6.1 General context
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The standardized duration of upper secondary education is between 3 and 4 years, pending on the specialization route of the programme, and between academic and vocational programmes. 81 percent complete upper secondary education within 5 to 6 years. The completion rate in general studies is 89 percent in total and about 5 percent lower for boys versus girls, while the completion rate in vocational studies is only 69 percent and about 5 percent lower for boys versus girls (Statistics Norway, 2023). As for young men and women between the ages of 18 and 24, the level of early leavers of school and training has decreased for young women from 11.9 percent in 2012 to 10.8 percent in 2022, and for young men from 15.6 percent in 2012 to 15.6 percent in 2022 (Eurostat, 2022).
Compulsory education covers 10 years and comprises two stages:
- Primary school: grades 1-7 (age 6-12)
- Lower secondary school: grades 8-10 (age 13-16).
Upper secondary school (grade 11 – 13) is not mandatory. Young people who have completed primary and lower secondary education, have a right to three years’ upper secondary education and training leading either to admission to higher education, to vocational qualifications or to basic skills.
The Education Act (Opplæringsloven) with regulations and the Independent Schools Act [Lov om frittståande skolar (friskolelova)] are the legal foundation for respectively the public and private primary and secondary education in Norway.
VET programmes run through the course of 4 years, whereof either two or three years are spent in an enterprise as an apprentice. The programme awards a successful student a ‘Certificate of Upper Secondary Education’ and a ‘Journeyman’s Certificate’ or a ‘Trade Certificate.’
Alternatively, the experience-based certification scheme gives adults the right to pass the Trade or Journeyman’s examination upon proof of long and relevant practice. The scheme has played an important part in the establishment of new trades, and is an important recruitment tool for trainers and members of the Examination Board.
Adult education includes adult education at primary, lower secondary and upper secondary level, folk high schools, adult education associations and independent distance learning institutions.
Adults who have not completed sufficient primary and lower secondary education are entitled to education at these levels. Adults from the age of 25 years who have completed primary and lower secondary school or the equivalent, but not upper secondary education, have the right to such education upon application.
A study association consists of two or more voluntary organisations and offers a selection of courses, ranging from basic education/training to work training and studies at university level. Study associations offer courses in most municipalities and can apply for government funding.
The folk high schools are free, and are general education schools that also have a clear integrative goal. Folk high schools do not have a curriculum or examinations. Folk high schools offer both short courses lasting at least two days and a maximum of 94 days, and long courses with a duration of 4-10 months.
Web-based schools offer a high degree of flexibility as teachers and students may communicate with each other regardless of time and place. The teaching is organised as web-based tuition or combined web-based tuition and central or regional collections of students. Approved web-based schools can apply for state funding.
The labour authorities in cooperation with the education authorities offer labour market training (Arbeidsmarkedsopplæring) by the Work and Welfare Authority (NAV - Arbeids- og velferdsetaten). The courses lead to professional qualifications, and are conducted by various actors, primarily high schools, and own resource centres affiliated to the schools, but also study associations or other private providers. The business is fully financed by the state.
ISCED 1-2: PRIMARY AND LOWER SECONDARY EDUCATION covers education for children aged 6 to 15 and grades 1 to 10. Local authorities are required to offer before and after-school care for pupils in 1st to 4th grade.
ISCED 3: UPPER SECONDARY EDUCATION normally provides three years of general education or four years of vocational training after the 10-year compulsory education. The norm for apprenticeship training is two years of vocational training in upper secondary education followed by one or two years of practical training in enteprises.
ISCED 4-5: TERTIARY VOCATIONAL PROGRAMMES are post-secondary, but are not defined as higher education. The duration is a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years.
ISCED 6-8 HIGHER EDUCATION Higher education is based on general admission, normally completed secondary education. The main structure is a 3+2+3 model; a three-year bachelor‘s degree, two-year master‘s degree and three- to four-year doctoral programme.
PISA 2018 shows a clear decline in Norwegian students' performance in reading from 2015, back to the level from previous PISA surveys. The results in mathematics are the same as in 2015, and in science there is a slight decline. Norway is still at or above the OECD average in all three disciplines. For the first time, Norwegian girls perform significantly better than boys in all three subject areas reading, mathematics and science.
In Norway, there is less correlation between students' home background and school performance than in most other countries. There is also little variation between schools compared to other countries. This indicates that Norwegian schools are to a large extent able to provide an equal school offer to pupils with different backgrounds, and that the vast majority of schools have pupils at different levels of achievement. (The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training - PISA 2018 results).
With large within-school variation in performance, learning environments in schools are less positive than the OECD average according to views of students at age 15. Schools leaders focus more on administrative than pedagogical tasks.
Teachers report a high degree of self-efficacy and motivation to teach, but they receive less feedback and participate in fewer professional development activities than the TALIS average. Schools leaders focus more on administrative than pedagogical tasks (OECD 2013: TALIS - Teaching and Learning International Study)
Norway has developed a multifaceted system for evaluation and assessment in education: A quality assessment system [Kvalitetsvurderingssystemet]. The aim is to promote quality development throughout kindergarten, primary education and secondary education and training. National and local plans and goals are the basis for this systematic process. The quality assessment system consists of a knowledge base, tools, procedures and goals for key actors on different levels.
Governance and funding
Norway's central government sets the goals and framework, and decision-making is highly decentralised, with primary schools run by municipalities and secondary schools run by county municipalities.
Tertiary institutions are mostly autonomous in their decisions, including those on how they allocate resources.
Norway has generous funding at all levels of the education system: public and private educational institutions at all levels get most of their funding from public sources. Public education is free.
In 2006, the Government introduced the Knowledge Promotion for primary and secondary education (The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 2006: The Knowledge Promotion Reform).
The reform placed increased focus on basic skills and entailed a shift to outcome-based learning, new distribution of teaching hours per subject, a new structure of available courses within education programmes and more autonomy at the local level. The main elements of the reform are:
- Basic skills: In the subject curricula, five basic skills (reading, oral expression, writing, numeracy and use of digital tools) are integrated to adapt to each subject. The number of lessons in primary school was increased, especially in the first four years, in order to improve pupils’ basic skills. The reform stresses that individual students receive learning adapted to their abilities. In addition, for Years 1-4, municipalities shall ensure that adapted teaching in Norwegian/Sami language and mathematics is provided and is especially directed towards pupils with weak abilities in reading and mathematics.
- Clear standards for learning: Subject curricula include clear objectives specifying the level of competence expected from students after Years 4, 7 and 10 and after each level in upper secondary education and training.
- A Quality Framework defines the principles for developing optimal learning environments and learning achievements.
- Decentralisation of decision-making: The reform also gives municipalities more authority for decision-making in methods of instruction, choice of learning materials, development of curricula, and the organization of instruction.