Key features of the Education System
Norway is a large country, with relatively few inhabitants. 100 years ago, Norway was one of the poorer countries in Europe. Today, Norway ranks among the richest countries in the world. It is also a country with relatively low inequality. As is characteristic for the Nordic model, unemployment is low and income differences are small. The welfare state is well-developed, based on universal entitlements. Local authorities are responsible for basic welfare services, including basic education, and have substantial autonomy in allocation of resources between sectors and in provision of services. The municipalities are responsible for primary and lower secondary schools, while the county authorities are responsible for upper secondary education and training.
Norway is not a member of the European Union, but is through the EEA Agreement a full member of amongst others EU’s education programme, Erasmus+, and the framework programme for research and innovation, Horizon2020.
Education is key to maintaining high employment rates and a productive and innovative work force. It is also key to developing and refining a democratic culture. The Norwegian school system is inclusive; there is to be room for all and it is free of charge. Everyone is to be given the same opportunities to develop their abilities. Children and young people have an equal right to education, regardless of where they live, their gender, social or cultural background or any special needs.
It is important that children from different family backgrounds can meet on equal terms in their local community and have the same opportunities regardless of class distinctions or cultural and religious differences. In a modern society that is otherwise characterised by cultural diversity, the education system works as a glue in the community.
Most children attend kindergarten
Parents in Norway are entitled to 11 months parental leave with full salary, of 10 weeks are reserved exclusively for the father.
Children are entitled to a place in a kindergarten from the age of one. About 50 percent of kindergartens are private, but government funded. Fees paid by parents are moderate and are regulated by the government. Fees are the same for public and private institutions. Kindergartens in Norway take a holistic approach to the education and care of children under school age. Norwegian kindergartens are intended to promote well-being and enjoyment through play and learning, and to foster children’s natural creativity, sense of wonder and natural curiosity. Kindergartens shall also prepare children for school. Access to kindergartens of high quality brings about important benefits for children, families and society as a whole.
Inclusive education system
Primary and lower secondary school are mandatory for all children aged 6–16, whereas upper secondary school is a statutory right. Primary and lower secondary education is founded on the principle of a unified school that provides equal and adapted education for all students. There is a common national curriculum for primary and secondary education, but within this framework the municipal and county authorities, schools and teachers can influence the implementation of education and training.
The culture and traditions of the Sami community are part of the common Norwegian and Nordic culture which both the national and the Sami curriculum require that all pupils are acquainted with. In areas defined as Sami districts, teaching is given according to the Sami curriculum. The Sami Curriculum shall ensure that Sami pupils receive high quality teaching based on their own cultural background and the Sami language.
There are very few special schools. Also, grade repetition is not practised.
The school day is short for the younger children, and municipalities are obliged to offer day-care facilities for children in the lower grades. All municipalities are required to have a Culture school. These schools offer courses and training for children and youth in music, dance, theatre etc.
Culture schools often cooperate with day-care facilities for school children and offer courses for the children attending the day care centres. Parents have to pay a fee for participation in after school day-care and in culture school activities. Fees are set by the Municipality.
Statutory right, but not duty to attend Upper Secondary Education
Young people who have completed primary and lower secondary education, or the equivalent, are entitled to three – four years’ of upper secondary education or training. There are no age limit for entering Upper Secondary Education, but normal starting age is 16. Adults have a right to Upper Secondary Education if they have not already attended Upper Secondary. In upper secondary school the pupils can choose from three academic education programmes or nine vocational education programmes. General Upper Secondary last three years, while vocational programmes normally last four years.
Most vocational programmes consist of two years in school, followed by two years of apprenticeship. Social partners in Norway have a certain influence on the development of the content and organisation of vocational training. Vocational education and training can also provide access to higher education after a one-year bridging course.
The folk high schools are liberal education schools outside the formal education system. Folk high schools do not have a curriculum or examinations. Folk high schools offer both short and long courses, maximum 10 months. The schools are free of charge and mostly recruit young people from the age of 19.
Few private schools
Norway has relatively few private schools. Almost all private schools are approved by the government and are grant-aided. The main rule is that a private school must constitute a religious or pedagogical alternative, or follow an internationally recognised curriculum in order to be approved. Government aided private schools can only charge limited fees and are not allowed to select children according to performance or other subjective criteria.
Higher education free of charge
In higher education (ISCED levels 6 to 8), the degree structure is in line with the Bologna Process, with 3-year Bachelor, 2-year Master and 3-year PhD as the main model. The post-secondary vocational colleges at ISCED levels 4 and 5 provide a variety of courses of half-a-year to two years duration.
Norway is a small country in terms of population, but covers a large area. That is why there is a relatively high number of higher education institutions. With the exception of some private university colleges, all higher education institutions are state-run. By law, state-run universities and university colleges may not charge tuition fees for ordinary degree courses or professional training courses. This legislation is a key to ensuring that all citizens have the same right and opportunity to take part in higher education. To further support the principle of equal opportunities, all Norwegian students are entitled to financial support (grants and loans) to cover their living costs through the State Educational Loan Fund. To qualify for support from the State Educational Loan Fund you must usually be a Norwegian citizen. Foreign citizens can, on certain conditions, receive support for education in Norway.
Lifelong learning is an important principle of Norwegian education policy. Basic skills training and validation of prior learning play a significant part in our adult education policies.
Immigrants with legal permission to live in Norway have a right and a duty to take courses in Norwegian language and social studies for immigrants.
Stages of the National Education System
Compulsory education (Grunnskolen) is divided into two main stages: Primary School (barnetrinnet) and lower secondary school (ungdomstrinnet). Upper secondary education (videregående opplæring) is not mandatory, but young people who have completed primary and lower secondary education, or the equivalent, have a right to three years’ upper secondary education and training. Vocational education and training usually consist of two years in school and one year in-service training. In-service training at a training establishment is usually combined with productive work, so that an apprenticeship takes two years in all. General studies last three years and lead to general university admissions certification. It is possible for pupils who have finished their vocational education to take a supplementary one year programme to obtain general university admissions certification.
Higher education mainly have a degree structure in line with the Bologna Process. Post-secondary schools (fagskoler) cover a variety of courses of duration up to two years. Degrees from post-secondary schools at ISCED level 4 and 5 (fagskoler) are normally not accepted as part of higher education degrees.