Education in Norway

Education in Norway is mandatory for all children aged 6-16. Before 1997, the mandatory education in Norway started at the age of 7. The school year in Norway runs from late August to mid June the coming year. The Christmas holiday from mid December to early January divides the Norwegian school year into two terms. The Norwegian school system can be divided into three parts: primary school ("barneskole", age 6-13), lower secondary school ("ungdomsskole", age 13-16), upper secondary school or high school ("videregående skole", age 16-19).

Primary school ('grunnskole', age 6-16)

is the mandatory schooling all children go through. (There are various pre-school kindergartens available, but these are not considered part of the school system.)

Some 98% of primary school students attend public schools.[citation needed] The remaining 2% are distributed over religious (Christian), Steiner and Montessori schools, which are the only private alternatives.[citation needed]

Primary school is divided in two phases:

'Barneskole' (grades 1-7)

begins at age 6. In the first year, the students are mostly playing educational games and learning social behaviour. 1st grade is dominated by physical activity and socialising. In grades 2 through 7, they are introduced to math, English, Norwegian, religion and gymnastics, followed by geography and history.

Grades: None given at this level.

'Ungdomsskole' (grades 8-10)

starts the more serious part of eduation: You get grades for your work, and the grades determine whether you will be accepted at your secondary school of choice. From eight grade the students can choose one or more subjects themselves. Standard subjects are languages like German, French or Spanish, various practical subjects (like typewriting, knitting or photography) and in-depth courses in English or Norwegian.

The two phases stem from Norway's former educational system (1889-1959), where only the first phase (7 yrs, age 7-14, called 'folkeskole') was mandatory.

Grades before : Letter scale S, M, G, NG, LG. In order from best to worst:

S - 'svært godt'/'exceptionally good'

M - 'meget godt'/'very good'

G - 'godt'/'good'

NG - 'noe godt'/'somewhat good'

LG - 'lite godt'/'little good', fail

Now they get grades in 1-6, where 6 is the best. 5- is for example better than 4+.

Secondary school ('videregående skole', age 16-19)

is 3 years of optional schooling, although recent changes to society (no jobs for 16-years olds) and law (government required by law of 1994 to offer secondary schooling in one form or another to everyone between 16 and 18 who submits the application form) has made it largely unavoidable in practice.

Secondary education in Norway is primarily based on public schools, attended by 96% of the students. Until 2005, Norwegian law held private secondary schools to be illegal unless they offered a 'religious or pedagogic alternative', meaning that the only private schools in existence were religious (Christian), Steiner/Waldorf and Montessori schools. The first 'standard' private secondary schools in Norway are expected to open in the fall of 2005.

Secondary school used to have (before 1994) three main branches:

  • 'general studies' ('almennfag', formerly 'gymnas'), is all theoretical with standard subjects like history, geography, Norwegian and secondary languages.

Students pick a number of subjects for in-depth study. Standard across-the-board in-depth subjects include mathematics, physics, English or teritary languages like German, French or Spanish. (Called teritary here since English is secondary to Norwegian, but mandatory from 2nd grade, while German/French/Spanish is optional from 8th grade.)

This is where you would go to prepare for higher education (college or university), or if you haven't decided yet - it's 'general', after all.

  • 'professional studies' ('yrkesfag') is more practical oriented

This is where you would go to become a mechanic, carpenter, or electrician.

  • 'mercantile studies' ('merkantile fag') was a separate branch (before 1994) dealing with trade- or office-related educations.

This was where you would go to become a secretary, merchant or accountant.

This branch is now integrated into 'general studies'.

Since the secondary schooling reform of 1994 ('Reform 94'), the branches have been merged into a single system. Among the goals of the reform was that a) everybody should get a dosis of 'general studies' large enough to make them eligible for higher education later, meaning more theory in professional studies, and b) it should be possible to cross over from one education path to another without losing too much credit. In the old system your two years of carpentry would be wasted if you wanted to switch to general studies, in the new system you would keep credit for at least half of it. There exists public and private offers for adults (20+) that want secondary education or want to improve their grades before appying for higher education.


Numeric scale 0-6. 6 is best, 0 and 1 are failing grades. Intermediate grades are sometimes indicated with a trailing +/-, as in 2+ (verging on 3).

Having finished secondary school, a period of partying generally ensues, see Russ.

Higher education

is in principle anything beyond secondary school, and normally lasts 3 years or more.

Higher education can be broadly divided into


concentrates on theoretical subjects (arts, humanities, natural science, music). Supplies bachelor (3 yrs), master (5 yrs) and doctor (8 yrs) titles. Universities also run a number of professional studies, including law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and psychology, but these are generally separate departments that have little to do with the rest of the university.

Grades (until 2003)

Numeric scale 1.0-6.0 in 0.1 steps. 1.0 is best, 4.0-6.0 are failing grades. (Note the elegant inversion of the secondary education grade scale.) University grades did not use to be comparable across departments: A 1.0 in physics was not all that uncommon, while anything above 1.9 was unheard of in humanities, and the highest grade ever awarded in law was 2.15.

Grades (present)

Alphabetic scale A-F. The grades and grading scale are according to ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System).

A - best 10% (among those that pass)

B - next 25%

C - next 30%

D - next 25%

E - next 10%

FX - fail, some further work required. (Part of the ETCS scale. It remains to be seen whether it will be commonly used in Norway.)

F - fail, considerable further work required.

University Colleges ('høgskoler')

supplies a wide range of educations, including university bachelor degrees, engineering degrees and professional educations like teacher and nurse. Art schools, where you learn to become an artist, have traditionally minded their own business separate from other forms of education, but were recently redefined to be 'just another education' with the same requirements for study periods, exams and normalized grade assignments as the rest.


Same as for universities.

Private schools

tend to specialize in subjects not offered by public schools, like business economics (microeconomics), marketing and MBAs. Again, private schools do not loom large on the horizon, although the fraction of students attending private schools is a whooping 10% in higher education, compared to 4% in secondary and 1.5% in primary education.


Varies between schools, but many private schools compete on the international market, or hope that their students will, so business education schools tend to use the US system (A-D and F, F is fail).

It should be noted that all public education in Norway, up to and including university levels, is free. From secondary school upwards, students buy their own books and pay for materials used, but there is no tuition fee.

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