Solberg: Norway ‘can’t be mediocre’

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Good education is the key to maintaining Norway’s prosperous welfare state, as the country moves towards a less oil-driven economy. To that end, talks are underway between the government and teachers unions to make education a more attractive career, Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s announced when she opened the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise’s (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO) annual conference.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg opened the NHO conference in Oslo on Wednesday. She told the country's most powerful business lobby that oil has made Norway rich, but education, knowledge and a highly skilled society are key to the future. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Prime Minister Erna Solberg opened the NHO conference in Oslo on Wednesday. She told the country’s most powerful business lobby that oil has made Norway rich, but education, knowledge and a highly skilled society are key to the future. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Solberg told the NHO delegates at the conference in Oslo on Wednesday that building a Norwegian “knowledge society” is one of the government’s most important goals. She said what’s inside the people’s heads is far more valuable than the oil wealth, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

“The oil has given Norway prosperity, but it is knowledge that is Norway’s future,” she said. “If we can realize the knowledge society, we’ll have managed the transition to the post-oil era. Norwegian jobs will come to be knowledge and skills intensive if we are to maintain our welfare state.”

She warned the results from last year’s round of international student proficiency testing, which returned Norway’s worst ever maths results, were not good enough to build Norway’s future. “We are mediocre, the middle of the tree,” she said. “We must be on top. We can’t be top in everything, but we must have some world leading universities and have a high level of general education.”

Teaching more attractive
Solberg announced Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen has begun talks with the teachers union and local government organization to make teaching a more prestigious career. “Today the career path for teachers is out of the classroom and into administration,” said Solberg. “We can’t have that. The best teachers must be rated on their efforts in the classroom and on the teaching staff. They must find career opportunities here.”

A debate at the conference between the NHO head, Kristin Skogen Lund and the Conservative Party (Høyre)  education minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen focused on the steps needed to improve Norwegian education. Lund called for teachers’ performance pay, kindergarten for all five year olds, a third, practical alternative route to high school, and better designed higher education.

Isaksen said the government couldn’t enforce mandatory kindergarten or interfere with teachers’ pay or university structure, reported NRK. He was open to the idea of practical, on the job training as an alternative for high school students.

The NHO is the country’s most powerful business lobby and employers’ group. This year’s annual conference is themed “the learning life”. Socialist Left (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) education spokesman Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes took a dig at the NHO’s commitment to their message. “There are two things which are very striking about the program,” he said. “One is that there are very few women on the scene, and the second is that NHO has arranged a learning conference without any teachers.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate