Petter Skarheim behind table (press photo)

Petter Skarheim
Director of the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

The Education Mirror is a key source of information about kindergartens, primary and secondary education in Norway. It provides analyses of this year’s most recent figures. Many of the diagrams show developments over a 10-year period.
This edition marks the 10th anniversary of The Education Mirror. In other words, our “Mirror” started school in 2004 and has now reached the last year of lower secondary. This is a very important year for the “mirror” and its classmates in Year 10. They are on the threshold of the future and are about to start upper secondary. Most of them will succeed, but far too many will drop out along the way. The reasons behind the high drop-out rates are complex, and you can read more about them in Chapter 6 “Completion”.

If I were to sum up the state of Norwegian education at a national level with a single word, I would probably say “stable”. Things are stable for better or for worse. We are seeing positive trends in a number of areas, but elsewhere we feel that progress is too slow. Some figures also remain unchanged over time, when we would have wished to see improvements.

Children enter the education system at an early age in Norway, and every year we spend vast sums on our kindergartens, primary and secondary schools. The total cost is more than NOK 135 billion – 5% of our GDP. What is the return on this investment? The chapter on learning outcomes will tell us more about this.

In 2012 the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training assumed responsibility for the kindergarten sector. We will help create better kindergartens, and in order to do so we are expanding our knowledge base year by year.

Our “Mirror’s” little sister started kindergarten as a 1-year-old in 2012 and has now spent two years there. She is one of a large number of 3-year-olds (around 95%) who attend kindergarten. She loves to play, enjoys her days in kindergarten and appreciates the growing number of qualified kindergarten teachers.

Norwegian kindergartens have experienced a period of rapid growth, and it is especially encouraging to see a growing number of children from language minority backgrounds attend kindergarten. This is important to their language development, and we know that it has a great impact on how they perform in school later on.

+ Information
= Insight

We are facing major challenges, and we need a knowledge base in order to set ourselves clear and long-term targets.

  • Many more pupils should complete their education.
  • More pupils should be given apprenticeships.
  • Fewer pupils should experience harassment.


Kindergartens should provide a good environment for care and play, learning and development. The expertise of the kindergarten staff is a key factor, and we are noting an increase in personnel with formal teaching, childcare and youth work qualifications. This is a positive trend and one that shows we are seeing returns on our investment in skills development.

In terms of schools, we do not need a crystal ball to see that we will be needing even more good, qualified teachers in the years ahead. Over the next decade the number of pupils in primary and lower secondary education will increase by 60,000.

Norway spends up to 50% more resources on each pupil than the OECD average, and the teacher-to-pupil ratio is one of the reasons for the high level of spending. But do the results reflect the cost?

There is a clear correlation between results from national tests and where the pupils live. With few exceptions, pupils living in large municipalities achieve better results in national tests than do pupils from small and medium-sized municipalities. This pattern has remained stable year after year. There are differences between girls and boys, and parents’ level of education and earnings also have an impact. Compared to other OECD countries (the PISA survey), Norway performs about average. We are therefore unable to see the level of spending reflected  in the results from primary  and secondary education.

We are investing a great deal in improving the learning environment, because we know that a good learning environment has a significant impact on pupils and apprentices’ learning outcomes. The Pupil Survey has found that 9 out of 10 pupils enjoy school very much and that this figure has remained stable over time. The same is true for the kindergarten environment.

However, the Pupil Survey carried out in autumn 2013 also found that 11% of pupils have experienced being picked on or teased. The responses to the survey show that pupils in lower secondary are especially vulnerable to bullying. Further nationwide initiatives need to be introduced in this area. The objective is to improve the learning environment, increase pupils’ motivation, make the tuition more relevant, and let the pupils experience mastery.

We see that the pupils leaving lower secondary school with the poorest grades are the same pupils at risk of dropping out of upper secondary education later on. 17% of young people between 16 and 25 years of age have not completed and passed the upper secondary stage. In recent years the Follow-up Service (Oppfølgingstjenesten) has obtained a better overview of young people not in upper secondary education or training, and a growing number of them have become engaged in activity.

The proportion of pupils receiving special needs education had been increasing until this year. We have now noted a slight fall. This could indicate that schools are becoming better at adapting tuition within the ordinary curriculum framework. We strongly believe that early intervention at the right time is the correct “medicine”. Efforts must be made to help the child, pupil or apprentice as soon as the challenge occurs. A “wait and see” approach benefits no one.

Many of us care about the state of our kindergartens, primary and secondary schools. Every single one of us is affected by it one way or another. We are facing big challenges, but the knowledge we have about these challenges means we can take steps to overcome them.

We have set out clear objectives. Many more pupils should complete their education. More pupils should be given apprenticeships. Fewer pupils should experience bullying. We must also reinforce our focus on maths and sciences and enable teachers to develop their expertise within their individual specialisms. One thing is certain: we are entering a more specialised future and must ensure that each child, pupil and apprentice is equipped to enter the labour market and wider society safely and securely.

I highly recommend reading this year’s Education Mirror. You are guaranteed to find enough information to form an opinion on kindergartens, primary and secondary education in Norway. Let the facts speak for themselves! Happy reading!