Learning to be Norwegian

Photo: Kate H. Hindersland

Photo: Kate H. Hindersland

Globalskolen opens doors to Norwegian education for students all over the world

By Christy Olsen Field

Norwegian American Weekly

This is Norwegian education for the 21st century. Globalskolen is an innovative, online-based education program for Norwegian students who live all over the world. This supplementary program offers classes in Norwegian, social studies, religion and ethics for children in first through 10th grades. Globalskolen is a free service for students and their families.

Globalskolen is open to kids whose parents work abroad, are missionaries or one parent married “a local” in a foreign country. Eligible students must have a residence abroad for at least six months, be enrolled in a local or international school, and a Norwegian personal number. Globalskolen is a supplementary program, not to replace primary lessons. The goal is two-fold: For Norwegian students whose family lives abroad, Globalskolen allows them to stay connected to Norwegian culture and transition easily back to the Norwegian system.

The online format allows for flexibility – students and teachers do not have to be online at the same time, but the curriculum follows a fixed structure through the school year, and emphasizes reading and writing Norwegian. Globalskolen’s innovative approach and engaging mix of students, parents and teachers is a winning combination: Since the school’s founding in 1998, enrollment has grown from 15 to more than 1,400 students.

Maria Keala Wichers started kindergarten in Oldsmar, Fla., this fall, and her parents decided to add Globalskolen to her academic experience. Maria’s mother Elin first heard about the program through another Norwegian mother in Florida at last year’s 17th of May celebration through the Sons of Norway. Globalskolen has helped Maria connect to her Norwegian background.

“My daughter Maria was born in Norway. Her grandparents do not speak English and I would really like her to communicate with them and other Norwegian friends’ kids. It is really easy to adapt to American society and forget about focusing on Norwegian customs. Talking about Norway through Globalskolen helps me make time to teach Maria about her Norwegian background,” said Wichers.

One of Maria’s classmates, Mattias Sebastian Hoegler, lives in Vancouver, B.C., with his parents Hege and Darren and younger brother, Marcus. Mattias’ background epitomizes today’s globalized world: Mattias’ parents met in Australia. His mother grew up in Oslo, Norway, with a Norwegian mom and a Dutch dad, and his father grew up in Vancouver, B.C., with an Austrian dad and a Canadian mom.

“My favorite part about Globalskolen is that it is so accessible, and that we can choose our own time to do it,” says Mattias’s mother, Hege. “We have other friends who attend Norwegian lessons at the Scandinavian Centre weekly, but it is too far for us to drive every week. This way we can work it around our schedule, even if things changes in our schedule, we don’t have to miss out.”

The flexibility of Globalskolen has been a great fit for Mattias, who spends a lot of time in the hospital due to a serious heart defect from birth. With its web-based format, Mattias can do his Norwegian homework when it fits into his schedule, and it’s something he really enjoys.

“Being a part of Globalskolen has brought Norwegian back into our house, and the boys are now more used to it and accept it. We still talk mostly English at home, but a recent trip to Norway over Christmas showed that Mattias was capable of saying simple sentences and talking to both his cousins and his grandparents, and he understood most of what was being said. And considering this is just our first year at Globalskolen, I expect this will just get better and better,” said Hege.

Globalskolen is rewarding and fun for students and their parents, but also for the teachers, who are passionate about their work.

Bente Rui, who teaches first grade, enjoys working with her students. “Every week I receive great submissions from eager six-year-olds with sweet words about how they enjoy doing the work.  The parents confirm this with gratitude and compliments on the educational program we have developed, and with stories about children who look forward to doing their schoolwork… By the end of the school year, most of the kids have learned to read and write at a level that equals that of regular first graders in Norwegian primary schools.”

Fifth grade teacher Bjørn Teistung started working with Globalskolen in 2006, and he teaches students on six continents – in all, 45 countries are represented in Teistung’s class. Teistung focuses on using several multimedia tools to produce interactive content, especially videos.

“Using personal videos makes the feeling of social presence in distance education, kind of intimacy, and is an important tool,” said Teistung. Teistung is a student himself  – working on his master’s in distance learning at Athabasca University in Alberta.

“During my time as a student at Athabasca, I can confirm we have done a lot of good work, and we are in front in Distance Education,” he added.

Toril Kalland, who teaches eighth grade, has students who live in Kazakhstan, Malawi, New Zealand, the U.S. and India, just to name a few. Most of her students live abroad due to their parents’ jobs, and many of them return to Norway to finish their schooling. Kalland taught for several years, and became involved with PedIT, an online learning program, which is the platform for Globalskolen’s teaching and learning.

“I interact with them through their work. They get a new plan every Friday and hand in their work within the following week. I respond to their work by praising and giving advice for further effort…They can get in touch with each other by sending messages within the system, PedIT, or as e-mail. They can also chat in a special “room” in our class. Some of them are eager to talk to me and some are not. They can contact me as they can each other, and in addition they can use Skype,” said Kalland.

Kalland sees several benefits to Globalskolen: it helps students stay engaged in Norwegian culture by practicing the language, and the program makes it easier for students to return to Norwegian school.

“Our slogan is: ‘Where you are.’ This can be interpreted in many ways: Where you are geographically, where you are when it comes to learning level and where you are in addition to your connection to Norway and the Norwegian language.  I think this sums up a lot: Wherever you are you can be a student in our school,” added Kalland.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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