular, applicants for apprenticeship in the male-dominated subject areas score badly.

However, the favourable economic situation in Norway around the turn of the century has improved the situation considerably for apprenticeship applicants with an ethnic minority background. Poor Norwegian language skills also seem a bigger problem for adult minority applicants than for the young ones. Moreover, the report shows that female apprentices with a minority language speaking background score well in the most frequently chosen subject areas, especially the health and social studies area. In this case, minority apprentices stand out as attractive and resourceful, due to linguistic as well as cultural competence.

Nevertheless, it is a challenge for the future to secure that youth with an ethnic or language minority background have a relatively equal representation in higher education compared to ethnic Norwegians. A good follow-up service and improved cross-sector cooperation may prove important in relation also to this challenge.

A similar sort of outreach strategy is considered necessary for another group of recent immigrants, namely illiterate female immigrants. This group is expected to be one of the main target groups in the Norwegian national follow-up of the World Education forum in Dakar (EFA).

Motivation and inclusion of the least educated adults

Both research and practical experience show that those adults who are perhaps most in need of it, are rather reluctant to seek continuing education and competence building – often due to bad school experiences earlier in life. Likewise, people with the poorest education are those who participate least in workplace competence development.

So far, it has proved a challenge to motivate and stimulate groups with low education to make use of the various educational offers provided by the Competence Reform.

Other challenges will be related to

  • creating greater acceptance for non-formal and informal competence as equivalents to formal competence;
  • utilising fully the possibilities embedded in the workplace as an area for learning;
  • increasing the enthusiasm and ability within the higher education sector for addressing capacity building needs in business, industry and vocational life in general;
  • strengthening the focus on unemployed adults, e.g. persons with disabilities and persons belonging to certain groups of ethnic or language minorities.
Inclusion of people with disabilities

Despite many positive traits of development in the Norwegian education system, it is still considered necessary to improve adaptation and differentiation in education and training offered locally. Recent research shows surprisingly big local variations in the local organising and contents of the special needs education and training offered at primary and lower secondary level.

In order to address the challenges, action needs to be taken simultaneously from the individual and the systemic angle. At the system level, one of the main challenges is to initiate and facilitate cross-sector cooperation.

According to the recommendations given in the United Nations Standard Rules for Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993), the Norwegian educational policy for access to education for disabled pupils and students aims at a cross-sectorial approach. The Government looks at challenges related to inclusion from different sectors and viewpoints.

In addition to the National plan of Action for People with Disabilities (1998 to 2002) mentioned in Chapter 1.2, other White Papers and official documents (addressing issues related to human rights, special needs education, the Competence Reform and technology) also relate in part to the needs of persons with disabilities.

ICT – a particular challenge for inclusion

Some official documents with references to inclusive education also have references to the principle of 'universal design' in their statements of goals and objectives. The principle of universal design encourages society to find political, technical and pedagogical solutions aiming to meet the needs also of persons with different types of disabilities, from the start of the planning and development stages of products, services, information etc. ’Design for all’ would often make special adaptations superfluous.

Though ’design for all’ applies to all areas of society, it may be said to apply in particular to Information and Communication Technology. Through the mainstreaming of solutions that make ICT easily accessible for e.g. mobility-impaired and sight-impaired and people with reading and writing disabilities, these groups would benefit dramatically in relation to education and working possibilities. If, on the other hand, ICT is not made fully and adequately accessible for vulnerable groups, information and income gaps in the population will increase.

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