Studying to improve formal education

Profiles of Norwegian science

formal education

Photo: Ilan Kelman
Oslo schoolchildren learn through performing arts.

Ilan Kelman
Agder, Norway

Education is lifelong. And so is research about formal education. A tremendous variety and impressive depth of science has emerged from Norwegian researchers, covering teaching and learning from cradle to grave.

In 1999, the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) began at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. They recruited pregnant women for answering questionnaires and taking blood samples, reaching over 100,000 participants in 2008. By following parents and children through the years, the study is helping to determine what influences during pregnancy can affect health and illness.

This database is used in other studies. One paper looked at changes to family income along with early childhood education and care in relation to behavioral problems in the children. The scientists found that high quality education and care for young children has benefits for some aspects of dealing with behavioral problems. They conclude by supporting Norway’s continued investment in early childhood education for everyone.

Then, for primary education, a study back in 1999 analyzed how Norway and Sweden implement what was termed “the inclusive school.” All children received the same education at the primary level, factoring in specific needs, but not separating certain groups. At least, that was the theory for trying to ensure that everyone ended up with the same educational opportunities.

In practice, the researcher explained, statements on paper did not always happen in practice. Some Norwegian municipalities created and used classes and schools that were segregated for students with specific needs. Meanwhile, so-called “special education” training for teachers was indeed seen as “special”, requiring separate instruction and development, rather than being part of regular teacher training. The researcher concludes with ideas for improving how documents and policies on inclusive education should be implemented and enforced.

This same theme recurs in a paper from 2011 examining completion rates in secondary schools across Norway. Data from 9,749 students identified factors that could predict which students would leave school without finishing. Marks from earlier years were the most helpful data, indicating how early interventions might be designed to identify and support high-risk students.

In particular, students were entering secondary school with a range of competencies and knowledge. Those with lower skill levels tended to be the dropouts. The Norwegian ethos of adjusting education to a pupil’s needs, to ensure that no one was left out, was not happening in practice. Providing different curricula to achieve different secondary school qualifications would stop many students from simply abandoning their education.

At the upper secondary school level, research published in 2002 indicated how teaching quantum mechanics could be improved. 236 students in Norway revealed a poor understanding of the basics. The researcher explained how a core difficulty was focusing quantum mechanics teaching on the concept that light and electrons behave as both waves and particles. Instead, conceptualizing and discussing the uncertainty which quantum mechanics brings to our world would be far easier for students to understand, especially in terms of how classical physics is challenged and overturned.

Moving on to tertiary education, in 2010, one comparison of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden covered nursing education, starting at the baccalaureate level and going through to doctoral degrees. The scientists raised concerns about the lack of consistency and comparability across the four countries. They suggest better coordination to assist with cooperation across institutes and across the countries, which would help nurses and nursing students teach, learn, and work in different places.

This range of student ages, teaching subjects, and research questions represents only a small part of Norwegian science on formal education. With school and university having such a deep influence on people’s opportunities and a country’s success, continuing evaluation through research will ensure the most equitable, effective, and useful pedagogy,

The studies quoted in this article are at:

1. MoBa:

2. Early childhood education and care:

3. The inclusive school:

4. Completion rates:

5. Physics teaching:

6. Nursing education:

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.