The national school system is designed to provide a quality education to every citizen. Egalitarian values with respect to education are quite strong in Norway. In fact, the government attempts to provide the same quality education to absolutely every Norwegian, no matter how remote a community is or how few children it has. For example, the government spends twice as much per pupil in poor areas where children are scattered over a large area than in other regions of Norway. Likewise, gender differences in educational opportunities have been eliminated. The percentage of girls in upper secondary schools, for example, exceeds the percentage of boys in those schools. Gender preferences in course selection are still apparent though. The result is that parents and communities tend to regard their local school as equal to any other school. Schools do not compete against each other for students, and parents do not "shop" for schools for their children. Almost all Norwegians attend local publicly funded schools.
In 1997, the mandatory age at which children must start school was changed from seven to six years old. Now, all children are required to attend school for 10 years from the age of 6 until the age of 16. After these mandatory years, an optional eleventh year is offered. School size is limited by the Parliament. A maximum of 450 students per school is mandated by law. The philosophy behind this is that small schools function better than consolidated schools at facilitating close connections between the school, students, parents, and community. Some school subjects are required. These include Norwegian, English, mathematics, science, physical education, music, and religion. Students may elect to take courses in the arts, other foreign languages, and vocational programs, such as seamanship, office skills, or agriculture. After these mandatory school years, many students go on to three more years of upper secondary school. They may then take an examination that allows them to be considered for entrance into a university. About the same number of students attend vocational schools as attend college and universities. Because of state support, few schools charge tuition, and all interested students, no matter what their financial need, are eligible for loans from the government.
In 1998, the percentage of those 16 years of age or older whose highest level of education completed was primary/lower secondary school was 23.2 percent, whose highest level was upper secondary school was 54.5 percent, and whose highest level was tertiary education was 22.2 percent. This last percentage has doubled since 1980. Gender differences in these rates exist but are small. The percentage of males who are 16 years of age or older and have completed tertiary schooling is 22.7. The corresponding percentage for females is 21.8 percent. In 2000, the expected years of tertiary education for a 17-year-old Norwegian was 3 years. This is higher than the expected number of years for both Denmark and Sweden. Again, gender differences in these expectations are minimal. Expected years of tertiary education was 3.4 years for 17-year-old women and 2.5 years for 17-year-old men in 2000.
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