High unemployment rate
Two weeks after the first case was confirmed on 26 February, the Prime Minister announced the strictest and most invasive measures introduced in Norway in peacetime. Schools and kindergartens were closed, quarantines introduced, and most restaurants and bars had to close until further notice. The infection control measures are estimated to have cost Norway around NOK 24 billion per month, and have forced a number of businesses to close down. This has resulted in many employees being laid off, and the unemployment rate in Norway went from a historically low level to the highest since World War II.
On 12 March, the Norwegian Directorate of Health decided to close all education institutions at all levels. On 21 March, Parliament (Storting) unanimously voted in favour of a temporary Coronavirus Act to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic. The temporary regulations concern legislative adaptations at all levels of education, and training/tuition in refugee reception centres. From 27 March to 17 April, 15 temporary sets of regulations were introduced relating to education alone.
Cooperation and role of VET stakeholders
Early in the process, the Ministry of Education and Research appointed the Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) to serve as the point of contact for post-secondary vocational colleges (EQF5) and their students. NOKUT coordinates all information on higher vocational education programmes and has established a questions and answers service.
An arena was established for meetings between public bodies responsible for VET, social partners, students, and various VET councils. The purpose of these meetings is to support the sector through sharing information and seeking solutions to problems as they arise.
Apprentices and lay-offs
The social partners are actively seeking arrangements whereby apprentices can complete their educational pathways and also to ensure the rights of those who are laid off. Students are not normally entitled to unemployment benefits but, because of the coronavirus situation, a new temporary scheme has been adopted entitling people to unemployment benefit in combination with education or training. The scheme applies to all types of courses/study programmes and training.
Teaching and learning processes:
- informing learners about hygiene and safety in the pandemic situation;
Together with the Directorate of Education and Training, the Norwegian institute of Public Health has prepared infection prevention guides. These have been published on relevant websites and the information has been passed to students, apprentices and guardians. Many schools have produced visual infection prevention guides and procedures, adapted to their students to make it easier to communicate the message to the target group.
- Methodological guidelines and/or continuous support to learners, teachers and trainers, parents;
The Directorate of Education and Training continually updates its website with information about home education for students, teachers and guardians, including information about planned implementation, requirements, assessment and training in vocational subjects. This includes tips and advice on educational environment and collaboration with the home to prevent loneliness.
- Availability of online resources (use of existing platforms or developing new ones); digital challenges and preparedness;
Many different communication systems, learning platforms and digital resources are available within the education system. It is up to the school owner to decide which system schools use. Schools are recommended to make use of the solutions that are already available to them, as these meet the necessary data protection requirements. Some schools have been better equipped than others for the challenge of going digital. Endeavours are being made to raise the level in all schools.
- Identifying and reaching out to vulnerable groups of learners and their families;
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has translated and published information and video clips about the coronavirus in other languages. Municipal authorities are urged to take greater responsibility for ensuring that the information is communicated to as many people as possible.
A coordination team has been established for services to vulnerable children and young people. The team remit includes establishing dialogue with key organisations in order to identify challenges and discuss how they can be addressed.
Practical training in companies
Apprentices shall not be laid off if adequate training can continue; all training shall be conducted in accordance with the applicable guidelines from the Norwegian institute of Public Health. On 7 May, the Ministry of Education and Research introduced exemptions from the requirements for conducting final craft and journeyman’s examinations, to enable as many apprentices as possible to complete their examinations this spring. The Storting has adopted a temporary scheme to ensure that the lowest paid apprentices are fully compensated for the loss of pay if they lose their apprenticeship or are laid off.
Assessment and final exams
The spring 2020 exams have been cancelled for all year 10 and upper secondary school students including those in VET, with only a few exceptions for exams in certain recognised trades. An overall achievement grade shall be given on completion of the apprenticeship and entered on the exam certificate. The requirement for setting an overall achievement grade prior to exams (local exams) and prior to assessing exam results (national exams) lapses when an exam has been cancelled. This means that the schools shall set overall achievement grades towards the end of the school year. All exam certificates will be marked with 'Exam cancelled for students in spring 2020 due to coronavirus'.
Reflection on the main challenges
Many municipalities have successfully adapted to digital teaching, but not all municipalities have had equal access to infrastructure, equipment and competence. Digital teaching has also increased the municipalities' expenses. In the near future, students will increasingly attend school but some home schooling will continue; the financial situation of individual families may be a challenge, for example whether students have inadequate internet services for home schooling. The Government submitted its proposal for a revised national budget for 2020 on 12 May. This includes a proposal to increase the budget for digital teaching by NOK 140 million.
The unemployment rate has increased significantly and education institutions report increases in the number of applicants. In the revised national budget, the Government proposes to establish 2 000 new student places at tertiary vocational colleges. These student places will be established in fields of study where there is a great need for competence in the years ahead, such as health and social care, and teacher training.
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