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Oslo keen to launch English schools

Politicians at City Hall in Oslo plan to apply for state permission to open two new international schools in the Norwegian capital where all teaching would be carried out in English. They cite rising demand for a more international education in an increasingly global society.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Monday that the new English-language schools would follow a more international curriculum but comply with Norwegian standards and be fully financed and run by the public sector like all other Norwegian schools. One would be located on Oslo’s west side, traditionally home to families of diplomats and foreign executives, and one in the Groruddalen district on Oslo’s east side, among the capital’s most multicultural areas.

Tuition-free and open for all to apply
Torger Ødegaard, the politician in charge of education in Oslo from the Conservative Party, already has paved the way for more programs for gifted students at Oslo schools, and encountered opposition in doing so from the Socialist Left politicians in the state education ministry. They traditionally back an egalitarian system with extra help offered only for those lagging behind. Now, however, opposition politicians within Oslo’s city council seem to be embracing Ødegaard’s plans for international schools that would be public, tuition-free and open to all.

“I went to such a school myself, when I was a child and lived in Saudi Arabia,” the deputy leader of the city council’s education committee, Andreas Halse, from the Labour Party, told Aftenposten. “The world is steadily getting more international, and this will be important for nurturing and attracting competence.”

The Oslo International School (OIS) in Bærum is currently the only school offering all courses in English and its students are a mix of children from the diplomatic corps, foreign employees of Norwegian companies and Norwegian children. Oslo also has French and German schools, but they’re all private and fees can run high. Ødegaard wants to make an international education in English more widely available with no fees involved.

“This will provide a much better offer for Oslo’s students, because this is something everyone could apply for,” Ødegaard told Aftenposten. The main target group would be foreign children living in Norway for a limited period but also Norwegian children with ambitions of studying overseas later. He stressed that the schools would still offer Norwegian classes, in Norwegian.

‘Need for English education in Oslo’
Tom Baker, head of the private Oslo International School (OIS), said he thinks the proposed schools would complement more than compete with OIS, adding that he agrees there’s a need for English education in Oslo.

“It depends on how (city officials) define an ‘international school,'” Baker told Views and News. “I think they’re going to be somewhat different (from OIS) since we’re not structured under the public schools act.” OIS, where standard fees can run up to NOK 200,000 per year, offers classes from pre-school through secondary school and International Baccalaureate programs, and claims a good record of foreign students being well-equipped to “re-integrate” into their own countries’ school systems when they return home.

Ødegaard is well aware that it won’t be easy to win state approval for his proposed schools, but he hopes to have a program in place by 2015. The 13 international schools now scattered around Norway are all private except one in Arendal, but more are planned in Ålesund, Fredrikstad, Asker, Kristiansund, Drammen and Stjørdal.

State officials seemed lukewarm to his plan, stressing that they want to “further develop an inclusive school system” in Norway. “If this would strengthen or weaken that goal is something that will have to be evaluated,” State Secretary in the Education Ministry, Elisabet Dahle of the Socialist Left party, told Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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