In early June I attended the OECD seminar for Norwegian leaders in education improvement in Ontario with around 30 of the most important stakeholders in the Norwegian education system. The seminar was the last part of the OECD-Norway review to give input to the reform of lower secondary education in Norway. Our main goal is to improve lower secondary education in Norway by making the instruction and teaching more engaging, practical and varied. We want the lower secondary students to feel that the education and training they receive is relevant to them.
In the process of developing the white paper, the OECD has helped us identify our strengths and weaknesses in lower secondary education. We have a comprehensive education system that emphasises equity and inclusion and PISA results for 15-year-old students are high and have improved since 2006. Our system is a good one, but we want to get better!
There is a lot of knowledge on what is needed in the classrooms in order to engage all students in learning. The main question is how to make sure it happens for every child in every school. In their report “Improving lower secondary schools in Norway” the OECD points out the lack of a clear strategy to improve the quality of instruction. The OECD advises us to pay more attention to the capacity to deliver reform across the levels of governance. If we want to increase student motivation, we need to look closer at how we implement the policies.
This is where Ontario, Canada comes in. Since 2003 the education authorities in Ontario have worked systematically towards increasing student learning, closing the gap between students and increasing public confidence in their school system. The results are impressive. Ontario has succeeded in raising the level of student literacy and numeracy and their graduation rates in high schools have gone up.
The OECD seminar organized in cooperation with Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Ontario Institute for studies in education (OISE), gave us a rich understanding of how they were able to deliver reform to their 5000 schools in Ontario. The Seminar combined excellent lectures by some of the leading educational researchers in the world, with first-hand accounts from central actors in the administration in Ontario, and we visited schools and talked to students, teachers and school leaders and saw for ourselves the impact of policies in schools and classrooms. We also had time to discuss and reach conclusions among ourselves during team work sessions.
One of the most important lessons we take back from the seminar is the importance of having few and lasting goals which are clearly formulated and communicated. It seemed to me like teachers and school leaders in Ontario worked with these goals in mind every day. I was also impressed by the support system developed in Ontario which is “light on judgment and heavy on support”. Rather than putting up league tables and punishing schools, Ontario has developed policies to create and spread good instructional practices across classrooms and schools. By supporting teachers’ professionalism with literacy coaches, networks and different support materials, Ontario has succeeded in spreading high quality instruction across the system.
As a minister it’s a luxury to spend four whole days in the company of key Norwegian education actors, supported by experts from the OECD and Harvard. The Norwegian delegation included representatives from all levels in the Norwegian education system, from the Ministry to teachers. The time allocated to work in smaller groups allowed us to get started on our own strategy.
The seminar is the starting point of a process which will be undertaken in partnership with the most important stakeholders in Norway. We are now working with our own strategy inspired by the OECD Seminar and the Ontario experience. Some things are different in Norway, but the main lessons are valid and very useful. As it was formulated by one of our working groups during the seminar: You don’t have to be bad to get better!
Kristin Halvorsen, Minister of Education, Norway
Watch interview with Kristin Halvorsen
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