Norwegian Cakes for National Day

At every Norwegian celebration there must be cake and on the 17 of May, Norway’s National Day, Norwegians go the extra mile.  It is very common to see a table full of cakes for the syttende mai family gathering.  After a day of watching or participating in the city parade the celebration continues with Norway’s best cakes.

Bløtkake, or layer cake, is the featured cake at 17 of May.  It is a dry sponge cake filled with layers of fresh cream and lots of berries.  There are two varieties, one with a cream cover which is called bløtkake and the other has a marzipan cover called marsipankake.

There are also several other cakes that are popular for National Day.  Any variety of chocolate cake, often flavoured with coffee or topped with coffee flavoured icing, and often presented as a slab, is common for any Norwegian occasion.  A very new addition to the celebration cake tradition is Pavlova.   Norwegians are very familiar with egg white based desserts such as Troll Cream (made from egg whites, vanilla sugar and usually cowberries) and with layer cakes such as the Worlds Best but now the Pav is becoming popular.  Cooking magazines have featured this cake in the last months and a new line of pavlova cake mix has reached the stores.

Almond is important in Norwegian cake tradition.  Kransekake, or ring cake, is an edible table display.  It is made from a special almond paste and is baked into rings that when stacked on top of each other make a cone.  Almond torte, or Mandelterte, is a stiff slice cake made out of an almond paste and butter cream usually with a chocolate or caramel coating.  This cake is common to most countries.

Verdens beste, literally meaning the ‘World’s Best’ cake is a famous cake in Norway as it won an international cake award.  It is also ‘unofficially’ Norway’s national cake (according to an NRK radio poll).  It is a layer cake with a cake base, soft meringue and rum flavoured cream.

Especially for National Day, cakes are decorated with flags or the national colours.  The soft cream cakes use fruit as a topping – blue berries and raspberries or strawberries – to create a National theme.  Sometimes the layers inside of cakes have different lines of blue and red fruit.

Ribbons and flags are used to dress hard cover cakes such as masipankake, kransekake and mandelterte.  Ribbons with a red, white and blue stripe are a very popular decoration for syttende mai.  Little flags are found in every party section of supermarkets all year long as they are not just used for National Day.  Coloured marzipan flowers are a common feature.

All this cake baking doesn’t leave much room in the fridge.  Since outside is colder than the ice box, (as we live in Northern Norway) we sit our cakes on the porch to keep fresh and cool.  Though it is best to put a cover on them and set them up high.  One time Moose’s grandmother had a chocolate slab cake cooling on the front step and some American visitors thought it was a doormat, wiping their feet on it!

The Norwegian Education Crisis: Unified vs Quality

This is an outline summary with personal perspective of the report The Norwegian Unified School – a paradise lost? by Anne Welle-Strand and Arild Tjeldvoll for the Journal Education Policy 2002.

Norway prides itself on being a leader of equal opportunity and this value has been the central element of the Norwegian Education System.  Universal schooling for children was introduced in Norway 250 years ago.  From 1889, seven years of compulsory education was provided, in 1969 this was increased to nine years and in 1997 to 10 years.  For over 80 years Norway has employed the ‘Unified School’ model for its compulsory education system (today grades one to 10).  This has meant that compulsory school, high school and tertiary education is free of charge not only for residents of Norway but for anyone with the opportunity to study in Norway.  This schooling model became stable from the socialist ideals that sprang out of post war Europe.  It was designed to ‘equal’ peoples education no matter their situation in life.


Above: Public school in Aksershus before 1922

However, in the last quarter of the 20th century reports from the model started to indicate serious problems.  Continuous research showed that the model did not progress with the competitive culture that globalization was introducing.  It indicated that the Unified School System, in fact, was creating unequal opportunities and learning conditions.  The Norwegian education system, governments and public opinion have battled it out since the 70s whether to stick with an education that is based on the ideals of Norwegian culture and society, ‘the quality of equality’, or to adopt a new system, Quality School, that would enable the people to have a competitive future in the globalized world, ‘the quality of competence’.  The Unified School model won out up until the Age of  Technology.

The Unified School system proclaims that a person is entitled to a teaching adapted particularly to him or her, also called ‘student adapted teaching’.  This meant that all levels of education had a fixed syllabus of knowledge – a learning that was directed by the teacher.  This type of learning was well suited in the 50s and 60s where most education could only be obtained in school.  The Unified School, gave people access to further their education who would not have had the opportunity based on class.  School offered the next generation better opportunities in life.

As the length of compulsory schooling increased to include lower high school, and with the implementation of two major reforms in the 1990s, student motivation began to decrease.  This meant that only the motivated students continued to upper High School level.  However, because more students had the opportunity of a senior education, upper High School education now needed to be curved to the Unified School model as well to accommodate ‘equality’.

Critism has always followed the Unified School model but by 2000, it was stated that the Unified School was turning into a ‘depository school’ where social and academic quality was declining.  It also caused an increase in problems such as violence and bullying amongst school students.  Research continually showed decreasing achievements in Maths and Science.

The Unified School directed teachers to spend more attention on the academically weaker students.  This ironically showed that a model designed for equality encouraged unequal attention towards different abled students.  It was found that ‘adapted teaching’ was not possible for a class of 30 students.  A class that size can only learn according to the academically weaker students.  This is where justice and equality collided in the Unified School model.  Offering ‘equal’ education for all no matter the socioeconomic differences provided just a minimal education for all.

In 2001 the OECD program, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), conducted a study where 15 year-old Norwegian students were tested on their knowledge of Maths and Science, ability to read, and classroom behaviour.  Norway’s reading score was average, however, the large span of reading competences was odd considering Norway used the Unified School model for learning.

When it came to classroom behaviour PISA measured that Norwegians were the worst at classroom behaviour than the other Scandinavian countries, and surprisingly was at the bottom of the international scale in classroom behaviour, only second to Greece.  PISA summed up their study stating that Norway was not up to standard in the ‘international picture of academic achievements’.  Few countries spend more on education per pupil in school than Norway and considering Norway’s financial resource (oil in the north) OECD researchers declared that Norway’s education is ‘unsatisfactory’.

One of the reasons the Unified School model was popular amongst the Left Parties, since the war, was that it was meant to ‘achieve equality by socialising student groups to the values of an equal society’.  Now, in hindsight, it is evident that it is difficult to achieve both quality and equality education simultaneously.  Introducing a Quality School model no doubt would increase the quality of education, appreciate individualism and nurture competition – everything that Unified School model is not designed achieve.

To try and solve the problems of the Unified school, in the early 1990s the government started to introduce student-learning.  Instead of the teacher providing all the information to curriculum, students were now to develop their knowledge through project work.  The custom of marking students work was devalued and even abandoned by schools.  This first meant that a teacher didn’t need to require as much knowledge in their subject resulting in lower qualified training teachers.  There was no proper monitoring of student progression and learning and there was no countable level of achievement obtained by students.  This suited Norway’s educational ‘popularism’ ideals which has a reputation for anti-intellectualism.  Now ‘local’ knowledge was more important than general knowledge.  By 1992 learning for ‘real work’ was prioritised and academic achievement for higher education took a back seat.  Schools did not want to appear ‘too academic’ and did not encourage individual academic achievements.  Some schools even stopped sports days because it was believed they were too competitive.  Just so any ‘looser’ didn’t feel bad, winning was not celebrated.  In 1999 an OECD study found that Norwegian education was a ‘generation behind’.

By 1993 a new idea was developing in Norway about ‘service’ and ‘customer’.  The movement is referred to as the New Public Management (NPM).  The idea of ‘choosing according to preference’ enabled individualism and choice, however, the Labour Party joined with the Socialists, Christians and Farmers to disregard this new way of thinking in schools.  This coalition instead introduced a new Unified School policy to combat the mediocre education of Norwegians.  Now students no longer needed to qualify academically for high school – the policy gave the right for everyone, even the uneducated, to enter upper high school.

However, it was only after 2001, when neo-liberal ideas on NPM were gaining popularity among the public, that the Conservative government announced new ‘competitive’ education policies.  The three pivotal changes were in making school principals ‘managers’ of their school and therefore decentralising education even further, private schools were to receive financial support from the government (though schools for profit are still not allowed) to make schools more competitive and students’ school marks at the end of compulsory schooling would be published.  These three changes were designed to start the process of shifting Norwegian education from the Unified School model to the Quality School.  In 2002, the Minister of Education made a memorable ‘farewell to the Unified School’ speech.  She stated that ‘quality, flexibility and freedom of choice’ were necessary to modernize Norwegian education.  And so thus started Norway’s first step into Quality Reform.

In the new Quality School, knowledge and competence needed to be a priority in order to make the nation competitive.  The previous PISA observations and comments were still plaguing the minds of policy-makers.  So the new system placed higher importance on the academic subjects – Maths, Science, Technology and Economy.  Modern languages, especially English, became more important also.  The Arts suffered greatly and were even defunct in some schools.  Because of this new Quality School model, ‘students, parents and teachers that are neither born, nor culturally socialized, to be ‘competitive’ are to face a tougher environment’ than they would have in the Unified School model.  As such, schools are hypersensitive to the ‘losers’ of the Quality School.  Even today a great amount of management and resources is invested to retain the old Unified School ‘equality’ ideals.  This has fed the societal understanding that Norwegian school does not encourage students to excel above average.  As yet, the Norwegian education system has not found a way to balance its new competitiveness with the Norwegian cultural value, equality.

Norway is one of the last Western countries to modernise its school system for globalization and the Age of Technology.  This has meant that policy makers have tried to fast track Norway’s progress to catch up on the ‘one generation behind’.  In doing so many mistakes have been made over the past 20 years in creating the new Quality School.  Because of the fast implementation of policies without appropriate prior ‘testing’, only hindsight has been able to trace the faults in the developing system.  Norwegian compulsory edcuation is steam-training into the ravine of incompetence and the only way out is to cut its loses, start at the base and walk up.

There are many overlapping studies, policies and reforms in the Norwegian education system.  Unified School verses the Quality School is just one element.  Over the next few months I will present various ideas and studies on Norwegian education.

To read the original report please visit: http://www.bi.no/upload/Info-avdeling/_nedlastingsfiler/AF%20Filer/The%20Norwegian%20Unified%20School.pdf

Snow Stories

Living on a farm we have to protect our animals from predators.  In winter the snow helps us know who is around and who is hunting on our farm.  We often see hare tracks and lemming tracks, sometimes fox, moose and lynx tracks.  If we think there is a predator on the prowl we follow the tracks through the icy fields and into the forest to see what story they can tell us.

Last week we found some very unusual tracks.  Little paw tracks were jumping everywhere.  They were fast and slow, pouncy and turny.  Was it a hare?  No, because the tracks had a long streak in between the paw marks indicating an animal with a long enough tail to drag on the ground.  Could it be a fox, a wolverine or even a martin?  We followed the tracks through fences and in and out of fields.  We came to a section where another animal had joined in – a crow.

It left big beautiful wing marks on the ice.  Both sets of tracks curled and whirled over the field.  Could the animal have caught the crow?  (For prints to be created like this in the snow, a new layer of soft wet snow needs have fallen, the animal then walks/flies across it and after, the temperature gets cold very quickly which freezes the snow to ice, capturing the markings.)

It suddenly dawned on us that we were tracking the prints of our own Norwegian forest cat, Gråbein – doh!  Forest cats are a very large breed and could take out a hawk.  But he certainly hadn’t caught the crow for dinner.  The crow tracks were in and out and sliding along the ground.  The print in the picture above demonstrates a full flight of wings and tail feathers.

We followed some more and then found some tiny, tiny little tracks under the cat tracks.  It was a lemming.

The story became clear to us.  The cat was on the field chasing a lemming under the snow.  The cat dug it up and must have let it go.  The crow thought he could catch the lemming and so the cat and crow weaved and dived and slid around each other to catch the lemming.  We found tuffs of little black and ginger fuzzy fur at the end of the trail (from the little rodent) and then the full print of the crow.  We’re guessing that the crow got ahead of the cat, pounced on the lemming and then took off, leaving its prints, to find a place to eat its well-earnt meal.

The Norwegian Education Crisis: Introduction

This post is the first of a series of studies on the Norwegian Education System.

Norway is famous for free education.  Since Norway became a country in 1905, it has focused on developing a country of equality, which included creating an education system centred on equality.  An ‘equality’ education meant that everyone was entitled to the same education no matter their socioeconomic state.  This was a triumph for equality but as proven over the years, has become a trial for a quality education.

Since my daughter, Lilu, has started barnehagen (kindergarten), I have been very keen on learning about the Norwegian Education System.  I know both the Australian and British Education Systems and I am a teacher myself.  I currently teach at an Arts school in Northern Norway where I am developing a program that has been absent for the past ten years.  Working in the public sector means I become involved with the politics of both the city and Norway.

The past year I have sat in many meetings discussing the absence of the Arts in compulsory school, grades one to ten.  For the last 15 years, ‘real’ Arts has had no place in Norwegian schooling.  General teachers have been the ones to facilitate a far from desirable arts course that has been more about meeting criteria (specifically for handcrafts) than discovering the world of music, theatre and visual art.  Specialised teachers in the Arts are rarely employed in compulsory school.  Through school results, numerous studies and even a reprimand from the OECD, (an international organisation for economic cooperation and development – education being their primary focus) Norway is finally waking up to the fact that their free equality education system is failing and that the lack of ‘real’ Arts might be a contributing factor.

What I have discovered from my personal research and my involvement with Norwegian education has alarmed me.  I am scared for my children’s education.  Already as a parent I am being told by barnehagen staff not to advance my child too much in reading and writing (Lilu is four and learning to spell) because she will ‘get bored in school and then won’t want to participate’.  The Norwegian Education System has to change to be a contender in a globalised world but for Norway to be competitive, it will have its greatest struggle in changing the ‘equality-indulgent’ population towards quality education.

Over the next month I will be presenting different ideas about the Norwegian Education System in a series of posts.  Norway is being pressured from the international community to lift its game and Norway is gasping for any quick fix it can lay its hands on.  The problems in the education system in Norway are long term.  It will only get worse before it will get better and so this next generation will be lost to the wind.  In the coming years Norway will produce one of the greatest numbers of highly educated unemployed in the world.

An equality education certainly doesn’t mean a quality education.

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