Too many young Norwegians drop out of school, lack basic reading and mathematics skills, and become dependent on state welfare organization NAV, criticized the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a report released on Tuesday. Both the OECD and politicians said Norway’s education system is in serious need of changes to improve literacy, and ultimately job prospects, among adults.
Among the report’s key findings were that 400,000 adults were at the lowest level when it came to reading and numeracy, the drop out rate in secondary and higher education remained consistently around 30 percent, and Norway had the highest absentee rate of any OECD country, reported newspaper VG. Young people’s choice of higher education did not line up with areas of workforce demand, and Norway lacked a coordinated skills policy.
The OECD’s Education Director Andreas Schleicher said the symptoms are so many and so serious, it shows a need for change across many areas of the Norwegian skills system. “Even though Norway has good results within skills for adults, there are too many adults who have weak basic skills,” he said. The report showed Norwegians between the ages of 16 and 24 are also much weaker than in many other countries, based on research including results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) surveys. Low-skilled dropouts end up in the welfare system, and the struggle to enter the workforce.
Few options for struggling students
Christopher Frost dropped out of secondary school, and now the 22-year-old is trying to complete the subjects he couldn’t get through as a teenager. “I understand why the dropout numbers are so high in Norway,” he told VG. “Many students don’t feel that the school connects with them and many teachers don’t care that they don’t learn anything.”
Frost moved between work in a kindergarten, study at a community college and a position at a collection agency, before ending up on NAV benefits. “It’s very difficult to get work without education or different kinds of certificates,” he said. “But I’ll really take anything that comes up now, cleaning jobs, shop employee, whatever it will be.”
More alternatives needed
The Minister for Knowledge, the Conservative (Høyre) party’s Torbjørn Røe Isaksen said the fact Norwegian schools weren’t arming students with basic skills was deeply concerning, especially given Norway is one of the world’s richest countries. He said more options were needed for young people who aren’t academically inclined.
“We need more variation in vocational courses, more alternative tracks were man can enter the workforce earlier in combination with theory, or even before the theoretical part,” Isaksen told VG. “We know that those with reading and writing difficulties are overrepresented both in NAV and among prisoners. This is one of our biggest social problems, and a challenge we have swept under the carper for all too many years.” He said no department has taken responsibility for adult education.
The OECD report showed there was poor cooperation between departments responsible for work, industry and local government. “The public sector is large, and the different parts don’t talk together,” admitted Isaksen. “It is serious for those most in need of public help. Reading and writing education for adults is an illustrative example.” He said it’s necessary to investigate and overhaul the whole skills system, especially adult education opportunities.
Graduates, immigrants and disabled out of work
The OECD report noted that free higher education in Norway meant young people could choose to study a degree with little real-life relevance. Many young Norwegians pick courses that don’t necessarily line up with areas of demand in the workforce.
Immigrants are also over-represented in groups of adults with weak skills. “And when we look at this, we see there’s also an integration challenge,” said Isaksen. “Large parts of many immigrant groups are not in work. It is harder to get a job when you lack fundamental skills.”
The report also showed the number of people with disabilities returning to work is much lower in Norway compared to other countries, 10 percent of those of working age are on a disability pension, and four percent are under work assessment.
The OECD will give its suggestions for overcoming the issues later in the year.