Minister urges toddler testing

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Norway’s education minister, Kristin Halvorsen, has released a new parliamentary report that seeks to reduce the number of Norwegian children receiving special education, including the controversial proposal that kindergarten pupils as young as three should have their language ability tested.

Education minister Kristin Halvorsen, pictured on the right above, during a visit to a school in Ringsaker. The former finance minister wants to introduce earlier language testing of children. PHOTO: Kunnskapsdepartementet

The report, titled “Learning and community”, looks to address the increasing number of school pupils receiving special education across a variety of age groups. Around 50,000 Norwegian children will receive special education this school year, which has increased by over 13,000 since 2006-2007.

Particular concern has focused on how the number of students in special education increases as children move up to higher age groups. In the tenth grade, 11.7 percent of pupils undertake special education, while just 4.3 percent do in the first grade. The proposal to evaluate three-year-olds’ abilities is designed to intervene in educational development at the earliest opportunity. Such evaluations already go on in a number of kindergarten today, but the process is unregulated. A committee of experts will examine various methods for testing and mapping linguistic proficiency in kindergartens, before making recommendations in the autumn.

Kindergarten teachers oppose testing
Opposition to the proposals is expected, especially from kindergarten teachers themselves. The Union of Education Norway, which represents teachers in kindergartens, previously opposed such testing of children at the pre-school level.

Halvorsen, the leader of the Socialist Left Party as well as minister for education, assured newspaper Aftenposten that “we do not want kindergartens to become more like schools.” She also stressed that parents would “have the opportunity to say ‘no thanks’ to the offer of linguistic mapping.” Nonetheless, she stated her hope that “the plan will be so good that everyone will say yes.” She also emphasized the need for “a general rise in the quality of kindergartens” in order to ensure that problems with language are addressed.

Addressing disparities affecting ethnic minorities
A number of school leaders have welcomed the proposals, pointing to the difficulty they face in receiving pupils with linguistic shortcomings. Pedagogic-psychological services (PPT) in Oslo, a city council body offering advice on children with learning or other childhood difficulties, is also positive about the proposals.

Speaking to Aftenposten, PPT’s leader, Walter Frøyen, pointed to the fact that many students with minority backgrounds suffered particularly from experiencing a “language-deficient environment” both at home and at kindergarten because “many of the employees are unskilled with very poor Norwegian knowledge themselves” in areas of the city where minorities tend to live. Over 10 percent of ethnic minority pupils receive special education, compared to 7 percent from a Norwegian background, and research by PPT suggests that the average ethnic minority child is one year behind their counterparts by the time they receive the first grade. Frøyen hopes that these inequalities will be addressed, although he too identified the opposition of many kindergarten teachers to undertaking linguistic mapping.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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