Tag Archives: Norway

Government funding and refugee migration in Nordic region

syria_children_refugee_camp

Photo: DFID

Our review of education news this week focuses on Nordic countries, where issues of government funding and the migration of refugees figure prominently. This brief scan shows that for countries such as Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the influx of refugees has implications for the classroom. For example, Norway is launching an innovation competition to teach Syrian refugee children to read. As The Nordic Page reports:

Norway is fronting an initiative to develop a smartphone application that can help Syrian children to learn how to read, and improve their psychosocial wellbeing. This will take the form of an international innovation competition in cooperation with Norwegian and international partners.

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, also recently announced that Norway will double its support for education between 2013 and 2017. In a statement published on MSNBC.com, Solberg stated:

The gap in education funding is vast. Reaching the new goals will require concerted efforts and major investments. National governments must lead the way. Innovative partnerships, including partnerships with the private sector, will play an important part. A crucial outcome of the Oslo summit on education in July was the launch of the International Commission on the Financing of Global Education Opportunities, which was welcomed by the UN Secretary-General. 

Similarly, Sweden has recently announced the addition of $3 billion to its national budget, intended to address education and housing issues, and to restore a welfare system that many feel has been depleted in recent years; however, at the same time the country has seen an unprecedented number of 6,901 people seeking asylum in just one week’s time—3,467 of them from Syria. As Reuters reports,

Local authorities will get more than 1 billion crowns extra for integrating refugees this year, with government also increasing spending to support refugee children in school. Total spending on refugees will rise to 19.4 billion crowns in 2016 out of a total budget of around 920 billion and up from an estimated 17.4 billion this year.

In contrast, Finland is grappling with a strong opposition to the influx in refugees, as well as controversial cuts to the education budget. According to The Helsinki Times, these cuts will have implications across all levels of education, but for primary education it will call particular attention to:

…the appropriations for the reduction of class sizes in primary schools. Terhi Päivärinta, a director at the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, believes it is consequently possible that class sizes will grow in some municipalities.

In each of these countries, plans for increases or decreases to educational funding were in the works long before this refugee crisis began. As they are now being implemented under somewhat different circumstances, it will be interesting to see how they unfold in the next weeks and months.

Deirdre Faughey

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In Norway, where college is free, children of uneducated parents still don’t go

Advocates see it as a case study proving that the problem isn’t solely about money

© 2015 Jon Marcus, as first published by The Atlantic.

OSLO—There’s a saying in famously egalitarian Norway that Curt Rice, the American-born incoming president of the country’s third-biggest university, likes to rattle off: “We’re all sitting in the same boat.”

What it means, said Rice, is that, “To single out anyone, we’re against that. That just does not sit well in the Norwegian soul.”

So all Norwegians have the same tuition-free access to college, no matter what their backgrounds. Every student gets the same allowance for living expenses.

But something surprising is happening in Norway, which explains a similar phenomenon in the United States that has been thwarting efforts to increase the number of Americans pursuing higher education.

Even though tuition is almost completely free here, Norwegians whose parents did not go to college are just as unlikely to go themselves as Americans whose parents did not go to college.

This conundrum demonstrates a critical point that’s widely misunderstood, according to higher-education experts: money is not the only thing keeping first-generation students from seeking degrees.

Even though it’s essentially free, only 14 percent of children from the least-educated families in Norway go to college, compared to 58 percent of children from the most-educated families.

“This is almost a laboratory case, where we get to control one factor — namely, cost — and see what happens,” said Rice, who in August will take over as head of Norway’s Oslo and Akershus University College.

And what happens is that — even though it’s essentially free — only 14 percent of children from the least-educated families in Norway go to college, compared to 58 percent of children from the most-educated families, according to an analysis by a Norwegian education researcher, Elisabeth Hovdhaugen.

That’s almost exactly the same proportion as in the United States, where the cost of college is borne largely by students and their families, and where the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation reports that only 13 percent of children of parents without higher educations end up getting degrees themselves.

“I don’t think that people do understand it’s not about money,” said John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, a coalition of organizations trying to steer more young people to and through college in the U.S.

It’s a huge issue, considering that fully one-third of five- to 17-year-olds in the United States have parents who did not go to college, the College Board reports, at a time when policymakers are trying to increase the number of Americans with degrees. They’ll be needed to fill the 65 percent of jobs by 2020 that will require some sort of college or university training, according to the Georgetown University Center for Education in the Workforce.

“Norway is an interesting window into this,” Gomperts said. “If you come from a background where everyone goes to college, there’s no question that you’ll go to college. But if you grew up in a challenging community where nobody went to or succeeded in college, there’s no one at home who is going to know how to navigate the system. It takes the right amount of social preparation and support. That’s the magic.”

The Norwegian system eliminates some obstacles in addition to cost. Except for kindergarten, primary and secondary schools are funded nationally, not locally, for example, so there’s ostensibly no difference in education quality between higher- and lower-income towns and cities, as there might be between wealthy suburban and poor urban districts in the United States. And the Norwegian funding system is very easy to understand, while the American system of grants and loans is complex and often confusing, even to families with college-going experience.

But the principle of social equality in Norway also means that there are no programs providing academic support to first-generation or low-income students in college, although there are a few for immigrants and women in fields in which they are underrepresented.

“Helping students from low socioeconomic status does not happen at all,” Hovdhaugen said in her office at the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education, across the street from the royal palace in Oslo. “It’s the idea of the equitable society, and that students are considered adults, independent of their parents. You could almost turn it around and say that if the students whose parents with high income were not eligible for support, that would be judged as very unfair.”

Also, because wages remain high for blue-collar occupations, she said, there’s less of a financial incentive for some Norwegians to bother with college, since they can get jobs more quickly, and earn almost as much money, working as plumbers or electricians. American advocates for higher education worry that a similar thing might be happening in the U.S., as people increasingly question the return on investment for degrees; a new federal report shows that the average annual earnings of 25- to 34-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees actually fell from $53,210 in 2000 to $46,900 in 2012, even as tuition continued to rise.

“A bachelor’s degree in the U.S. has been seen as one serious option for getting into the middle class, whereas in Norway everything is a ticket into the middle class, because everyone is in the middle class,” Rice said. “It’s now less clear that it really is a ticket into the middle class in the U.S.”

American students’ scores on the SAT and other college entrance exams also correlate with the level of their parents’ educations; the better-educated a student’s parents, the higher he or she scores on the tests, according to the College Board, which administers the SAT.

Since education affects income, children whose parents didn’t go to college are also unlikely to be well off, said Margaret Cahalan, vice president for research at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. And families that are less well off are statistically more likely to face health problems, problems with the law and unplanned pregnancies, among other challenges.

Students from such backgrounds “are going to be on average facing more obstacles than a student who comes from a more advantaged background,” including nonfinancial ones, Cahalan said.

With a third of U.S. primary and secondary school students now coming from families without higher educations, the most important lesson is that cultural, and not just economic, considerations may keep many of them from going on to college.

Young people from backgrounds such as these, when considering whether or not to go to college, often “don’t even really know that they can go to the library and borrow books” instead of buying them, said Gomperts.

“How do you know that? You’re not born knowing such a thing. And who’s going to tell you? Stripping away the money piece shows how complicated this is.”

This post was also published on The Hechinger Report.

Improving teacher education in Norway

In 2013, Karen Hammerness and Kirsti Klette reported on the efforts to improve teacher education in Norway. In this post, following recent conversations with members of the Ministry of Education in Norway, Hammerness puts the work on teacher education in historical perspective and describes some of the latest developments.

Norway is a particularly interesting country to follow in terms of teacher education policy. Questions about the quality of education came to the forefront in 2000, with the publication of the first PISA results (what some Norwegians refer to as “the PISA-shock”). Those results showed that Norwegian students had not performed as well as many had hoped or expected. In fact, along with students in the United States, Norwegian students’ outcomes, were slightly lower than the average of the OECD countries measured. Concerns continued to mount when the second round of PISA revealed Norwegian students’ performance declining further.

A weak system of teacher education was considered to be one of the key problems. Policy makers and educators pointed to several key challenges. First, teacher preparation was organized around a ‘generalist’ conception of teaching. At the time, the Norwegian system of teacher certification allowed teachers to teach all subjects at all grade levels—a conception captured by the term allmenlærer—roughly translated as “teacher of all.” Next, the quality—and size—of teacher preparation programs varied considerably throughout the country. Furthermore, teacher education coursework in the programs seemed disconnected from teaching practice and was not tightly tied to current research on teaching and learning. Finally, reports suggested a steady decline in applications to teacher education institutions, amplifying concerns about a lack of qualified teachers in the near future.

Teacher education reforms

In response, over the last five years, Norway has invested heavily in funding for work on teacher education and teaching and made a number of important policy changes. In 2010, building upon a white paper that had summarized key concerns about preparation of teachers, Norway transformed their system of certification and established two ‘lines’ or ‘streams’ of certification—a stream that prepares teachers for grades 1-7 (somewhat similar to a primary school certification in the US), and another that prepares teachers to teach grades 5-10 (when lower secondary school ends in Norway). A new national curriculum framework for teacher education was also developed and came into effect in 2010. The framework required more coursework on pedagogy and learner knowledge, including an emphasis upon research-based subject-specific methods, learners’ development, and classroom management. The new framework also created new graduation requirements including the completion of a bachelors’ thesis, related to teaching and learning. In addition, new regulations stipulated that teacher education programs would need to increase the percentage of faculty who have completed doctoral studies—ultimately, requiring programs to ensure that 50% of faculty have PhDs.

A proposal was also made to address some larger ‘structural’ issues that affected the quality of higher education. In particular, in 2008, the government released a report calling for a reduction in programs in higher education, including teacher education. Correspondingly, some policymakers expected that the new requirements might lead to significant restructuring, particularly among smaller and more remote teacher education programs. Conceivably, such programs might decide to focus upon one degree; they might start to share students, collaborate or even merge with other local institutions; or the programs might determine that they could not meet the new demands and might voluntarily choose to close.

Responses to the reforms

These moves to streamline programs are not easy in a country like Norway. Teacher preparation has been central to the identity of many of the smaller institutions throughout the country—reflecting a social policy that has been supportive of small institutions in a country in which the population has been somewhat ‘spread out’ across a wide geographical area. The existence of such small, local academic institutions (and teacher preparation programs) reflects a national investment and policy support for the deeply held value of living and working locally. This support for living in in widely-dispersed regions throughout the country in fact has been a historical Norwegian value–and it seems understandable, given that Norway spans about 2,500 miles from north to south (and, with 25,000 miles of rugged coastline, it is among the ten countries with the longest coastlines).

Norwegian educators point out that teacher education programs have been central to supporting and financially maintaining smaller regional institutions of higher education. As Øyvind Johnson, a Senior Advisor at the Ministry, noted, “Teacher education is the pillar of many of these small institutions.” Many of these institutions prepare only a very few teachers every year (although of course, they also are intended to prepare teachers who are committed to remaining local). For instance, reflective of the small scale of some of these institutions: a recent report found that of the twenty programs in Norway that prepare teachers for teaching in grades 1-7, as many as twelve institutions have fewer than 50 student-teachers, and two have as few as nine students.

The new requirements have put considerable strain on some of the smaller institutions throughout Norway to redesign, develop new curriculum, and to change program expectations. However, Ministry representatives reported that none of the programs thus far had chosen to focus only upon one certification ‘stream’ nor had any programs voluntarily closed entirely. At one point, the Ministry considered requiring programs to have a minimum of twenty students in order to remain open, but never put such a requirement in place. As Johnson noted, “If programs had under twenty applicants, what would you do?” In short, policymakers have been trying to develop policies that both strengthen programs and continue to provide support for small, local institutions (and local communities) all the while, maximizing flexibility and equity of participation. Not surprisingly, under these conditions, the number of teacher education programs that offered the allmenlærer degree has not changed since the reform: there were twenty programs prior to the latest reforms, and twenty remain.

What’s Next: A continued focus on “existing programs”

In considering future steps to continue to improve teacher education, the ministry has also just released a new strategy, Lærerløftet (or, raising teachers), which has set forth a set of key themes for continued improvement of teacher education. Top among them is the requirement that teachers in both streams will have to obtain a master’s degree. By 2017, all teacher education programs must be structured as 5-year programs. Senior advisors from the Ministry reported that several reasons underlay that decision: the desire to ensure that teachers are substantially well-prepared and the belief that an additional year beyond a Bachelor’s degree provides more depth of training; more support for teachers to use research in their teaching and to draw upon scientific knowledge in their work; and an opportunity for teachers to develop an understanding of the research base of teaching and learning through their work on a Master’s thesis. As Dalen Tennøe explained, “We looked to Finland, that teacher education should be research-based.” The latest strategy also calls for tightening requirements for entry into teacher education—Norwegian students are graded on a scale of 1-6 (1 being lowest and 6 highest), and currently the requirement has been that to enter teacher preparation one needed a three average in mathematics and Norwegian. Now, prospective teachers will need at least a four in mathematics to enter teacher education. Illustrating the challenges however, at the same time that the policy makers use the example of Finland to support the strengthening of these requirements, a recent newspaper article with the headline “Yrket som falt fra statustoppen” (the profession fallen from high status), shows that critics of these policies also use Finland as an example to argue that teachers should be granted greater autonomy without policy makers’ intrusions.

However the debate develops, Norwegian policymakers are not considering the development of alternative routes into teaching as a policy lever for improving teacher preparation. (For a related argument on why policy makers might not consider alternative pathways into teacher education, see Pasi Sahlberg’s post on why there is no Teach for Finland.) Senior Advisors in Norway were quite clear that the focus of policy was improvement of current programs, not on adding new or alternative pathways. Although Norway does have a “Teach First” program, it is the only alternative program in the country—it is offered at the University of Oslo and has only 20 students. As Fredrik Dalen Tennøe, Deputy Director General, Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, noted, “The main focus has been improving the teacher education programs which are there already, not introducing new [pathways] into the schools.”

 

Scanning the globe

Several reports over the past month highlight issues such as educational funding, early childhood education, new schools and school closure, and curriculum:

Funding

In the Phillipines, http://www.philstar.com argues that the country is not contributing enough to education. While education spending increased from 1999 to 2011 (13.9% to 15%), it has yet to reach the target 20% of the national budget. According to UNESCO, “The share of national income invested in education, which equalled the subregional average in 1999, had fallen behind by 2009 at 2.7 percent of GNP, compared with an average of 3.2 percent for East Asia.” In CanadaThe Globe and Mail reports that school boards have increased their spending over the past decade. In Canada as a whole, expenditures have increased 53 per cent – or 5.3 per cent a year, a rate much higher than inflation. In Australia, The Australian Teacher Magazine reports that the government is in the midst of a debate over the funding of education. While the government has committed to a new educational funding system for four years starting from 2014, officials are debating the timeline for the new funding system as well as the question of whether the funding should go to private schools as well as public schools. Meanwhile, The Norway Post reports that the Norwegian government is making plans to increase spending on teacher training.

Early Childhood Education

In Bulgariahttp://www.novinite.com reports that, in order to avoid a loss of EU funding, new legislation is being drafted and must go into effect by September 2014. Legislation includes revisions to a draft law on pre-school education, which include making pre-school education non-compulsory for 4-year-olds. Meanwhile, The Helsinki Times reports that Finland, where approximately 63% of children aged 1-6 attended daycare in 2012, is considering a new law that would “secure the high quality of early childhood education,” as well as all other issues, including funding and teacher quality.

New Schools and School Closure

According to Norways The Foreigner, Conservative Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen has proposed lifting current restrictions on establishing private schools. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the government has amended the Children and Young People Bill in order to defer decisions about school closures to new review panels. The aim of establishing these panels is to improve transparency and remove allegations of political bias from the process. In Lithuania, the Education and Science Ministry has approved a network of Russian-language schools, emphasizing that education programs of foreign countries and international organizations must be consistent with the education goals and principles in the Education Law of Lithuania, as well as the law on national security and other legal acts.

Curriculum

In Finland, The Helsinki Times reports that a high school reform task force delivered a proposal to the Minister of Education and Science in which they proposed reducing compulsory subjects, such as the study of Swedish, and introducing new interdisciplinary studies. The proposal has been met with resistance from some teachers and politicians. Meanwhile, in The New York Times, questions about the relationship between identity and the curriculum surface for Palestinian children who are educated in Israel, and Muslims who are educaed in Germany. The debate over language instruction is ongoing in countries such as The NetherlandsLatvia, and Japan.

In AustraliaAustralian Teacher Magazine reports on a new review of the national curriculum, which leadership feels should be pared back to basics. Kevin Donnely, one of two men who will conduct the review, raises concerns over teaching and learning, and considers the relationship between educational spending and learning outcomes. As he explains, “We really do need to know whether the millions and millions of dollars that’s gone into education over the last 20 years, where results have flatlined or have gone backwards – we want to know how effective that money has been.”

Denmark

Denmark’s latest education reforms require that both teachers and students spend more time in school, but what is the plan for how that time will be spent? A recent news report describes that it is the conservative Danish People Party’s view that in order to address a disparity between the number of students studying at the general upper secondary schools and the needs of the Danish job market, the government should limit the enrollment to upper secondary schools and increase the number of students studying at vocational and commercial schools. The ruling government, for it’s part, has developed a plan that focuses on ” improved academic standards, increased professional standards of teachers, principals and other pedagogical staff and clear objectives and increased local independence for the development of the public school.”

This follows reforms proposed in Norway earlier this year, which sought to review the practicality of the curriculum and explore how vocational education could better meet the needs of that country’s job market.

Teacher Education in Norway

In “Examining Features of Teacher Education in Norway,” recently published in the Scandinavian Journal of Education, Karen Hammerness, a Fulbright Grant recipient (2009-2010), describes the vision, coherence, and opportunities to learn she observed in teacher education programs in Norway.  In this post Hammerness and Kirsti Klette, Professor at the University of Oslo, Co-Directors of an ongoing study of comparative teacher education in Norway, Finland, the US, Chile, and Cuba, discuss recent teacher education reforms in Norway.

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Karen Hammerness, Inga Staal Jenset, and Kirsti Klette

At the beginning of this millennium, Norwegian educators and policy makers were surprised to find that Norwegian students had performed lower than the mean in comparison to other OECD countries (and in comparison to other Scandinavian countries) on international tests—a phenomenon that became known as “PISA shock.” In response, educators and policy makers in Norway took a number of steps to improve the quality of teaching, to boost recruitment into teaching, and to increase respect for the profession of teaching. For instance, in 2009, the Ministry of Education proposed new standards for teacher education curriculum and created new curricular guidelines. In addition, in recent years, the country has been investing substantial resources in teacher education, including supporting research grants intended to better understand and develop quality teaching and teacher education.

One of the key debates around teacher preparation today in Norway is one that we see in many of the other countries in our study as well—it revolves around the role that practice plays in teacher preparation. For example, the study described in “Examining Features of Teacher Education in Norway” revealed that the Norwegian teacher educators interviewed saw schools as the primary site where student-teachers should learn about practice: an assumption that learning about practice should be relegated specifically to school settings. They did not describe university courses as a site for novices to learn about teaching practice—reflecting a historical separation between theory and practice that has characterized the field of teacher education in many countries for years. This separation can make it difficult for student-teachers to see the relationship between what they learn in their university courses and their experiences in real schools.

However, some teacher educators in Norway are now embarking upon efforts to try to address these issues and bring the teaching of practice more directly into the teacher education curriculum. For instance, the teacher education program at the University of Oslo has redesigned its curriculum to focus upon core practices of teaching (such as observation of children; classroom management; and assessment of learning). Faculty report that the pilot program has been successful, in terms of student-teachers’ evaluations of their experiences and learning, so that initial plans to revise only the mathematics coursework have been extended to other subject areas.

These efforts in Norway build on work by educators like Deborah Ball and Pam Grossman in the U.S. who have been examining the teaching of “core” and “high leverage” practices to novice teachers. In our ongoing comparative  study of teacher education programs in five countries we are also seeing a number of different efforts to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Programs in Finland, for instance, have increased the use of videos that student teachers take of their own practice, so that student teachers have multiple opportunities to examine their own classroom teaching with expert teacher educators coaching them in their work.  In addition, the Oslo University program and a program in the US at Stanford University, provide student teachers with extensive opportunities to analyze pupil learning, drawing on samples of K-13 classroom work.  Meanwhile, student teachers at the University of Santa Barbara in the US and at the University in Havana in Cuba report that teacher educators explicitly model the kinds of practices discussed in class, such as how to give good feedback, orchestrate classroom discussions, and organize groupwork. All these examples reflect different ways that teacher education courses can make linkages between theory and practice. One of the challenges of this work, however—which we again see across many contexts—is that focusing upon teachings practice in university courses requires very different roles for teacher educators. This shift to practice demands teacher educators use many more materials and resources from real classrooms and requires them to shift their own teaching to provide more attentive and careful coaching around specific, targeted teaching practices.

For more information:

Coherence and Assignment Study in Teacher Education (CATE) at the University of Oslo

Scan of Ed News: Testing

Since 1995, children have been required to sit literacy and numeracy tests in their last year of primary school. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Since 1995, children have been required to sit literacy and numeracy tests in their last year of primary school. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Over the past month, a number of reports indicate a variety of concerns about testing around the world.  For example, Israel’s new Education Minister, Shai Pironhas decided to introduce reforms that would de-emphasize testing in order to “promote learning.” Similarly, China is taking small steps towards allowing educators to have input in test design (as opposed to government only). In contrast, the British government is acting in opposition to educators and parents to fight off an unprecedented alliance of hundreds of students, schools, local councils, and teaching unions, who brought a legal challenge over last year’s GCSE English exam grades. UK teachers are also protesting primary literacy exams, which they say leave little time for art, music, and books, and make children feel like failures. Chile has announced sweeping changes to the country’s university entrance exam, which has received criticism for flaws and bias; however, the concern in this case was not raised by educators and parents, but by Pearson, a company that describes itself as a leading provider of test development, processing and scoring services to educational institutions, corporations and professional bodies around the world. Pearson’s analysis revealed significant flaws and bias in the design of the exam.

In Singapore, surveys recently revealed that many educators and parents feel that students experience too much testing and a report on a recent visit by Dr. Dennis Shirley highlighted his suggestion that  the task of student assessment be handed over to the teachers, so that they can design their own modes of testing.  While the Singapore government has proposed several initiatives aimed at strengthening efforts to help every student succeed, none yet include substantial modifications to testing. While it might seem that the decision made by five schools in the town of Alesund, Norway, to change the date of the midterm exams so that students could attend a Justin Bieber concert in Olso, was an effort to modify testing to meet the needs of the students, it was also one for which officials saw no alternative. As one principal explained, they expected Mr. Bieber’s show would lead to sparse classroom attendance. “We considered that this was a battle that we could not win this time,” he said.