Alternative Schooling Debate Reopens with New Government

Photo : Statsministerens kontor. Students are in break at a Norwegian state school in Oslo.

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Norway has always
prided herself in maintaining egalitarian and high standards of
public education in the frame of “Nordic welfare model”.
Aligning this, the state as the main operator of educational
activities has gained a central role and private education has turned
into controversial political issue. Despite a chronic negative stance
against privatization in education, private schools supported by the
state funds have always been part of schooling in Norway. Today there
are several schools in private sector that offer an alternative to
public schools. However the scale of these schools is far smaller
than the neighboring countries embracing the same Nordic Model and
they face political and legal resistances.

While the former
conservative government, second Bondevik coalition introduced free
school law in 2003 to pave the way for easier establishment of
private schools even if they offer similar content like state
schools, the previous left-wing coalition government froze the law
when they came to power in 2005. This law suspended the approval of
all new private schools that do not represent a religious or
alternative pedagogical approach.

Under these
circumstances, the main private primary schools in the country
consist of Waldorf schools, Montessori schools, and religious
institutions which are run on a Christian educational foundation.
During the school year of 2010/2011 there were 159 private schools in
Norway. In addition, there were 83 Private secondary schools.
Nevertheless, the proportion of the pupils who attend to private
schools makes up only 2.6 per cent of all student population.

More Demands,
More Debate

In the past few
years, however, parents have voiced their concerns over the quality
of public education in provinces around the country. Many parents are
becoming increasingly disappointed with the loss of programs and
activities that once made Norwegian schools outstanding. This has led
to parents to look for alternatives.

Despite these
increasing parental demands, the anti-private arguments continue
around the role of private schools in the country’s educational
system, the funding of such schools, and their effects on
integration.

New Government: A
New Phase in Alternative Schooling?

The former coalition
government clearly expressed that they did not want an increase in
private schools in scope. In the government declaration of 2005, it
was announced that they planned to “oppose the commercialization
of the education sector”, and “reformulate the legislation
and funding for private schools to tighten up the spread of private
schools that do not constitute a religious base or pedagogical
alternative to the public schools “( Soria Moria Declaration,
chapter 10). One of the members of the coalition, SV supported this
decision by announcing that ” Children who need for an
alternative education are to get it in the public school” at the
party congress in 2009.

However, with the
change of the government in October, the supporters of alternative
education institutions have crossed their fingers to have a more
liberal approach. Aligning with these expectations, Conservative
Party and the Progress Party announced they will introduce a new
private school regulation where religious or educational alternative
requirement will not be mandatory to start a school in Norway.

Yet, the newly
appointed Education Minister Thorbjorn Røe Isaksen added that there
is no deregulation in opening of new schools. He noted that they will
not allow private schools, if the establishment will have negative
consequences for the local schooling.

– We aim for a more
rigorous practice for approval of new private schools than the
Bondevik II government, said Røe Isaksen in a press conference.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg is on a school visit at Bjørnholt skole in Oslo,

Disappointment or
Ambiguity?

This conditional
ambiguity, yet, caused some hesitation about the new government’s
willingness for a new education policy. Talking to he Nordic Page,
second Bondevik cabinet’s Minister of Education and Research,
Kristin Clemet said that she is glad about the new regulation but
suggests the authorities to stick to restoring the Independent
Schools model Bondevik II Government introduced, but with certain
modifications.

Klemet reminds that
there was a discretionary element in the law, ie that the Minister
could reject applications of opening school, even if the applicant
met all the requirements. This created great frustration among those
who wanted to start up and operate private schools, and it created
huge injustices and legal uncertainty.

She says an
important change in the Bondevik II Government Act was to avoid this
unpredictability and this important principle should not be
sacrificed.

Kristin Clemet
suggests that the state’s duty is not schooling, but training under
Norwegian law. “Parents always could choose among alternative
educations for their children from public school to home schooling.
These options are legally equal”, says she.

Segregation and
Integration Debate

Another unsolved
dimension of private school discussion is the integration question.
Many people worry that private schools create or reinforce existing
divisions in society and leads to segregation. There is a common
belief about the role of schools as unifying and nation-building
institutions.

Clemet says that
there are already various forms of segregation in the public school –
as pupils from similar backgrounds have to go to schools in their
same neighborhood due to the proximity.

If anyone, in law or
practice, is forced to go to the nearest school, the student
composition will be already same. This means that there may be a
certain concentration of students with similar ethnic, and social
background. The question that must be raised is therefore whether a
certain increasing proportion of non-public schools will lead to a
greater or less segregation?, asks the former minister, Clemet.

As a response, she
notes the researches tell us that the larger proportion of free
school election or independent schools will not lead to a greater or
less segregation. “It is easy to believe that especially religious
schools will cause some increase in segregation, but the Christian
schools we have today in Oslo, for example, disprove this belief.”,
says Clemet.

While describing the
ideal model, Clemet tells there is no “ideal” level for the
proportion of students who choose a private school. “The ideal is
that politicians’ task is to ensure that schools have the necessary
quality, and that all students and parents have equal opportunity to
choose, and therefore students receive the best possible education.”,
says she by suggesting Norway should consider a system where private
schools are 100 percent funded by the public. “It is possible to
operate such a system, because the requirements are already very
strict in Norway,” concludes she.

Facts
About NORWAY’S PRIVATE EDUCATION

There are many
independent schools, free- schools and private schools in all the
Nordic countries, but their proportion and distribution changes
considerably from country to country

In the 1980s, the
proportion of independent private schools for example was higher in
Norway than in Sweden, but the reforms and legislative changes have
carried Sweden in front of Norway. The number of Swedish free schools
has tripled in the last 10-15 years, and they account for 15 percent
of all schools. In the same period, the number of private schools was
doubled.

Also in Norway there
was a significant increase in the number of private schools until
around 2005. In fact, the increase in the number of private schools
from 2000 to 2005 was over 70 percent. However, there are currently
only 159 private schools in Norway – and they make just 5 percent
of all schools in the country. In Denmark, there has been a much
higher proportion of independent private schools than it has
traditionally been in Norway and Sweden. Today, about 25 percent of
the Danish primary schools are these kinds of private institutions.

Regulations about
Private Schools

To be approved as a
private school, there is also a requirement to have more than 15
pupils at the school. If a school has fewer than 15 students in three
consecutive school years, approval is canceled.
For schools in
countryside, this limit is 10 students.

It is also not
allowed to make profit in operating a private school in Norway.
Private law § 6-3 states that schools are still entitled to collect
tuition, and it is the school board which determines amount of
tuition. However, this right is limited by private Act § 6-2, which
sets an upper limit on how much schools can charge. Even though some
parties such as Høyre and KrF suggest freedom of establishment and
full financial support of private schools, private schools today can
receive 85 percent of the grant that public schools receive.

Former Minister of Education and iberal think-tank, Civita’s leader Kristin Clemet

About
Kristin Clemet

Kristin
Clemet is a former Norwegian politician for Høyre (Conservative
Party) and Minister of Education and Research in the second Bondevik
cabinet.

From
1981 to 1983, during the first cabinet Willoch, Clemet was appointed
personal secretary (today known as political advisor) in the Ministry
of Industry. From 1985 to 1986, during the second cabinet Willoch,
she was personal secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister.

From
2001 to 2005, when the second cabinet Bondevik held office, Clemet
was Minister of Education and Research. As Minister of Education and
Research, Clemet became known for her work in carrying out “The
Quality Reform” (Kvalitetsreformen) in the Norwegian university
system.

Kristin
Clemet graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from NHH in 1981
and has a long history of public service. She was editor-in-chief of
the Conservative Party’s journal Tidens Tegn 1993–1997 and vice
managing director of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises from
1997 to 2001. Today she is the leader of Civita, a liberal think tank
based in Oslo.

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