Torgeir Onstad
Hege Kaarstein
Department of Teacher Education and School Research, University of Oslo

Overview of Education System

Norway has a centralized curriculum comprising all subjects for Grades 1 to 13. Parliament approves the curriculum through a process initiated by the Ministry of Education and Research, and involving expert groups. Within the frameworks set by the curriculum, local schools and teachers have considerable freedom to make their own decisions regarding organization and instructional methods.

Kindergarten or preprimary school is neither compulsory nor free in Norway, though every child has a right to attend. Following preprimary school, every child has the legal right to 13 years of education, of which the first 10 grades (Grades 1 to 10) are compulsory and free. The next three years of education (Grades 11 to 13) are not compulsory but are still free. Children enter first grade in August of the year when they reach age 6. Most students are enrolled in public school; private schools play a minor role in Norwegian education.1

School in Norway is divided into three main stages: Grades 1 to 7, Grades 8 to 10, and Grades 11 to 13. Together, the first two stages (Grades 1 to 10) constitute compulsory education, referred to as basic school. In basic school, there are few alternative programs and no streaming; almost all students are taught together in inclusive classrooms. This system is based on a broad political agreement to not create unnecessary differences between children.

The final three grades, Grades 11 to 13, constitute (upper) secondary school. Although education at this level is not compulsory, it is attended (or attempted) by the vast majority of the youth cohort in Norway. While certain basic subjects are common to all students, students choose from among a variety of general study programs that prepare them for tertiary studies and vocational programs.

In 2006, the National Curriculum for Knowledge Promotion was introduced. This curriculum retains the basic educational vision of previous curricula while providing a comprehensive curriculum for the entire school system for the first time. Fully implemented by 2008, the curriculum includes goals defined as competencies to be attained, and introduces five basic areas of skill (literacies), which permeate the curriculum across all subjects.2-5

Mathematics is a prominent subject in the Norwegian school curriculum, together with Norwegian and English; it is one of the core subjects covered on national examinations in the 10th grade. Much less instructional time is allocated for science during compulsory education, and there is no national examination for science in the 10th grade. However, the 2006 curriculum reform increased the amount of time allocated for both mathematics and science in the lower grades.

Languages of Instruction

Norwegian is the main language spoken in Norway, and the primary language of instruction at all levels of education. The Sámi population speaks and writes one or possibly two of the three Sámi languages, and in certain schools, Sámi is the language of instruction. Immigrant students may study in their mother tongue in addition to Norwegian. For more about language in the Norwegian school system, see the PIRLS 2011 Encyclopedia.6