By Christian W. Beck, A. Prof. Institute of Educational

Research, University of Oslo, Norway.




The historical struggle for independence has given support for public schools in Norway. On the primary and the lower secondary level, 98,5 % of the children are in public schools. Norway is today a small, modern and rich country with a centralised state ruled school system. New developing lines are identified: Conflict family – school, globalisation, welfare state problems, a multicultural nation and a post-modern situation. The pressure for more private schools and home education or homeschooling, is increasing. More education otherwise is necessary to meet future educational demands.




The issue

The focal point of this paper is the alternative education in Norway. with attention given to home schooling. The first part draw attention to the alternative education for the compulsory10 years of education, 6 – 16 years of age, the primary and lower secondary level. The second part is a presentation of home schooling in Norway. The article concludes with the need for more education otherwise in the future, with home education as important for a new free sector of education.


Norway is a sparely populated country with a population of 4,5 million, spread on 328.000km2. Norwegian education is related to our historical development as an independent nation. In approximately 500 years Norway was a part of Denmark and of Sweden. Since 1905 Norway has been an autonomous national state.

The Norwegian school system is dominated by the Norwegian concept: "enhetsskole tanken" or the idea of comprehensive school for all. A school ideology built on equal rights for education, education as an important institution for national cultural integration and education as a tool in a welfare-state program for more equality between social groups (Lauglo, 1998).

The Norwegian educational history describes a school with much popular influence and a school strongly effected by local community ideology. This influence concern both the content of teaching and the management of schools (Darnell and Höem, 1996), (Lauglo, 1998). But parallel to processes of democratic and decentralisation it has been a counter-process of centralisation. Paradoxical the trend for more state management and control with the schools is due to a demand for protecting a democratic popular education. Such control is seen as necessary for equality in education.

In 1997 Norway got a new national curriculum plan for the primary school and lower secondary school It contains 343 pages (Læreplanen, 1997). The plan is ideological based on nationalism, child-orientation and community-orientation, with much effort to project methods and integrative strategies for teaching. But the plan also stress subject-knowledge and detail demands and information for: "what should be learned".

Today not only public schools but also private schools are almost total financed by the state, and are implemented according to an overall state policy for education. At the university and college level about 10 % of the students attend in private institutions. At the upper secondary level 4 % are in private education, and 1,5 % of the children in primary and lower secondary education are in private schools. 98,4 % are in public state schools. Only some very few children are home educated. There is almost a state-school monopoly. The pressure on "education otherwise" is rapidly increasing.


Education otherwise

From the time of the first Norwegian school-law in 1739 the parents had the principal responsibility for the education of their children. The school shall assist parents for this purpose. But this ideological principle has evolved to a school-system in which parents have delegated authority to the state in education.

Private schools

In the last century there have always been children with an alternative education outside the system. Norway has had a relatively late urbanisation, and the alternative education in the country has been looked upon as a rural rest-category. Rural areas had for economical and geographical reasons simple schooling. Up to middle of the 1960`s children from the countryside were in schools only 3 days a week. But such a school-situation was eliminated. This aim is supported by a great national-majority in the politics of education.

The special geography and history of Norway are important reason for the absence of a historical rooted national upper class. There have been private home-teachers, Christian schools and some other private schools. But we do not have a strong tradition with private upper-class schools.

Education otherwise at the primary and lower secondary level, are build on religious or ideological reasons, for special interested groups. The country has Lutheran state church. Teaching in school is based on the same religion. But this religious hegemony has decreased. Christian groups and others have worked for private schools, based on parents rights and human rights as you find them in international conventions (UNESCO,1960), (UN,1948) (Vestre,1999) and (Habermas,1995).

After a long political conflict, in 1970 we got a law for private schools. The law was renewed i 1985 (Privatskoleloven, 1985). Schools based on religion or based on a alternative pedagogic were allowed, and got financial support from the state, at a rate of 85% of the cost for a state school pupil. Up to the late 1980`s only Christian and Rudolf Steiner schools however were allowed. The state sanction private school applications. Some years later Montessori schools also were permitted. To day we have 28 Rudolf Steiner schools, ca 40 Christian schools and 8 Montessori schools as an alternative to the 3200 Norwegian public state schools. The first Muslim school is now excepted.

Home education

Since 1739 there have always been some home education. There are only rough and invalid estimates of numbers. But during the recent years from 1993-94, "the modern" home school movement has entered to the scene. Strong feelings are now mobilised among both parents and school authorities. The issue is given much attention in the media and there are much political debate connected to home education. Some "gründer" families were reported to the police and to the social security office. They where treated as suspect persons. Since 1995 three home education-cases have been treated in the court-system. One case may end up as a case in The European Human Right Court in Strassbourg ( Beck, 2000). In 1996 50 children were home education. In 2001 the number were more than 500. There are different reasons for the rapid increase in home education:

  1. In 1997 school-entrance age were lowered from 7 years of age to 6 years. The majority of the population was against this reform. Some of the parents with a child at age six home school instead of sending them to school.
  2. Protests against the new religious subjects in school. Parents choose home school for religious reasons.
  3. Protest against violence and bullying in school.
  4. Parents in small rural communities choose home schooling as strategy when school-authorities close their community-school for financial reasons. The last 20 years, hundreds of such schools have been closed.
  5. Families start home education of pedagogical reasons. They believe in natural learning and unschooling.

Up to 1998 home education in Norway mostly was a rural phenomena. The last 3 years, however, the strongest increase has been in urban areas.


Home Education – The "normative" case in Norway

Both the history of Norwegian schools and the new school-law enacted from the first of August 1999, are based on the principle of "obligation to education", not an "obligation to schooling" (Opplæringsloven, 1998). This law contains two paragraphs of special importance to home schooling. Section 2-1 states three ways to fulfil the mandatory first ten years of education: public schools, private schools or home education. You have the right to home educate your children, but you get no financial support from the society to realise the teaching at home. Usually you get free textbooks and other school-materials, if the local school-authorities decide to do so.

Section §14-2 called the "control" paragraph in the law, states that local school-authorities are obligated to assure that the home education are adequate and are authorised to test children in home education, as a mean to document the quality of their education. The following sentence in particular has been the subject of much discussion, and is the reason for serious conflict between national and local authorities and home educatorss: "The community can demand the child to go to school, if the conditions for home education according to the School-law are not fulfilled." Authorities interpret the sentence as a mandatory requirement that home schooling plans have to be approved before home education can start. Home educators interpret the same sentence as a demand for documentation that home education done, is valid and good enough.

The Mosvik-case" is an example of one such conflict. At Christmas time 1995 a boy was forced against his will to take part in the schools dance lesson. The parents, who were conservative Lutherans had previously asked several times to have their boy excused from such participation in school. Failing this they took all their children out of school and started home education instead. The following day this became the major topic in the national media. Once the case come to trial one other dissenting family had taken their children from the same school in support of the defendants. Both families were taken to court by the state seeking to make them comply with the school.

In November 1998 Inderøy Herredsrett (The lowest level court in Norway) returned a verdict of two to one against the two home educating-families. Each pair of parents had to pay a fine at Nkr 10.000 (1.100 Us-dollar) for not sending their children to school without reason.

This case developed along two lines. The authorities wanted it to be a case wherein the parents had not fulfilled the conditions for home education. They saw the right to home education, as an exception from obligation of compulsory school attendance. The home educators and their lawyer wanted it to be a case of verification of valid home schooling. Having lost at the lowest court (Inderøya Herredsrett), the parents appealed for Lagmannsretten (the next level of judiciary review). Here they won their case. A unified court saw the case from their point of view.

The school authorities appealed to Høyesterett (the highest court level). In February 1999 this court gave its verdict, 3-2 in their favour. According to the procedure in the Norwegian court system the case then went back to the second level court, the Lagmannsretten, for reconsideration. However, one week before the case was to be reheard, it was withdrawn by the school authorites: " because the proofs are inadequate". As a consequence the "Mosvik-case" was closed.

Something of importance happened as a result of this development. The case had been raised by the authorites to confirm and strengthen their control over home education. The general consensus is that the case ended with the opposite effect: The parents` rights in education of their children had been supported and bolstered.

Comments on future educational needs

Due to the relatively short history of Norway as a national state, much attention to common national culture and to different issues concerning equality in education, have given ideological support of the population in favour for a strongly state controlled school system.

In a OECD-report from 1998 Norway was placed as the most centralised country in the OECD-area together with Türkei. The OECD-report specially mentions specially the possibility of loss of freedom in religious education and that most decisions in school matters are taken on higher administrational levels (OECD, 1998).

It must be added that teacher training is almost 100 % given after a national curriculum plan for teacher training mostly given in state teacher-training colleges. Research and evaluation in school are mostly initiated and financed by the State.

With its oil-money Norway is a rich nation, which can afford a big and expensive school administration, teacher staff and special education. For many countries this would be like a dream. But it also has the effect of more detailed state regulation and control.

Norway is in a "post-modern" epoch - a small democratic, rich and modern nation. Today the pressure from parents for a more liberal school law and more alternative educational possibilities is increasing and strong. More freedom in education is a "hot" national political issue. The politic of education and public discussion have developed and identified new conflict-lines in education:

Family and school. Dissolving of the modern family has created new educational challenges in school for more social direction with identity and cultural formation on the education program. The teachers and the educational specialists then can take legitimate pedagogical action in to areas of a more private character where individuals, parents and families rule themselves. Many parents, teachers and others protest against this new educational control regime` in school. They want better opportunities for "free" education with more parent-control.

Globalisation. Large-scale migration-patterns, communication possibilities and new information technology have given internationalisation and globalisation processes also for knowledge. The universality of knowledge for all people independent of ethnicity, culture and nation are more obvious. Mathematics, English language, computer science and human rights are relevant for everyone. Therefor it is on wrong to build school-knowledge on a strong national cultural regime. Relevant knowledge is more global, and more valid and anchored in a local context.

The Welfare State. A national educational-policy as a method for more social equality in society has been positive and negative. In Norway such a welfare state politics has been a success for lowering sex-differences and partly for lowering the differences between rural and urban areas, but not for lowering the differences between social classes. In spite of a modernisation and a much higher level of education, also for the working class, economical and other social inequalities have expanded the last years. It seems reasonable to handle social inequality more directly, and let education policy be related to more pure educational and knowledge aims.

The Multicultural society. Large-scale migration and mobility all over the world have give rise to a new multicultural situation in almost all countries, including Norway (Darnell and Höem, 1996). Human right arguments are in conflict with state school system based on one state-church religion, as in Norway. Muslims, atheists and also Christian groups want their own schools for religious freedom or they choose home schooling. Maintaining religious education in school mostly oriented to a Lutheran Christian Church without the freedom and fully access to an alternative religious education seems problematic.

The post-modern situation. In a more open and universal knowledge-situation there is more necessity and greater possibility for individual choice and direction in education. Strong national control with education can act against human rights, against individual knowledge effort and against the nations` need for professional knowledge in the future. From this angle multiple educational possibilities and freedom in educational choice need to be encouraged. Norway today seems to have too little and too weak alternative educational opportunities for future needs. The private school law should be changed to get more reasonable possibilities for free schools and parents choice.

Central issues in education always both challenge and demand the balance between community rules and personal freedom: (Macintyre, 1995), (Giddens, 1991), (Bauman, 1997) and (Habermas, 1995). Without effort in community maintenance, post-modern societies can fall apart. On the other hand, too much community, ruled as detailed national control and administration, oppose personal engagement for knowledge and education.

Modern and rich countries often stress too much state control for education. But on the other hand without such control education could collapse. In modern societies a private financial support of education could make mass-education impossible. But the state funds ought to be controlled mostly by the parent for free school choice for their children.

The state is needed to finance education, to make and administrate laws of education and to manage and sat minimum standards and degree-questions according to state-justice principals. From there, however, good education I think is based on personal choice, local organisation, open communication and a democratic society.

Concluding remarks

A global and postmodern situation, such as we now have, demand a more open education. We need more freedom in education. Home schooling in Norway as in other modern countries, draw attention to an important discussion: Who ought to control the education of children in any society? International conventions and national educational laws have as a fundamental principal the need for balance between the rights of parents and the state responsibility and power in education. Parents are allowed to choose in the matter of beliefs and content in education of their children. The State requires the authority to control the quality of education. In practice this balance is more often interrupted in favour of State control.

There are different opinions about the nature and value of home education. I have studied modern home education in Norway since 1994 through my research-project: "Education otherwise in Norway". My conclusions are that parents who choose home education, most often take good and responsible decisions. Of course there are exceptions. Inadequate socialisation is the argument most often given against home schooling. Teachers and politicians often express the opinion that home education de-socialises children and that they often end up with distorted ideas of the norms of society because of participation only within the family, that is furthermore often integrated in a fundamentalist religious small scale society. In special cases such criticism can be valid. Seen from another aspect of socialisation, however, home educated children have enough time together with their parents, a benefit that many children do not get where there is a lack of time with parents.

The parents` right to choose is fundamental. Nevertheless there can be limits to home education. At times it must be stopped if documentation supports such a course of action is necessary to avoid serious trouble for children. But obviously home educators are entrepreneurs for the future of education, human rights and democractic freedom.








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