In Norway there is mostly consensus and satisfaction with the current educational system. One topic that has been controversial and that has gotten significant attention in the press and amongst politicians is student’s free choice of gymnasiums.
To elaborate a bit about the educational system, the gymnasiums are the last and the only part of the secondary education in Norway, and the only part of it which is not mandatory. The gymnasiums last for three years, and students are usually between 15 and 18 years when attending them. Before the introduction of free choice between this gymnasiums, the decision of which school a student would go to was purely based on geography.
Since 1997 there has been a free choice between the 22 gymnasiums of the capital Oslo. In the other big cities the change was made towards free choice a couple of years later . Indeed, each county of the country decides for itself whether to have free choice of gymnasiums. Some counties still do not have the free choice-model.
The advantages of having free choice are many, and mostly built on economic theory. Firstly, the schools are pressured to deliver a good quality of education and environment so that the school remains attractive for students. In fact this was the main argument for the introduction of the free choice of gymnasiums among politicians. Empirical studies show that there are in fact efficiency gains of having a free choice of school, in form of student performance and staff productivity.
It has also been argued that free choice was needed in the public school sector so that the schools got used to competition before the due introduction of some major private schools in this part of the Norwegian educational system. There were already some small players in the system, but the vast majority of gymnasiums around 2000 was within the public sector.
There are also major disadvantages to students being able to choose their gymnasiums freely. Mainly there has been a fear that the schools will be divided into low-status and high-status schools. Indeed the experience from studies in U.S.A and Sweden show that the free choice-model in fact involves a “segregation effect” on schools in an area. Schools have shown to be segregated on the dimension of ethnicity, student performance and parent’s educational background and income. Also the logistics problems for Norwegian students has tended to increase after the free choice, leading students to travel longer distances in order to get to their schools. Typically the centrally located schools have been the most attractive, and the following effect has therefore been that disadvantaged students living in urban areas has been forced to attend schools in the suburbs, and that resourceful students from the suburbs attend the city centre schools.
Whether the efficiency gains are enough to compensate for the negative effects of free choice of gymnasiums is still hard determine, and the topic remains controversial within the Norwegian society.
Written by Sondre Holm Sandnes
“Why free choice of school is controversial” retrieved 10.05.13 from
User choice in the school sector(government pages), retrieved 10.05.13 from http://www.regjeringen.no/nb/dep/krd/dok/veiledninger_brosjyrer/2004/publikasjonsnummer-h-2147/5.html?id=275544
“District schools lose from free choice of schools”, retrieved 10.05.13 from