OECD: Equity in Education

Rapport Equity in Education (Country Note) Thematic review fra OECD.

Rapport Equity in Education (Country Note) Thematic review fra OECD.

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Norway has an expensive education system. The results from international tests show that Norwegian fifteen-year-old pupils perform only at an average OECD level and that there is a bigger than average dispersion of scores despite the high level of equity within the system. Results from international assessments of adults of varying ages, however, show that Norway has one of the best educated working populations in the world. The integration of general and vocational courses within the same institutions and the lack of dead ends within the system together with a smooth transition to working life enable young people to continue learning and increasing their skills. Overall, Norwegian education has both strengths and weaknesses.

This Country Note has been prepared as part of the OECD Thematic Review of Equity in Education. The Country Analytical Report was prepared by an independent researcher - Vibeke Opheim of NIFU. The team of examiners included experts from Belgium and UK and two members of the OECD Secretariat. Unfortunately, due to illness the expert from Belgium was unable to fulfil her role.

The Review Team met on some sixty occasions over a ten day period in November 2004. It visited six schools or colleges, participated in meetings with officials, head teachers, teachers, parents, pupils and representatives from across the education system. The information gathered has been collated, analysed and debated over a five month period.

The full terms of reference were agreed with the Ministry of Education and Research. These focused on two key questions: how equitable is the Norwegian education system and what is its capacity – taking account of recent reform initiatives – to identify and resolve problems of equity.

The Norwegian education system is soundly structured and generally highly equitable. In terms of selection, access and transition it compares well with other countries. Norwegian young people at age 15 perform in international tests at the OECD average level but tests in the same year show Norwegian young adults outperforming most of their peers so as to become world leaders in measures of adult literacy. The interpretation of this apparent paradox is not straightforward, but one possibility is that school provision, while apparently unchallenging may avoid the stigma of educational failure and, in the process, develop the motivation to continue learning.

Up to now the Norwegian education system has had only a limited capacity to identify and resolve problems of equity. Its philosophical basis places equity at the heart of its endeavour but the lack of systematic information about pupils’ progress and the absence of means to evaluate the work of schools has meant that problems have not been recognised. Recent reforms have gone some way towards rectifying this situation. The establishment of the Skoleporten means that a great deal of information about schools is now in the public domain. But issues to do with the use of pupil tests and school choice are complex and contain risks as well as opportunities.

The strategy for improvement which is proposed in a series of detailed recommendations is predicated upon a cautious approach to further reform designed to improve the educational outcomes of fifteen-yearolds without damaging the system which apparently leads to adult success. Such a cautious approach would enable recent changes to be evaluated and any unintended consequences to be addressed, as well as reducing any risks of unbalancing what is, in essence, a successful and highly equitable system.


Building on Strengths

1. The basic structure of the education system should be preserved.

2. The current level of investment in education should be maintained.

3. The comprehensive, non-streamed model of schooling should be retained.

4. An increased emphasis should be given to the principle of adaptive learning.

5. Anti-bullying programmes, research and development should be maintained.

6. The life-long learning perspective should be retained.

7. Parity of esteem between general and vocational education should be preserved and the follow-up counselling service improved.

8. Reforms in basic education should be implemented cautiously, and monitored carefully, to ensure that smooth transitions from school to work are not damaged, and that high levels of adult literacy are maintained.

9. Additional suitable provision should be made for adults (including immigrants) who wish to pursue primary and secondary education courses.

10. The scope for innovation should be preserved and enhanced, particularly where it may improve equity.

Addressing Weaknesses

11. Abolition of the cash-benefit scheme and in future spending rounds – within a necessarily limited budget - priority should be given to support for early childhood education and care over the costs of tertiary education.

12. Municipalities, the teachers’ and the school students’ unions and parents’ representatives should draw up local rules for acceptable classroom behaviour.

13. Research should be undertaken into ways of supporting the early learning of disadvantaged pupils in danger of underachieving.

14. Municipalities, the teachers’ and school students’ unions should establish a working party to explore how expectations about pupils’ intellectual capabilities can be raised.

15. The establishment of a research project to consider how age-related subject benchmarks can be developed alongside the new testing programme.

16. The Ministry should pause after the initial rounds of testing, and the publication of Skoleporten results, to assess the impact of what has been done so far, and to consult on the next steps with the interested parties. In so doing it should:

attend to the risk that variation in schools’ quality might be increased by the flow of information in Skoleporten;

examine the experience of assessment in Sweden and Finland;

support the development of ‘added-value’ measures, and

launch discussions with municipalities and other stakeholders on the implications of potential increased demand for school choice.

17. The ministry and municipalities work with the teaching unions to devise a suitable range of intervention strategies.

18. The associations of local government and the head teachers unions write guidelines to deal with school interventions.

19. The ministry engages with the municipal authorities and the offices of the county governors in order to create an appropriate ‘ light-touch’ monitoring procedure.

20. The time devoted to multicultural, bilingual and special education issues in teacher training should be increased.

21. The funding methods used to support the needs of immigrants should be reviewed after consultation with ethnic minorities.

These recommendations have been designed to rectify the weaknesses of the education system whilst building on its considerable strengths. They need to be addressed in ways which are consistent with Norwegian traditions and culture. A successful response will require the active participation of those involved with the education system: Government, local authorities, the unions of head teachers, teachers and pupils, and parents. The benefits of such an improved system will be felt initially by Norwegian learners but, ultimately, by future Norwegian society.