Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Schola ludens & Co.

It turned out during a smalltalk with my Chinese mate that school in China starts every day at 7 and lasts till 5. I was petrified to hear this but I didn't have to wait much for the next schock. What's more, there are often classes of 50-60 students in Chinese schools. Of course I had a clue about the size of the Chinese population, but for some reason it never came into my mind how hard it must be to arrange the education of this many people. When a teacher is together with sixty 13-year-olds in one room who started their day at 7 and it's already 5, I can't imagine how things like this do not happen:


Anyway, this interesting little piece of information gave me the idea to write a little about schools in Norway. I think it's worth starting with the kindergarten since I'm sure the Norwegian barnehage shows some major differences compared to the kindergartens in many other countries. The respect of nature is crucial in Norway and you can never start it early enough - there are kindergartens (or at least I've heard about one) that misses one wall in the room where the children are sleeping after lunch. This way they have a better access to fresh air. But this is by far not the most hardcore thing. There are kindergartens (they call them naturbarnehage) that don't have buildings at all. There might be a little shelter with some chairs in it but children are outside during the whole year, regardless of the weather. Being in the nature is a very essential part in the education in Norway. I can't count on my fingers how many groups of little guys I have seen eating their sandwich and drinking chocolate milk while I was walking or jogging in the forest close to my place. I can't help but smile when I see the two kindergarten teachers, one in front, the other one at the back holding a long rope and the children on the two sides of the rope, holding it.

Porcelaine figurine made after the drawing of M. I. Hummel

Approximately at the age of 6, kids start elementary school (grunnskole). It is obligatory and divided into two parts: barneskole (the first 7 years) and ungdomsskole (the last 3 years). Children are evaluated with notes only from the 8th year on (6 is the best, 1 is the worst). Nature plays an important role here, as well - they go out regularly and have 'open-air' classes. Again - this is not something they do when the weather allows it, they do it regularly. They also have a thing called skolefritidsordning (SFO). This is not free (in fact, it's quite pricy...), but these are organised spare time activities where children can play, do their homeworks etc. The most important thing in Norwegian schools is that children feel safe and comfortable. The no. 1 purpose is not learning information by heart. School has become more like a compass that helps children to use the numerous sources of information that is available these days.
Practice is treasured more than theory. I think it's really cool how many different practical things are taught for kids here. You can for example learn how to make a haircut or how to cook a dinner (my husband who spent two years in an Oslo elementary school in his younger years, still mentiones once in a while the great moussaka they made in cooking class :)

After 10 years of grunnskole, they can go to high school that is called videregående skole (or vgs). It's not obligatory, however, the biggest percentage of kids do finish it. Here you have to make a choice. You can either choose practical sudies (if you want to be a carpenter, hair stylist or so, in this case you have generally 2 years theory and 2 years of practice), or you can go for the theoretical studies which prepares you for your further studies. This takes 3 years and in the end, you get the so called studiekompetanse (I guess it is some kind of a high school diploma) with which you have the right to enter a college or a university. After kids finish vgs, there is an event called Russ in the first half of May. It's a long celebration where students wear special Russ cloths and organise all kinds of crazy programs. I've never seen in myself but I can't wait till May to see it with my own eyes and be able to write about it more!

The marks at the colleges and universities are similar to the American way. Students are evaluated with letters where A is the best and D is still pass while E and F are not satisfactory.

Just to close down this chapter, if you are curious to see a Norwegian university, I am posting a short video about the University of Agder (where i am studying currently) made for a video competition for students. Oh yes, and one more thing: I am everything but high profile but you might see me in the video for a short while sitting in the school canteen in the beautiful green lopi (Icelandic knitwear) handmade by my mother-in-law. :)

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