Private Education: A Friend or Foe of Public Education?

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 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.

Government Freezes Rights

While the former conservative government 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 current 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 to gain grounds in Norway. The main focuses of the ongoing debates are related to the role of private schools in the country’s educational system, the funding of such schools, and their effects on integration.

Affirmed Resistance to Private Schools

The current coalition government clearly expressed that they do not want an increase in private schools in scope. In the government declaration of 2005, it was announced that they have 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.

In response to this attitude of the government, the leader of Civita, a liberal think tank based in Oslo, 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.

“A Prejudiced Approach”

Clemet also criticizes the prerequisites of establishing a private school. She argues the political opposition to private schooling is not based on quality concern.

Reminding Prime Minister Stoltenberg has education from a private school and sometimes express his content about the presence of Waldorf schools despite his government’s anti-private school policy, Clemet suggests it shows that that is a policy without any fundamental justification, based on myths and prejudices.

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 among the people 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 Civita leader, 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 students and parents can choose for themselves, 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.

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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 ten 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. Eventhough some parties such as Høyre and KrF suggest freedom of establishment and full fiancial support of private schools, private schools today can receive 85 percent of the grant that public schools receive.

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