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Are Norway choosing Quantity over Quality?

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EVERY YEAR IS the same. Only this year it’s more intense. Teachers in Norway are unhappy about new reforms that could affect their work conditions. Increasing office hours, less independence, and higher requirements are some of the claims.

In December 2012, the Norwegian political parties wanted to expand the length of a teacher’s education to a five-year master programme. This happened only two years after a fresh reform had changed the situation for teachers. The argument for making it a five-year programme was that teachers would gain more subject competence and experience from research. In addition, more people would apply in general. Today, the discussion is once again preoccupying the minds of the party members, current teachers, and future teachers.

A change in office hours
First, the Norwegian communal sector organisation (KS) wanted to expand the working year for teachers to 45 weeks, which would mean 37.5 hours weekly throughout the year. Thereby turning the generous summer vacation into regular office hours. The independence of the teachers and schools would also decrease because of the increasing amount of control given to the local authorities. Unsurprisingly the teachers weren’t happy with this and the Norwegian union of education declared the number of days the teachers worked should be equal to the number of days their pupils were in school.

Compromise leading to a final vote
A peaceful demonstration in Skien coupled with several other frustrated reactions towards KS, forced the organisation to finally reverse some of their plans. KS and the Norwegian union of education, made a compromise. The new deal is that teachers must be at school for a minimum of 7.5 hours a day. These hours are meant to be used to do tasks teachers believe are beneficial to their students. The compromise is to be voted on by the teachers themselves later this month. The leader of The Union of Education — Ragnhild Lied — has already claimed that the result of the vote will be binding for its members. However, if a majority does not agree with the deal, it will almost certainly result in a strike. Wisely some might say another leader Terje Skyvulstad, has said that it is difficult to predict what will happen should there be a strike.

Free or forced teachers?
One professor at the University of Oslo, Thorgeir Kolshus, expressed to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten: ‘’If the teachers are forced to maintain certain office hours, the job will become less attractive. If you give teachers freedom, you will get quality’’. June 18th will be the day of the vote. The question is; will there be quality?

Problems are not just affecting those in Norway, recently in Ireland, Headmasters and University Presidents were ordered by the Government to reduce staff costs by 1%. This was despite a recent report claiming that Ireland was third in Europe for Adult Literacy and Numeracy tests. The chief executive of Irish Universities Ned Costello claimed “A commitment to roll back the recently announced staff cuts, and an injection of funding in the forthcoming Budget and estimates this autumn would be a good place to start.”

Five-year master programme
Similar to the situation in December 2012, once more the current government wants to try to expand the teacher education from a four-year bachelor to a five-year master programme. On the one hand, a masters programme can attract more disciplined students with better grades. The programme can also give higher self-confidence academically. On the other hand, a masters programme can also be risky for those students who are not as strong academically. This can result in a growing apostasy. For a masters programme to be attractive there need to be a rise in wages, fewer ‘’time thieves’’, and the teachers need to be given more trust, autonomy, and status.

By Hanna Skotheim

Pandeia has also offered up its own pan-european report on education cuts which can be read here.

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