Education in Norway
|Norwegian Ministry of|
Education and Research
|Minister of Education||Tonje Brenna|
|National education budget (N/A)|
|Primary languages||Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk)|
|Current system||Kunnskapsløftet, since the academic year 2006/7|
|Post secondary||82% (graduating)|
|Secondary and tertiary education divided in academic and vocational systems|
Education in Norway is mandatory for all children aged 6–16.
The school year in Norway runs from mid August to late June the following year. The Christmas holiday from mid December to early January historically divides the Norwegian school year into two terms. Presently, the second term begins in the beginning of January.
History of education in Norway
Organized education in Norway dates as far back as medieval times. Shortly after Norway became an archdiocese in 1153, cathedral schools were constructed to educate priests in Trondheim, Oslo, Bergen and Hamar.
After the reformation of Norway in 1537, (Norway entered a personal union with Denmark in 1536) the cathedral schools were turned into Latin schools, and it was made mandatory for all market towns to have such a school.
In 1736 training in reading was made compulsory for all children, but was not effective until some years later, when ambulatory schools (omgangsskoler) were also established. In 1827, Norway introduced the folkeskole (people's school), a primary school which became mandatory for 7 years in 1889 and 9 years in 1969. In the 1970s and 1980s, the folkeskole was abolished, and the grunnskole (foundation school) was introduced.
The Norwegian school system can be divided into three parts: Elementary school (Barneskole, ages 6–13), lower secondary school (Ungdomsskole, ages 13–16), and upper secondary school (Videregående skole, ages 16–19). The Barneskole and Ungdomsskole levels are compulsory, and are commonly referred to as Grunnskole (literally translates to "'base-school").
Elementary and lower secondary school are mandatory for all children aged 6–16. Before 1997, mandatory education in Norway started at the age of 7. Students often have to change school when they enter lower secondary school and almost always have to change school when they enter upper secondary school, as many schools only offer one of the levels.
Primary school (Barneskole, Grades 1–7, ages 6–13)
In the first year of primary school, students spend most of their time playing educational games and learning social structures, the alphabet, basic addition and subtraction, and basic English skills. In Grades 2-7, they are introduced to mathematics, English, science, religion (focusing not only on Christianity but also on all other religions, their purpose, and their history), aesthetics, and music, complemented by geography, history, and social studies in the fifth grade. No official grades are given at this level. However, the teacher often writes a comment, analysis, and sometimes an unofficial grade on tests. Tests are to be taken home and shown to parents. There is also an introductory test to let the teacher know if the student is above average or is in need of some assistance at school.
Lower secondary school (Ungdomsskole, Grades 8–10, ages 13–16)
When the students enter lower secondary school, at age 12 or 13, they begin getting grades for their work. Their grades together with their location in the country will determine whether they get accepted to their upper secondary school of choice or not. From eighth grade, students can choose one elective (valgfag) and one language. Typical offered languages are German, French, and Spanish as well as additional English and Norwegian studies. Before the educational reform of August 2006, students could choose a practical elective instead of the languages. Teens born in 1999 and later could once again choose a practical elective known as (arbeidslivsfag) or career studies upon starting lower secondary school, thus getting the option to choose two electives. The electives varies massively between schools, even in the same municipality.
A student may take the Grade 10 exam in a particular subject early as long as he or she has been granted an exemption from further instruction in the elementary/middle school curriculum of that subject.
In 2009, Norwegian fifteen-year-olds performed better in OECDs Programme for International Student Assessment than other Scandinavian countries, with significant improvement since 2006. In mathematics, however, the top scoring 10% were estimated to lag three years behind the top scoring students in Shanghai.
Upper secondary school (Videregående skole, Grades VG1-VG3, ages 16–19)
Secondary education in Norway is primarily based on public schools: In 2007, 93% of upper secondary school students attended public schools. Until 2005, Norwegian law held private secondary schools to be illegal unless they offered a "religious or pedagogic alternative", so the only private schools in existence were religious (Christian), Steiner/Waldorf, Montessori schools, and Danielsen. The first "standard" private upper secondary schools opened in the fall of 2005. Videregående is the equivalent to a high school.
As of 2017, graduation from videregående skole was at 73%. 
Prior to 1994 there were three branches of upper secondary schooling: "General" (language, history, etc.), "mercantile" (accounting, etc.), and "vocational" (electronics, carpentry, etc.) studies. The high school reform of 1994 ("Reform 94") merged these branches into a single system. Among the goals of the reform was that everybody should have a certain amount of "general studies" large enough to make them eligible for higher education later, meaning more theory in vocational studies, and it should be possible to cross over from one education path to another without losing too much credit. In the old system, two years of carpentry would be wasted if you wanted to switch to general studies, but in the new system you could keep credit for at least half of it.
Since the introduction of the reform Kunnskapsløftet ("the knowledge promise" or "the lifting of knowledge", the word løfte having two meanings) in the fall of 2006, a student can apply for a general studies (studieforberedelse) or a vocational studies (yrkesfag) path. Inside these main paths there are many sub-paths to follow. An upper secondary school usually offers general and vocational curriculum. Vocational studies usually follow a typical structure named the "2+2 model": After two years of school training (with workshops and short internship in industry), the student goes in apprenticeship for two years in an enterprise or a public institution. The apprenticeship is divided into one year of training and one year of effective work. Some vocational curriculum are nonetheless entirely school-based, and other include three years of apprenticeship instead of two.
The new reform makes the incorporation of IT into the schooling mandatory, and many counties (responsible for the public high schools) offer laptops to general studies students for free or for a small fee. Kunnskapsløftet also makes it harder to switch between electives that you take in the second and third year in the general studies path.
Students graduating upper secondary school are called Russ in Norwegian. They often celebrate with parties and festivities, which, impractically, are held a few weeks before the final examinations of the final year.
Educators in Norwegian schools
The titles of educators in Norwegian schools vary with the degrees they have.
- Pre-school teacher (Førskolelærer or barnehagelærer): These teachers are primarily employed in kindergartens and the first four grades of primary school. To become a pre-school teacher in Norway requires a bachelor's degree from a university college.
- Adjunct teacher (Adjunkt): These teachers primarily work between the 5th and 10th grades of lower secondary school, but some are also employed in high schools, usually in minor subjects. To become an adjunct requires a bachelor's degree in a particular subject from a university or university college. Many adjuncts have studied other courses at a lower level, which they teach as a secondary subject (a mathematics teacher may have studied physics at a lower level, but teaches both). In addition, a one-year course in pedagogy is required.
- Lecturer (Lektor): Lecturers work in upper secondary school and high schools, from 8th grade up to the third year of high school. Lecturers have a master's degree from a university, along with a pedagogy course. Lecturers usually have a more academic approach to teaching than other teachers.
Higher education is anything beyond upper secondary school, and normally lasts 3 years or more. To be accepted to most higher education schools you must have attained a general university admissions certificate (generell studiekompetanse). This can be achieved by taking general studies while in upper secondary school or through the law of 23/5 where a person must be above 23 years of age, have 5 years of combined schooling and work experience and have passed exams in Norwegian, mathematics, natural sciences, English and social studies. Some degrees also require special electives in second and third grade (e.g. maths and physics for engineering studies.)
Where there are more applicants than students admitted, applicants are ranked based on their grades from upper secondary school. To gain access to studies commonly requiring a high GPA, like medicine, law and engineering, many students re-sit their upper secondary school examinations to improve their grades.
Higher education is broadly divided into:
- Universities, which concentrate on theoretical subjects (arts, humanities, natural science), Supply bachelor (3 yrs), master (5 yrs) and PhD (8 yrs) titles. Universities also run a number of professional studies, including law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and psychology, but these are generally separate departments that have little to do with the rest of the university institution.
- University colleges (høgskole), which supply a wide range of educational choices, including university degrees at bachelor, master and PhD levels, engineering degrees and professional vocations like teacher and nurse. The grade system is the same as it is for universities.
- Private schools, which tend to specialize in popular subjects with limited capacity in public schools, such as business management, marketing or fine arts. Private schools do not loom large on the horizon, although the fraction of students attending private schools is 10% in higher education, compared to 4% in secondary and 1.5% in primary education.
There is no formal distinction between vocational and non-vocational higher education.
Timeline of Norwegian higher education
Before the 19th century the main source for higher education of Norwegians were the University of Copenhagen.
- 1750: The Norwegian Military Academy is established as the "Free Mathematical School" with officer training and technical disciplines such as geographic surveying, drawing, fortification and mathematics.
- 1757: The "Mining Seminar" is established at Kongsberg to train engineers for the Kongsberg Mines. This education was moved to the Royal Frederik's University in Christiania (Oslo) in 1814 (three years after the establishment of this university).
- 1811: The University of Oslo is established as Universitas Regia Fredericiana modeled on the University of Berlin (the "Humboldt Model").
- 1859: The Norwegian University of Life Sciences is established as an agricultural school at Ås, Akershus
- 1910: The Norwegian Institute of Technology is established in Trondheim.
- 1936: The Norwegian School of Economics is established in Bergen.
- 1943: The BI Norwegian Business School (BI) is established as a merchant school.
- 1946: The University of Bergen is established.
- 1961: The Oslo School of Architecture and Design is established.
- 1972: The University of Tromsø is established.
- 2005: Stavanger University College is given status as university, thus becoming the University of Stavanger.
- 2007: Agder University College (established 1994) is given status as university, thus becoming the University of Agder.
- 2011: Bodø University College becomes University of Nordland, the eighth university in Norway.
- 2014: Telemark University College, Buskerud University College and Vestfold University College merge to form the University College of South-Eastern Norway
- 2018: The University College of South-Eastern Norway gain university status, becoming the University of South-Eastern Norway
Norway has multiple different grading systems, both unique ones and ones that have been based on foreign grading systems. The formerly most common system of grades used at university level was based on a scale running from 1.0 (worst) through 6.0 (best) with 4.0 or above being considered passing grades.
The way the new Bologna system was introduced implies that students who had started their studies while the old system still was in effect will graduate with transcripts containing grades from both systems (i.e. both numbers and letters).
Lower levels of education use a scale running from 1 through 6, with 6 being the highest and 2 the lowest passing grade. For non-final tests and mid-term evaluations the grades are often postfixed with + or - (except 6+ and 1-) and it is also common to use grades such as 5/6 or 4/3 indicating borderline grades. However, the grades students get on their final diploma are either 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6.
At the conclusion of their school careers, upper secondary pupils aspire to graduate with a diploma. This is obtained by those who have passed all their subjects, and lists grades which are “based on teachers’ determination of overall achievement marks of their own students.” As well as these teacher-assigned grades, the students’ diplomas may feature one or more examination grades. A minority of students will be chosen at random to sit an exam; a concept which is called trekkfag in Norwegian. In English, fag means subject, whilst the verb å trekke can be translated as to draw or to pick, as one would describe picking a card from a pack. The dictionary translation of trekkfag is given as a description of the concept: “subjects students may be chosen to sit an exam for.”
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- Ministry of Education and Research (Kunnskapsdepartementet)
- The Norwegian Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Samordna opptak)
- The Education Mirror 2012 yearly publication from The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training with description and statistics on primary and secondary education
- The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (Utdanningsdirektoratet / UDIR) contains all syllabuses for elementary through to upper secondary school in Norway.
Reports from international organizations
- OECD Education Policy Outlook: Norway
- Information on education in Norway, OECD - Contains indicators and information about Norway and how it compares to other OECD and non-OECD countries
- Technical and vocational education in Norway, UNESCO-UNEVOC(2013) - Overview of the technical and vocational education system in Norway