In respect to the education of her people, Norway stands with the foremost nations of the world. Almost every Norwegian of either sex can read and write, and, especially in the larger towns, there are highly educated and cultivated people, well-read and accomplished, such as one would find in any modern European center.
Elementary education is practically compulsory, and parents have no fees to pay for instruction during the first seven years of a child’s attendance at the public schools. In the towns such schools are well graded. In country districts they are like the ungraded country schools in the less-favored parts of the United States. Formerly the country teacher conducted classes for a few weeks in one farmhouse and then moved on to another district for the following term; this “ambulatory” method has now almost entirely vanished. A part of the expense is borne by the general government, and a part by the amt (canton or county). In 1901 there were enrolled in Norwegian public schools 342,579 children, for whose instruction $3,264,975 were expended, that is to say, an annual average of more than $9.50 per pupil. It is evident that Norway makes an extraordinary effort, in proportion to her resources, in order to raise an intelligent people. The instruction provided in the smaller country schools is only rudimentary, and by no means ideal, but in the few large towns the curriculum compares well with that of similar grades in other parts of Europe and America.
The elementary schools (for pupils less than eleven years old) are, as stated above, entirely free. The “Middle” schools (eleven to fifteen years), require very small tuition fees. In most of the Middle schools the course of study includes English, as well as the language of the country, history, geography, mathematics, natural sciences, religion, writing, and drawing, manual training, gymnastics, singing and domes-tic economy.
Poor children, at least in the towns, have school-books furnished free, and in Christiania those whose parents are unable to provide for them properly are given one good meal of simple, nourishing food, in order to put them in good physical condition for their work.
The educational problem of the kingdom is much simplified by the fact that school, church and society all pull together. (1) Norway is practically unanimous in loyalty to the established Church (Lutheran Protestant). (2) The Church requires every boy and girl to pass strict examinations in Christian doctrine and Bible history preparatory to “confirmation.” That involves at least fair facility in reading and writing. (3) It is absolutely essential that a youth or a maiden should hold a certificate of confirmation, in order to obtain a good wage-earning position under the government, in business, often even in domestic service.
College-preparatory schools (gymnasia) are 86 in number, with 15,596 pupils. Their course of study divides along two lines, according to whether pupils are to emphasize the sciences or language and history. German, French and English are taught in these schools ; Greek has been entirely dropped from the course (since 1896) and Latin is a possible elective only during the two last years, an indication that even the old so-called “Latin” schools have been thoroughly democratized in accordance with the modern spirit of the people. Outside the large towns students of high school age (fifteen to eighteen) often secure special instruction from some clergyman; the clergy of the established Church are all university men, well trained.
The University at Christiania has an average enrollment of over 1,400 students. It is a State institution, receiving government subsidies, which amount to nearly a quarter of a million dollars yearly, besides the modest fees of the students themselves. The sixty-three professors are appointed by the King.
There are six public normal schools and four private institutions of the same grade, where teachers are trained for work in the elementary grades. Summer schools for teachers are held at Christiania and Bergen. Teachers’ salaries are very small, averaging less than $300, but masters have a house besides, and often act as parish-clerks. Retired schoolmasters or their widows receive modest pensions from the State.
Technical schools, for the study of engineering, chemistry and allied subjects, are supported in Christiania, Bergen and Trondhjem. Christiania has also an art academy and a good music school.
In several of the larger towns evening schools are supported for the benefit of boys and girls who have to work during the day, yet are ambitious to carry on their studies beyond the limits actually demanded by law. Similar night schools, with a broader curriculum, are carried on for adults. They are known as arbeiderakademier (workmen’s academies), and are managed on the plan known in America as the “University Extension” method, i. e., lectures are given by college professors, doctors, military officers, engineers, chemists and other scientific men.
The State supports wholly or partially ten schools for abnormal children, deaf, blind and feeble-minded, also special reformatory institutions for neglected children, who must have special care to keep them from developing into criminals.
The State annually appropriates $5,400 towards the support of public libraries in different parts of the country. This amount is distributed in sums not more than $54 each in parishes where an equal amount is raised by local subscription. Christiania has a public library of 50,000 volumes and Bergen a collection larger still.