About-turn changes fortunes of Folk

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
NORWAY. Many of Norway's Folk High Schools were on the point of collapse last year because of a dearth of students. This year, however, the number of applicants has almost trebled in many areas, both for independent Folk High Schools and for those with a Christian foundation.

The reason for this dramatic turnaround is that earlier this year the Norwegian parliament finally decided to award points to students who opted to take a year out to study at a Folk High School. These are residential schools in the country that do not run formal exams.

Under the complicated points system which prevails in Norway's education system, students are rewarded for the academic level they have reached. University entrance carries so many points, study at a technical college or polytechnic a couple less, and so on.

Folk High Schools up and down the country had complained for years that because no points were awarded for their particular brand of learning, young people in an increasingly competitive society were voting with their feet and going elsewhere.

One member of parliament who had campaigned vociferously for greater recognition of the schools' status said the decision was as if a candle had been lit at last in a wintry wilderness.

For many schools, faced this year with almost certain closure, this will be the reprieve they have long been praying for. As student numbers had dropped by up to 50 per cent, by the autumn of last year many of the schools had had to axe staff and take buildings out of use.

A large sector of Norwegian society will be equally thankful for the change of heart. Folk High School education is unique, for it is designed to emphasise both the individual's development and an awareness of sharing and learning within the school community.

Many believe that the more specialised and technologically orientated society becomes, the greater will be the need for an alternative type of schooling like this.

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