In Norway, children start school at the age of 6 and most of them attend public schools where everything from excursions to rulers is provided free of charge. I work at Nesoddtangen School in Nesodden – a peninsula that’s only 20 minutes from Oslo when travelling by boat.
Nesoddtangen is a primary with 600 students in 26 classes and 116 members of staff, including before- and after-school care for Years 1-4 (ages 6-10). We also have a “welcome class” for pupils who have just arrived in Norway, with no prior knowledge of Norwegian (and sometimes no prior knowledge of school).
I live five minutes’ walk away. After taking my five-year-old to daycare (which is practically next door to the school), my day begins at 7.45am. I am one of four Year 5 teachers and I take all subjects except PE and music. I start my mornings checking emails and doing last-minute preparations for class.
Today, after registration, we catch the local bus to Alværn where we walk down to the fjord. The theme for the excursion is to learn about Steilene – five small islands on the west coast of Nesodden.
We are met by two teachers working at the Field School, who teach students about the local history and wildlife. An old lifeboat brings us out to our first stop: Persteilene. A southerly wind makes the lifeboat dance in the waves, to the students’ amusement and the teachers’ fright.
We reach an island that used to hold the oil reserve for Esso. During the Second World War, occupiers built a wall around the main tank and this is all that is left. The students enter through a narrow hole, and test the acoustics within the concrete chamber.
At lunch, the students take out the bread, sausages, hamburgers and other food they have brought to barbecue. They cook their own food – with adult supervision, of course. Afterwards, they lie on their stomachs on the pier and use huge water binoculars to explore the life at the bottom of the fjord.
There is also crab fishing, using mussels as bait, but the crabs are released after we have examined the gender and size. The males are separated from the females; otherwise the males will kill and eat the smaller crabs.
The 20-minute walk uphill to the bus stop is tough because the students are tired after an active day, but we have to keep up the pace – the buses only run once an hour and walking back would take 90 minutes.
We arrive at school just in time for the end of the day, but I stay on for a staff meeting where we discuss – and try to influence – school decisions. With the recent budget cuts, the debate is heated. We feel the cuts everywhere; there are fewer resources and fewer staff to assist struggling students. We fear the long-term impact because the lives of many pupils who didn’t get the help they needed in school will be tougher.
With a head bursting with arguments and frustration, I pack my bag around 4pm. The last bit of preparation for tomorrow will have to wait until my daughter is in bed at 7pm.
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