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Education in Norway

Yesterday I was lazy and all I posted was a photo of my elementary school, so today I will try to do better! It was interesting that several commenters said that they were used to one-story schools. My school was built in 1920 or so, so it is rather old, but still I think most schools in Norway are more than one story. I loved my school and I especially enjoyed my sixth grade classroom, which was on the third floor and had a great view of the Oslo fjord.

Here is a much less picturesque photo - my middle school:
bekkestua_skole_132526f.jpg

In our February blogging group there are several educators - Amy, Girasoli, Eden, Barb, and Jerry come to mind, as well as Marcia who is a school librarian. I always enjoy reading what they have to say so hopefully they will find this interesting! (And jgk is also a teacher! I didn't know that but now she is on the list too!)

(Disclaimer: I am, well, very opinionated. Education is one of those things I have a lot of opinions about. It is also one of those things that are very, very complex and there are no easy answers. Further down, I bombastically declare that everyone should go to public school, but I realize that in many places that is not the best solution.)

First, the basics: Kids start first grade when they are six, or rather in August of the year they turn six, so some will not have turned six yet. First through tenth grades are mandatory. The mandatory years are divided into elementary school (first through seventh grade) and middle school (eight, ninth, and tenth.) High school (11, 12,13) is not mandatory, although a majority completes it. The sources I looked at said that close to 30% do not finish high school. There are many different kinds of high school: academic/university prep, technical, trade, etc. Students graduate high school the year they turn 19.

There is no mandatory pre-school, although most kids attend day care/pre-school, usually the ones run by the counties. They are very play focused and nobody is expected to read before first grade. I enjoyed reading Amy's post about how important play is and how every play situation is a venue for learning - I find that very true.

When I started school, first grade started when you were seven, not six, and since I am born early in the year I was well past seven when I entered first grade. Most people in the rest of the world find this fascinating! I learned to read when I was five, though.

Since I now live in the US, a lot of my comparisons will be between the US and Norway, but hopefully are interesting to the rest of you as well. Some differences I have noticed:

In Norway, kids have a different schedule each day. That could mean four classes one day, seven classes the next. When I was in school, we had 20 classes a week in grades 1 through 3, which meant an average of four periods a day. That is very little compared to the US! From fourth grade and until the end of high school we had 30 classes a week. I still remember vividly being in second grade and only having two classes on Thursday - which meant I was done at 10:15! I loved it; it meant I could spend almost the whole day playing! (They might have a few more hours now but I had a hard time finding information on this online. Must ask someone at home!)

In the early years, the class has the same teacher in pretty much everything. From fourth or fifth grade on they start having different teachers for different subject. However, it is the teacher that moves around, not the students, as opposed to the US.

You stay with the same class throughout the time you spend in one school. For instance, in my elementary school, there were three groups on each level: A, B, and C. That meant that I was first in 1B, then 2B, until 6B. In middle school it was the same thing, and in high school too, although in high school there are more electives so less time was spent with the group.

We started our first foreign language (English) in fourth grade - now they start in first grade. The third language is added in middle school and the traditional choice has been between French and German, although some schools now have Spanish as well.

There are no grades until middle schools. Of course there are comments like " Good job" or "Must work harder" but there are no grades until 8th grade. There are some political parties pushing for grades earlier but it hasn't happened so far.

There is also no ranking of students, even after they start receiving grades. I happened to find out that I was the top student in my high school graduating class when I went to pick up my final exam grades and the principal happened to tell me. Some argue that the focus on equality has been too strong in the Norwegian school, which means that good students may not be challenged enough, but I never felt that was a problem.

There are NO multiple choice tests! My favorite thing with the Norwegian school was that it taught me to think critically and write well. In seventh grade we had history and social science tests with just a couple of questions; often we would pick two out of three. The class periods were 45 minutes and I remember once writing 13 pages in one period. I will never forget anything about parliamentarism, Montesquieu or the separation of power for as long as I live! And I hate multiple choice tests. :) At the end of each semester, from seventh grade until the end of high school, we had day-long (five hour) exams in three or four subjects - Norwegian, Math, English and one other. My favorite part of the long tests was that we could eat during the tests!

At the end of middle school and the end of high school there are national exams in addition to the final exams in each school. In general, you have to do about three written national exams and one oral exam. In high school, I did five hour national exams in Norwegian, English, and Political Science. (I also did exams in Spanish but since my school didn't offer them I did at a sort of high school for adults kind of place.) I remember writing a looong essay about some Ibsen play for my Norwegian exam.

There are few private schools in Norway. Most kids attend the public school closest to their house. In general, it is only for high school that you can go to another school than the one you belong to, although in the last few years, some counties, like Oslo, has opened up elementary and middle schools as well. I am a public school fan myself, and I very much appreciate the way an elementary school is an important heart of a neighborhood, where people of all ages, not only the students, meet. I also think it is easier for the kids - they make friends who live in their neighborhood and it also means less travel. I walked or biked to school every day for 12 years and I appreciated that very much. I even skied sometimes!

In the numbers I found, less than 2% of elementary school students attend a private school. The private schools with the most reach in Norway are Montessori schools, Rudolph Steiner schools (I think these are called Waldorf schools in the US), and religious (Christian) schools. Interestingly enough, most of these receive 85% of their budget from the state.

As in many Western countries, test scores in Math and Sciences are dropping. Not sure what to do about that! In the US, some of the schools that have succeeded in getting tests scores up, employ rather dramatic methods, such as the KIPP charter schools, which extend the school day by a lot and also teach on Saturdays. I can't see that ever happen in Norway, and I also don't think it is a feasible solution for everybody.

This was a bit of a ramble but hopefully it answered some questions!

Comments (10)

Palma:

Very interesting! I was a teacher (4th, 8th and a vice-principal) before I went back to grad school to be a therapist. Foreign language in the 1st grade is very cool. It sounds like you got a great education! Now, so many of our high school seniors can't read!

What was discipline like? Was there a grade for "conduct"?

Very interesting, Chiocciola. First of all, you skied to school sometimes?! How cool!
I hate multiple choice too!
In Palestine, there is a national exam after graduating high school too. And they also start English classes at the first grade, and the a third language at the fifth grade. I took German.
Thanks for the informative post.

Thanks Palma! I bet you were a great teacher!

Discipline was not particularly strict, we got remarks on behavior and then from middle school on we got grades in conduct. I usually did pretty well but the older I got the more I talked.

Candi, we sure did! When we had a lot of snow, we would have skiing for PE so then we would ski to school and later in the day ski with our class. It was fun!

I didn't know they learned English from first grade in Palestine, that is cool. Do you keep up with your German - or have you maybe switched to Italian?

Chiocciola,
At some point I was pretty fluent with my German, I took few school-organized trips to Germany to practice the language. However, I haven't tried to speak it in years, I remember few things, and I think it may not take me long to relearn it.
I am trying to learn Italian though, I'd rather speak Italian than German:)

I was first in my class too...pretty cool that we have that in common! But what a difference...in my school, grades and class rankings were very publicized, and they really tried to make it a competition, which I don't think is a good idea at all (but competition is the American way, it seems). Overall the Norwegian system sounds much better.

sheri:

Loved reading about education in Norway. I also have very stong opinions about education in the U.S. and am an advocate of Public Education,, though as you noted it is sometimes not an option. If my kids were not accepted into the public magnet school in Philly we probably would have had to move. There is so (too) much stress on kids today and school is so competitive. I could go on and on, but I will stop!

jgk:

Hey, me too. I'm a preschool teacher and have been for about 25 years. Yikes--that's a long time!

JGK, I will include you on the list!

Candi, yeah, Italian is a lot more fun than German!

Annie, Sheri, it is a very interesting topic, isn't it? No easy answers.

Sorry I am so late to this post. I really enjoyed reading about education in Norway! How cool that you not only got to ski to school but you had skiing for PE! I know a lot of teachers here who would be thrilled with not having to do grades every quarter. Thanks for writing this post.

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