History & Background
Norway, officially known as the Kingdom of Norway, includes a large mainland, a variety of small islands, and other territories totaling 368,658 square kilometers (149,366 square miles). Located in northern Europe, Norway lies on the Scandinavian peninsula and is surrounded by three seas to the west and shares most of its eastern border with Sweden. The northern section of Norway experiences cold winters and weeks of continuous darkness, along with weeks of continuous sun in the summer. The country includes large barren and mountainous regions and has a population of just 4.4 million people. In 1999, it was estimated that 28.1 percent of Norwegians live in one of the four largest urban areas, and only these four areas have more than 100,000 inhabitants. Oslo, the capital of Norway, has approximately 500,000 inhabitants, and the next largest area, Bergen, has 220,000 inhabitants. Just 15 communities have more than 20,000 inhabitants. About 20 percent of Norwegians are under the age of 15, and 38 percent are married.
Relative to most countries, Norway's population is overwhelmingly homogenous. The vast majority are Nordic in heritage and appearance, and more than 60 percent have blue eyes. About 85 percent of Norwegians claim membership in the Lutheran Church of Norway. Most though are merely nominal members of the state-run church with less than 3 percent attending regular religious services. Freedom to practice any religion is available to all. The language of Norway is German in origin, and modern Norwegian has several dialects but all are understood across Scandinavian countries. One written language, known as Riksmal or "official language," was in place until about 1850. Landsmal or "country language" was a written form created out of rural Norwegian dialects. A struggle over these two written forms resulted in both being given equal status. Over 80 percent of schools use Riksmal, now known as Dano-Norwegian (Nynorsk). English is a compulsory subject in school, and German and French are common third languages selected by students.
Just one hundred years ago, Norway was an agricultural society. In 2000, the 3 largest sectors of employment were public services (40 percent); commerce, hotels, and restaurants (18 percent); and industry (17 percent). Norway is one of the leaders in the world in the exportation of petroleum. With an abundance of offshore oil and peaceful political and labor relations, Norway's standard of living is one of the highest in the world. A social democracy, Norway has a parliamentary monarchy with numerous political parties. A strong sense of equality dominates social policy in Norway. National health and welfare systems provide for all Norwegians and include free medical care and full support in retirement or because of disability. Norwegians also rank among the highest in the world in projected life expectancy.
In terms of its educational history, independence from Denmark in 1814 was pivotal in the development of Norway's educational policy. Denmark had ruled Norway for the previous 400 years, but turned over control to Sweden when Napoleon was defeated. To counter this transfer of control, Norwegians quickly created a constitution that called for the most democratic political structure to date, including a parliamentary system, the abolition of any further hereditary titles, and expanded voting privileges. Although a small elite still ruled Norway, this constitution resulted in the limitation of Sweden's control and has been maintained, with the addition of amendments, to this day. With independence and a democratically based constitution, it was believed that Norway should be an open society, one in which all children have the right to be literate and all citizens should participate in decision making. A centrally organized and comprehensive school system was thought essential for this and to make a cohesive nation out of such a dispersed population. While at least a few years of religious training had been available to most children before this time, independence and the industrial revolution inspired the expansion of educational opportunities for Norwegians. National educational policy was developed through legislation over the next 150 years.
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