Thursday, July 1, 2010

PL 33/10: Norwegian schools – the evidence

Filed under: Uncategorized — plinius @ 8:45 pm

Governments produce as well as manage.

This blog post is part of the notes for today’s lecture on evidence based practice in the LATINA course (right).

Education and health are the biggest production sectors under direct government control. In Norway, education represents seven and health ten percent of the Gross National Product. The costs are largely covered by the government.

The percentages are growing. So are government concerns. The pressure is on – to deliver more health and more education for less (additional) money. But it is hard to design rational policies when we know so little about the effect of different strategies. This is true in both sectors.

Kristin Clemet, a former minister of education from the Conservative Party (“Høyre”), has made this summary summed of the situation in Norwegian schools in a recent article: Skolens resultater (July 1, 2010).

Google Translate provided a decent English version – which I’ve edited lightly:

Positive aspects

We know that there is much that is good in Norwegian schools:

  • There is a high satisfaction with the school population.
  • A large majority of pupils enjoy school.
  • We use more resources in school than almost any other country in the world.
  • There is good access to education for all.
  • The school is free, it is open to all, and there are many schools in sparsely populated areas.
  • We have a high level of education. Over 30 percent of the adult population has tertiary education.
  • Many students learn much at school, and there is reason to believe that we are doing well in oral English, in art and culture and practical-aesthetic subjects.
  • Norwegian students have good knowledge of democracy.
  • There are quite small differences between schools in Norway. It thus plays little role in your view of the school whether you live in Tromsø or Tønsberg.

Negative aspects

But there is also much that could be better:

  • Surprisingly many students have weak academic performance.
  • Nearly 20 percent of the students, ca. 10,000 students every year, finish school with such poor reading and writing skills that they can have problems with further education and work.
  • Some refer to them as functional illiterates.
  • There are large differences between students’ achievements.
  • Inequality as a result of social and cultural home background is reproduced in school, which does not contribute to social cohesion and mobility.
  • There is weak progression and significant drop out in secondary education, particularly in vocational subjects.
  • Nearly 40 percent of those who start on vocational subjects drop out
  • There is much noise, anxiety and waste of time in school.
  • Norwegian students distinguish themselves by having a weak repertoire of good learning strategies.
  • One of the main things school can do is teaching people how to learn, but in this area Norwegian students perform worse than students in many other countries.
  • There is too little training to fit the the individual student’s requirements and needs.
  • There is too little differentiation and variety in teaching.
  • A “soft culture” has developed in high school – a kind of implied contract between student and teacher not to make demands on each other.
  • There is a lack of a culture of learning – a lack of evaluation culture – in Norwegian schools.
  • It has refused to make demands on the students, to gain knowledge about the results and to act if something does not work.
  • Compared with most other countries, Norwegian students perform far below what one would expect from the use of resources and the country’s level of wealth.
  • This is not because we have created an egalitarian school with small differences between students.
  • On the contrary.
  • The Norwegian paradox is that we
    • Use more resources than almost any other country,
    • Have more academically weak pupils than many other countries, and
    • Create greater differences between students than many other countries.

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