Teachers are key players in how educational systems evolve, and that’s a main reason for us
to talk and learn about the different educational systems of your countries. What are the main
aspects of education, and are they sufficient for preparing children for a more and more
Will the graduates of the 21st century be equipped with attitudes, knowledge, and skills
necessary for them to become competent, responsible, and humane citizens of their
community, state, nation, and world?
The National Institute for Curriculum Development, SLO, in the Netherlands, offers a
framework that was developed by Theo Boland and Jos Letschert that can provide an
effective methodology for analysing educational systems. In this lesson we will discuss the
Studentled presentations on education in their respective countries. All students will
participate in presentations that outline the system of primary schooling,
• Theo Boland, Jos Letschert, Primary Prospects, development in Primary Education in
some European countries: A quest to Facts, Trends and Prospects, The Netherlands,
http://www.eurydice.org (Eurybase, Publications, Members and other links)
http://www.eun.org (European schoolnet)
http://www.inca.org.uk (tabellen: / pdf/comparative.pdf)
Primary Prospects, development in Primary Education in some European countries:
A quest to Facts, Trends and Prospects
A model, which considers formal primary education as a system in a dynamic, changing
social network, is a helpful tool in describing facts, trends and prospects. Of course we could
describe significant, isolated events, which occur in different countries. But a comparison of
educational events, which take place in several countries more or less simultaneously, is
likely more successful when we use a model.
We need a framework, which makes comparisons possible. By using a conceptual model as
a framework, we create at least some coherence between specific, local and (at first sight)
isolated events. Figure 2 then offers a framework for such an analysis.
1.1 Model components
At first the model may look somewhat complicated. However, at second sight the rate of
complexity will appear to be small.
The model carries four components: (i) the rectangles in the centre, which refer to the
primary school system at three levels. (ii) the four triangles above, below and at the side.
representing affecting factors. (iii) the circles around representing facts, which have an
influence on educational processes, and finally (iv) a horizontal line, which refers to changes
The angles in the picture suggest a kind of input-output model. Indeed this is true. Factors
and facts affect -alone or in cooperation -educational processes at school. Those influences
will produce changes in output. Output variables in terms of learning outcomes, learning
processes. teaching activities and so on. For reasons of simplicity those output variables are
not included in the model explicitly. But we keep in mind that those output variables are
1.2 Factors and facts: differences and similarities
For the sake of good understanding we need to develop some phrases on terminology. Let
us first take two events, which schools probably have to cope with.
(i) Some twenty political refugees from African countries, who gained political asylum in France, send
their children to a primary school in a French village. We could call such an event both a political factor
and a sociological factor. The government gave political refugees a right (and the possibility) of
education at school (political factor); due to the entrance of African children the composition of the
school population in this small French school drastically changes (a sociological factor). This is an
event (a 'factor'), which affects schools and teachers rather abruptly and more or less unexpected.
(ii) Suppose that in your country the medium life expectancy rate increases by some years. Suppose
also that in this country the concept of 'education permanente' is adopted. The two events -here of
both demographical and educational nature -will affect the educational system in the long run and
more smoothly. Here these events are called 'facts'.
These examples illustrate the differences between the terms 'factors' and 'facts'. We use
them to differentiate between direct, short-term effects and indirect, long-term effects. Of
course we could have used other terms. Factors urge schools and teachers to react rather
immediately. Facts give schools and teachers some room for considering and discussion
how to cope. In a way factors can also be related to the nomen 'intentionality'; facts have
more connotation with adverbs like 'incidentally'.
Factors as educational events happen on purpose; we can point rather directly at immediate
causes and effects. Facts affect educational processes at school more indirectly.
Now it will be clear why factors have got their position in the model configuration so close to
the centre. Facts act from a distance.
You will have noticed that the model configuration does nor consider, explain or predict the
strength of effects. The impact of an event within the technological system on daily school
practice could be greater than a changing (philosophical) view and ideas on education and
schooling. But we cannot be sure here. The opposite can become reality too.
In the model natural events are supposed to be facts. And facts are supposed to act on
education at school rather smoothly and in the long run. But we are aware of the fact that
some natural events can break the educational system in minutes. What can be said about
an earthquake? Or a sudden inundation?
1.3 As time goes by: change and continuity
A structural comparative model as presented here, in which factors and facts directly or
indirectly have an impact on schools and classrooms, could neglect the aspect of change.
Therefore in the model a historical dimension is added: past, present and future. The
complete configuration moves in space from the left to the right along a horizontal line,
representing changes over time. It is possible to describe the effects of facts and factors as
they occurred in the past or as they occur now and here. We could even think about a model
configuration, which applies to a fictional situation in the future. What will this model look like
when we think about the next century? What about changing facts? Looking at the natural
facts for instance, probably they will not change. Undoubtedly some others will. And it is
worthwhile to prelude on coming changes in, Iet us say, the political or economic system and
consider the possible effects on the educational system. To mention one single fact, new
developments in the field of demography will affect education at school. The same holds for
all other facts and factors.
1.4 Changes in a field of force
Meanwhile some readers might question our choice concerning label and content of factors
and facts. We assume that factors, which affect primary education most, stem from the
political, economical, technological and sociological system.
With respect to affecting facts, we would argue that they are rooted in the natural,
philosophical, educational or demographical field. But we cannot be sure totally: didn't we
overlook some important factors from other social systems?
Two arguments can hold against. Firstly, without any doubt the social systems we have
chosen affect processes in primary schools. Secondly, it is not the mere existence of a factor
or fact, which takes our interest. It is the relative power of a factor or fact within the whole
network that takes our attention. Sometimes political arguments determine what happens at
schools, but in other times demographic or economic developments in the world around
schools seem to dominate the discussion. Sometimes philosophical reflections prevail,
sometimes they are pushed aside by
more pragmatic considerations from the technological system. It is the changing balance of
power in the network that interests us most. We notice that at schools things do change. And
then we look afterwards for causes and determinants within the surrounding network.
1.5 Benefits and disadvantages
The benefits and disadvantages of using such a comparative model in describing educational
events should be clear now. The model is a helpful instrument in a comparative view; it gives
us the possibility of comparing educational systems. But at the time a complete model is
'filled in' -all relevant facts and factors at a single point in time are known and represented -
developments and changes in the social network may ask for reconsideration. Almost by
definition a structural model can never be fully up-to-date. So, describing primary education
as a steady state could indeed
violate reality. Having this in mind, a model comparison nevertheless keeps its attractive
2. Primary education at three levels
Let us start our exploration of the presented comparative model with the essential parts: the
core of primary education, represented by the three rectangles in the model.
The discussion will be sustained by Figure 3 in which we focus at this part of the model.
Firstly let us turn to the most central rectangle.
2.1 The micro level: primary education in the classroom
The heart (or core or kernel which metaphor do you prefer?) of primary education - therefore
situated in the middle -is the classroom where the interactions between teachers and
students take place. Four major components of the teaching and learning process at this
micro level are mentioned: the curriculum (C), teaching (T), learning (L) and the
methodological aspects (M). All educational events in classrooms concern these four
components. Any event in a classroom can be seen from a teaching, learning, curriculum
and methodological point of view. We could go a step further: we cannot imagine any
educational event in which al! four components are not playing a significant role. Of course
not all events at school are real educational events. And all that happens in classrooms is not
an educational event per se. However, to reach educational goals all four components have
to be involved. Together they build the educational house. Together they transform a
building, a school, into a place where people are trying to reach educational goals. The
components are in fact aspects of the educational process in which participants in the
classroom can exercise some responsibility. In these four aspects teachers and students
create their own learning and teaching arrangements. These learning and teaching
processes, in what we call educational arrangements, are influenced by a number of
situational determined constraints or privileges. To give English lessons to 35 students with
no other materials than some old textbooks is indeed quite different from English lessons for
18 students with all the facilities available that we could think of. These barriers or privileges
are not listed here; we treat them as context variables. Teachers and students have 'to live
with them'; they will have to take them for granted.
* The teaching component bears upon all teacher characteristics. It includes both
personal and professional aspects. We could think of the teacher's attitudes and
values, their temperament and personality, their own education, their teacher training,
their professional knowledge and expertise, and naturally their observable teaching
practice. How does a teacher act in the educational interactions with students?
Student characteristics are in a way included in the teaching aspects. How does a
teacher react to slow Iearners, to bright students? How does the teacher handle
conflicts with students?
* Here the curriculum component refers to all subject matter students learn and
teachers teach. It is the reading lesson in the textbook, the arithmetical problem,
which has to be solved, the song that is learned in a music lesson, the baseball game
that is being practised during sports lessons.
Very often the content and the boundaries of the curriculum are prescribed at the
meso or macro level. But teachers always will have to select subject matter, they will
have to assign some subject matter areas to the some students according to their
needs, they will have to bring order and sequence in the random collection of
subjects. That is why the curriculum component is explicitly included in this micro-
level system and that is the reason why the curriculum component cannot be treated
as a context variable.
* The learning component contains all processes -invisible, in the heads of children,
and observable, their learning activities -which take place in order to strengthen one's
competence. Not only in a cognitive way, but also with respect to one's social,
attitudinal and physical development. Students learn to write and to read, they learn to
cope with unexpected difficulties, they learn to solve problems in the field of
arithmetic, they learn to cooperate with others, they learn to explore their physical
potential, they learn to be self-confident and responsible.
* The component method is concerned when we are discussing the war teaching and
learning activities are arranged into effective educational events in the classroom.
This component includes mental activities like the planning and organisation of
learning processes and the use of adequate didactic means and tools. Besides that
we can think of the availability of facilities and materials. As we said before, the mere
existence of equipment and facilities in the classroom is not the point; these are
context variables. What real matters here is the intentional and planned way by which
students and teachers choose their tools and materials in order to increase the
possibility of effective learning outcomes.
Evidently, all four components are strongly interrelated. Teaching activities, learning
activities, questions of methodology and curriculum aspects are attuned to each other.
At the end of this paragraph a final remark should be made. In next sections we discuss
factors and facts, which affect all that happens in primary education and so all educational
events in classrooms. While discussing affecting events in the periphery around this
educational system at the school level, we often underestimate, neglect or ignore the
practical consequences at the micro level. That is to say, very often we do not realise fully
what the consequences are for students and their teachers in the classroom. Indeed, this is a
somewhat contradictory point. Did not we state before, that the micro level –the classroom
with its teachers and students -is the most important and basic area of primary education?
Why then this underestimation of possible effects on the micro level?
2.2 The meso level: primary education at the school
All educational events that happen in classrooms are embedded in the activities at the
(single) school level. Now we list some examples of activities in schools by persons -
headmasters, (teams of) teachers, administrators, representatives of parents –which have
some possibilities for their own responsibility. Of course this is a question of (in)dependency.
In some countries schools are rather free in taking educational decisions at the school level.
It depends on the relative independency, which a national government allows for. We could
point at some analogy here. Schools differ regarding the rate of freedom -so to speak -which
they allow their teachers in the
classroom. Sometimes teachers are rather free in taking decisions on learning and teaching
processes in their own kingdom, their classroom. In other schools they have to work within a
very strict and limited regime. In some countries schools are –within the existing framework
of educational legislation in that country -quite independent in handling all educational affairs
at school. In other countries the number of degrees of freedom is very limited. Therefore the
reader will notice that not all examples will fit their own situation. But you may imagine that
there are other places where the examples fit to factual reality. It goes without saying that we
do not strive for
completeness; we only give some examples.
A single school can have some decisive power with respect to
* formulating specific objectives and aims. Sometimes a school can promote itself as a place
where children can learn specific things and where they can learn those specifics better than
in other schools;
* decisions with respect to planning and organisation of learning processes, which hold for aII
classes, grades and groups at school;
* the student monitoring system at school;
* raising and spending financial resources;
* assigning specific teachers to specific classes;
* formulating concrete learning and teaching activities in a document like school work plan or a
* the rate of factual parental participation in the school practice;
* ways teachers build up and maintain their expertise and know-how. Questions about teacher
in-service training for instance.
* participation of a school in the surrounding community. Is this school an isolated educational
island or an integrated part of the whole community?
AlI these matters can be discussed at the school level or the meso level. They rise above the
micro level of single classrooms.
In section 2.1 before, we introduced the concept 'context variables'. For teachers in
classrooms the decisions at the school level act as context variables. Sets of formulated
agreements at the school level (among other facts which are decided at the macro level)
build a context within which teachers and students have to work.
2.3 The macro level: primary education as a school system
Here we exceed the level of single classrooms and schools. We now turn to primary
education as a educational system. Primary education in elementary schools is one form of
educational provision within a country or state. In most countries school forms are linked to
the age of children, sometimes in combination with specific educational goals. AlI of us are
familiar with pairs of concepts like regular versus special education, primary and secondary
education, basic education and vocational training, and so on. We can speak about primary
education in Italy and we all
understand what is meant.
Now we have arrived at, what we call in the model, the macro level of primary education.
Again we give some examples of items, which play a role at this level. By giving next
examples we can illustrate activities at the macro level:
* discussions and decisions about a standard core curriculum (the content of the curriculum);
* fixing a general teacher/student ratio and teachers conditions of employment;
* formulating standards on learning outcomes
* discussions about formative evaluation and assessment matters (e.g. testing criteria)
* questions of material and financial support for schools (though in some countries actual
decisions are de-centralised to the meso level)
* discussions about relevant educational topics;
* promoting new instructional strategies;
* creating possibilities for experimental pilot projects in primary education;
* exploring ideas for a national curriculum.
* at tuning curricula in primary and secondary education.
Any primary school within a district, state or country will have to deal with the effects and
results of these discussions and decisions at this macro level.
In the model we distinguish between local, regional and national. This is because in many
countries local educational authorities have separate responsibilities and power.
In some countries formal educational affairs are controlled at the regional level instead of the
national. In Germany matters of Bildung und Erziehung in schools are 'Ländersache '.
2.4 Linking the levels
In three simple examples which range from global to specific, from abstract to concrete, from
indirect prescriptions to direct, immediate effects, from theoretical considerations to practical
impact, we can show how the macro-, meso- and micro level of primary education are linked
* In country A the legislation at the national primary school level states that students in the first
three grades of primary school should spend at least 60% of their time on basic cultural
activities like reading, writing and arithmetic (the famous or notorious three); (macro level:
* According to their specific situation and given the educational legislation and context, all
primary school set up plans to create continuity in all grades regarding education in reading,
writing and arithmetic; (meso level: the school);
* In the classroom teachers arrange learning activities, select subject matter, use materials and
methods, teach and instruct their students in order to create goal-oriented learning outcomes
with respect to the subject matter areas reading, writing and arithmetic; (micro level: the
3. Determining factors
In most West European countries the proportion of children in primary schools with single
parents increases. The daily teaching and learning processes at school are not affected by
this phenomenon. Aren't they really?
Primary schools will have to deal with changes in the surrounding fields. For economic
reasons single parents –a mother who is in practice alone in the responsibility for the
education of the child after a divorce -have to work in a regular job to earn a living. A school
cannot ignore this fact. So. perhaps the school offers extra possibilities to care for children
during times single parents go to work.
What happens in primary education -in schools and classrooms, at all three levels - is
influenced by a number of factors or facts, which stem from other social systems.
The teaching and learning processes at the micro, meso and macro level, as weIl as the
conditions under which teaching and learning takes place, are -at least partially -determined
by political, economical, technological and sociological factors. In Figure 4 the camera zooms
on this part of the model.
The asterisks in Figure 4 refer to items, which represent some but not all relevant aspects
within a social system. Questions about budgeting and supervision belong to the political
sector, issues, which refer to equity and equality in schools, are of a sociological nature. Of
course we could have used other items. Most examples speak for themselves.
Anyone of us could give many examples, which illustrate the relative impact of these factors
on educational processes in primary schools. It is again worthwhile to say that many
separate effects from single factors will culminate and correlate. Developments in a national
economy for instance, will certainly affect the educational system directly, but also indirectly
through the political system. A lessening in the gross national product (economic system) will
undoubtedly lower the budget for education in schools (political system). In times of
economic depression the dropout rate within
minority groups seem to increase disproportionately. Four more examples to illustrate
the effects of factors on primary education in schools.
* Th. proportion of non-native speakers (refugees, immigrants) in a particular primary school
increases drastically. The content of the school curriculum has to be revised. (Sociological
factor →meso and micro level primary school)
* A new core curriculum has been set up by the national government. Schools and teachers
have to deal with new subject matter areas. They also have to deal with traditional subject
matter in a new and different way. (Political factor → macro, meso and micro level of primary
* New technological developments enter primary school classrooms. Students experience
learning activities with modern devices like interactive cd-players. (Technological factor →
micro level primary school)
* A dramatic rise of the cots of living, added to the problems related to a temporary economic
recession, urges married female teachers -women with young children -to combine
households with work. They are looking for part-time jobs in schools in the form of job-sharing.
The number of part-time teachers in schools increases. (Economical factor → meso and micro
level primary school).
Sometimes components of the political system -or another system -and the macro level of
the educational system in primary schools (Chapter 2. paragraph 2.3) seem to overlap. Let
us take the aspect of supervision. In all countries the quality of primary education is
controlled by a system of supervising. HM Inspectorate in England and the 'Schulaufsicht im
Lande Brandenburg' in Germany control whether schools obey to the educational rules and
laws politicians in their parliaments set up. Representing the legislative and executive powers
they can reward and sanction expected or unwanted educational behaviour in schools and
classrooms. But a
government supervisor can do more. Very often he or she is also an advisor and a
counsellor. We should like to consider an inspector to be a participant in the educational
system. But people can indeed play different roles and act in different circles. As a rule we
could stick to the global notion that ideas about education from the political, sociological,
technological or economical system come from people who mainly act in that particular area
and not in the educational system itself. An architect may think about education in schools,
he may have wonderful ideas about effective
design, he may be able to construct a new and revolutionary school building, but yet he is not
a member of the educational society.
One could wonder which of the four factors would affect primary education most. We again
invite our readers to reflect on this point. Would you say that the political factor is dominant?
Or would you fully disagree? Perhaps you could mention another factor out of a non-
educational circle, which is not included in our model.
Where do the arguments, which urge primary education to change, stem from? Do they have
a political or an economic background? Is it the recent political decision about lower
budgets? Is it a changing attitude towards equality among sociologists? Is it the new
discussion on the essential aims of primary education which politicians and sociologists
started? Is it new professions in the labour market, which urge for new qualifications, or is it a
brand new audio-visual medium with great educational possibilities?
Let us look now a little bit closer at the four specified factors in the presented model.
3.1 The political factor
At this time, in most European countries the legislation on the primary school system is under
review. Educators, politicians and, more than ever before, parents as the representatives of
their children, ask whether their current basic educational system is adequate for
participating in a new turbulent century. In fact all people who exert some political power at
the local, regional or national level take part in the debate.
One issue in this political debate is the content and structure of the curriculum. Most existing
curricula in primary school systems contain some residues of nineteenth century scientific
thinking. Take for instance the structure of subject matter. Most subject matter is organized
and structured in the curriculum in accordance with rather traditional scientific views. In many
countries teachers continue to give 'typical' history lessons or geography lessons and ignore
the immanent relations
between subject matter areas.
Looking at the range of content a curriculum should entail, we also see different options.
There are certain tendencies -and they seem to be on their way back –to reduce the range of
content of the primary curriculum. Teachers acting within a reduced curriculum can pay more
attention to core activities. The problem is that a simple reduction of curriculum content
ignores the breadth and complexity of the society, which we are preparing the children at
school for. On the other hand, paying attention to and rewarding every demand from society -
which would lead to a
uncontrollable wide curriculum -makes education an impossible enterprise.
What about the range of content of the curriculum? How narrow or wide is the range of
subjects and themes, on which school teachers work with their students? Should the
curriculum at primary school contain subjects like these:
* drug prevention
* Greenpeace activities
* questions about life and death (euthanasia)
* violence in society
* care for underprivileged people in the developing world
* integration of minority groups
* the role of arts in society
* commitment to national values and beliefs
Some of our readers would argue that these items should play a dominant role. Perhaps
you would mean that confronting children with these issues make education at school
worthwhile. Others would hold against the idea by saying that these issues - although
undoubtedly very important -fall within the responsibility of other social circles (family, church,
state, ...). Or you might argue that some of these issues belong to the domain of secondary
education. What is your view?
In nearly all West European countries the political debate about the content of the curriculum
has begun. Some countries started earlier, some later. The trials and the solutions have
common and different elements. The selection of relevant subject matter, the range of the
curriculum offered, the sources for content, the role of values and ethics in education, the
organisation and structuring of subject matter in curriculum form, questions about
assessment, issues concerning the link between primary and secondary education, the
accessibility to the curriculum at school for all
children. These and others are the issues countries are struggling with to create a system
fitting for the next decade. Politicians will have to formulate answers and transform them in
Another main issue, which concerns politicians, is the cost of primary education. And
immediately questions of output arise. Accountability is a key word in our days and
governments are looking for instruments to stimulate the efficiency, the effectiveness and the
quality of education.
The solutions are different. Sometimes a government is looking for instruments and ways to
maximize the rate of accountability and control. Schools are confronted with prescriptions
about a rather strict and elaborated curriculum, are forced to participate in standardised
testing and assessment procedures, and limited in their free choice by centrally controlled
learning resources. In other, opposite, cases the central .I government is trying to increase
the quality of schools -in terms of output -by putting much emphasis on the autonomy and
responsibility of the individual school or school board. The rationale behind this approach is
the idea that in a competitive
educational world schools, which can act with a certain amount of autonomy and self-
responsibility, will automatically strive after quality in output.
3.2 The economic factor
In at least two ways educational processes at school are directly influenced by economic
forces. The first reason is the most obvious one. Economic developments affect what
happens at schools -with the political circle as intermediate -in aspects like budgeting. The
proportion of money a government can spend on education depends to a great extent on
fluctuations in economic growth. Another example of the involvement of economics in
education is the mere fact that education itself is a major economic factor. Education is
indeed big business in all the countries we are comparing in this study. In many situations
the education systems takes the major proportion of costs, which the public service can
divide among social circles and many people find a job in the education business.
Let us be more concrete now and focus on a specific situation. Let us look at the situation in
In Iceland the education system is one of the largest sectors of employment. About 63.000 students
are educated in primary schools, secondary school, and universities. Some 6.500 teachers,
administrators and staff are working in the educational field. This is about 5% of the total work force in
Iceland. Iceland now spends 5.2% of its GNP on education. In 1990 5000 million ISK of the national
budget were spent on the primary, compulsory education and 3000 million ISK on secondary
education, a sum to which the local communities contributed an additional 20%. From this educational
budget 73% is used to keep the current educational process going (salaries of teachers, materials,
equipment); 10% is allocated to the establishment of new schools and 17% towards students loans.
Funds are mainly directIy provided by the stale itself. Initial costs of construction and equipment at the
compulsory level, a part of these costs at the secondary level, and both initial and operating costs at
the pre-school level are funded by the local communities. (Education in Iceland, pg.4).
3.3 The sociological factor
Society is a complex organisation concerned with mutual relations of human beings. People
are living in organized circles and communities. Although they are individuals they need
companionship. People try to protect their standard of living. They don't accept easily
changes in their lifestyle. Nevertheless, society is changing very quickly. More than in former
days people have to deal with changes in their original patterns of life. The social and
sociologic changes in society affect educational affairs in schools in many ways. Children at
school are confronted with different opinions and values as the heterogeneous consumers of
good 'education'. The influence of parents is far more present than it was in earlier days. The
expectations of different social
groups and classes in society concerning the product 'education' are different too, and
sometimes conflicting. Some social groups expect schools to focus on the intellectual
development of children; other groups especially advocate ideas about equity for all and
want schools to work on this value. Some social groups state that education is a basic
condition for future economic growth and expansion and want their school to work on
opportunities for children to play a role in the labour market. Other groups stress the
importance of non-material values and ask schools to work
on the improvement of the quality of life.
Again the question arises if schools have to give satisfying answers to all these questions.
The discussion, for instance, if education has to serve each 'client' -in this context different
social groups -in the same, way, or if a school should focus on a somewhat indifferent
'average-middle-class social group'. How then to deal with minority groups? Especially in
primary schools, with their very heterogeneous school population, the question of catering for
a wider or a smaller range of educational provision is part of an ongoing debate.
Speaking of minority groups, the growing multicultural composition of the school population
and the increase of multicultural elements in the curriculum, is an issue more and more
countries have to deal with. Along with the entrance of immigrants in countries like Belgium,
Great Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, questions emerge about the relation
between ethnicity and education. In a study (Fase, 1994) the Dutch sociologist WilIem Fase
showed that there are remarkable differences in educational achievement between ethnic
In an at tempt to understand underachievement Fase refers to three main forms of inequality:
migrant, class and ethnic stratification. Educationally speaking, expectations of teachers
regarding the possible learning outcomes of their students are at least partly determined by
non-educational variables like belonging to a minority group. And in many cases this leads to
Of course the debate around education for special social groups (here minorities) falls within
the broad and complex issues of integration and segregation. The same sort of question
arises, when we discuss the problem of integrating physically or mentally handicapped
children in regular primary school settings, the discussion about mainstreaming. It is a major
and very important issue with many questions open and -as far as we can see -less
We wonder what our readers think about the problem of integration. Let us be somewhat
concrete. In the Netherlands minority groups have opportunities to establish their own
(primary) schools. The central government financially supports this, if a sufficient number of
students is guaranteed. The broad assortment of schools is enlarged.
Immigrants from Turkey can send their children to Turkish schools; Chinese children are
sometimes educated in specific Chinese schools.
Would you having in mind the discussion about integration support such developments?
3.4 The technological factor
In the Netherlands a new field of educational subject matter has been discovered recently. In
primary schools the subject 'techniques' is introduced. Children should learn and elaborate
the technical aspects of learning activities. They should learn the basic principles of
constructing. They should learn the properties and qualities of materials and instruments. Not
included in other subject areas like geography or nature education. Techniques and
technology claim an explicit place in the Dutch curriculum. In other countries most of these
subjects are part of the area of science.
This example ilIustrates the growing impact of technology on education at school. But the
impact of technology can be seen more wider than by only referring to the new subject
matter area 'techniques' or the entrance of computers in our classrooms. In a way it is the
entrance of a different kind of knowledge, perhaps a different kind of thinking.
New technological developments in society affect education at school in different ways. We
have given some examples earlier. School has to cope with these developments. The impact
of specific knowledge, information and skilIs is that they are changing more rapidly than ever
before. The skilIs and knowledge to unlock information seems more important than storing
information in our head.
Apparently we are living in a rational time, in times in which we depend on information and
information processes. We analyse information in little pieces –call them bits and bytes -we
are using databases to collect information and combine pieces to new information. Some
people refer to our time as the informational era. At school, children have to become
equipped with skilIs to handle the technology to survive in their environment. They also have
to be equipped to use information in a selective way. Modem technological equipment makes
it possible to unlock many
sources. Finally, however, children themselves have to learn to use and to choose the
meaningful elements and teachers are supposed to guide them.
The psychologist Jerome Bruner argues that the current fixation on the mind as ‘information
processor' has led psychology away from the much deeper notion to see the mind as a
creator of meaning. Bruner, and with him others, makes a plea for the reintroduction, in
education, of meaning. Bruner sees meaning-making as a mediator between mind and
culture. Any event, an educational event or not, is more than the sum of single pieces of
information. Information processing, information selection and information interpreting are
indeed different mental
Life nowadays is strongly influenced by developments in technology. Young children become
used at a very early age to technology .A lot of their toys seem technological miracles, or
more specifically, solid products of ingenuity. In their direct surrounding they are used to
computers, television, cd-players, video, telephones, fax, etc. In schools they are confronted
with the same things, educational computer software and maybe even e-mail.
The world is smaller than ever. The children's world is not the physical surrounding of the
direct area they live in. Television informs children intentionally and unconsciously every day
about what is happening in neighbouring countries and beyond. We use metaphors such as:
television is our window to the world. Television has become a main educator too, whether
we like it or not. Pictures on the wall are still attractive, but they do not function as they once
did. The videodisc, not yet really implemented in education, has the potential to deliver more
information than we can
handle, in vivid images and in interactive ways. Technological developments have changed
the world we live in and the school is involved in that process.
After a cascade of developments in a technological respect in the sixties, seventies and
eighties -we called this period very often the technological area- there now seems to be a
shift. We are looking more closely at the utilisation of technology than we did ever before.
And we use technology to collect, to store and to combine information.
Combinations of information create new information. More then ever before we are focused
on information and technological developments help us to find and to unlock sources. This
epoch is the information-era.
Still the curricula of most schools are based on a nineteenth century division of sciences.
Subjects we discover in most curricula reflect the structure of a scientific view, which was
more stabIe than it is now. In most countries we discover a need for a kind of core
curriculum. The main reason for that quest is the variety in curricular offering, which is
growing amongst schools, even in one country. This has to do with the phenomenon that
knowledge is no longer a closed or bounded area we all agree on, which is necessary to
acquire for a future role in society. In a core curriculum national governments try to arrange a
mutual agreement about content. There are educational reasons for such a pursuit. Children
have to be challenged to develop a broad area of competencies. Children need some
indispensable skills like reading and writing. If children leave their school and go to another
school there has to be some connection. If you want to control the effect of your schools you
need a comparable offering. There are economic reasons too. Think of the production of
textbooks, the organization of in-service, initial training.
Nevertheless, in spite of the efforts to develop national standards, schools are confronted
with the demands of society and the actualities of every day. Children have there own
interests and capabilities. Tension has grown between learning and teaching. There is a
growing need for differentiation and adaptive teaching.
The old resources and methods, like the same textbooks for all and didactic teaching
approaches, cannot cope with the new necessities. New technologies however enable
teachers to play the role more as facilitator, educator and companion instead of the
undisputed and nearly only source of knowledge.
In former days the school trained children to find answers to questions, nowadays they put
more emphasis on how to formulate a question and find sources and strategies to answer
that question. The main source is not the teacher any more. Most answers are probably not
even available in the school. Media like e-mail enable children to gain information from far
outside the school.
So, technology influences the primary school on different levels:
- content is changing. Instead of a stable set of content children will be more focused
on approaches, techniques and strategies to unlock information;
- information itself is an unstructured mess. Information has to be managed, structured,
connected to become meaningful;
- technology is a part of life and technical issues has become a natural part of the
curriculum itself, on the level of utilization, application, but also in an ethical respect;
- the status of the teacher. Instead of unchallenged authority in the field of knowledge,
the teacher has become a facilitator and companion of individual children and
individualised learning processes;
- the central role of textbooks will change and schools will spend their money to
different resources and equipment;
- the architecture of schools will change and become more adapted to the new ways of
In many countries we discover technology as a subject in the formal canon of the curriculum,
or as a cross curricular theme. In the OECD-report 'The curriculum redefined' Paul Black
goes into that issue and makes some remarkable notes. Black states that the position of
technology as a school subject is peculiar, if not unique, because there is very wide variation
between -and sometimes within -countries about its definition and its educational purposes.
Black does not at tempt a definition, but rather presents a set of five different perspectives.
The first of these perspectives treats technology as craft skilIs.
The second perspective is an expanded version of the first, in which design is added to the
crafts, so that instead of making artefacts to a prescription, pupils have to learn, through their
own application, about the concepts and techniques of design. This introduces concepts of
The third perspective is represented by the phrase 'science and technology'. The pairing with
science arises naturally in public discussion and represents a view that technology is mainly,
for some no more than, applied science. However unjustified this may be historically, it is
taken by many in science education to justify a claim to ownership of this curriculum territory,
so giving it a status and a practice quite different form that of its craft entailment.
The fourth perspective is broader and amalgamates the second and third. It thereby
becomes amore thorough-going model for education of the future citizen. Here, skilIs of
design and manufacture are taught in a context of the application of principles of
mathematics and science wherever appropriate, but questions of purpose and value are also
introduced. Thus the first step in a technology exercise would be to question the need being
served, to seek alternative solutions, and to debate the values implied by the choice between
them. So problems of political and social
pressures, and of unintended consequences, may arise.
The fifth perspective is composed by adding a further dimension to the fourth –that of
practical capability of the pupil. By engaging in the task of working, often cooperatively, to
define needs, design solutions, implement them and evaluate their efficacy and effects, the
pupil can develop that synthesis of the powers of analysis, decision, manual and aesthetic
skill, evaluation and collaboration which constitute practical capability.
In deciding to develop or change to any of these perspectives, a school or region would have
to consider the traditions and teaching competencies of those in whose hands any change
would have to be implemented. The English curriculum in technology is very ambitious in
going for the fifth and broadest of the above perspectives -but in so doing it has gone weIl
beyond the skilIs and understanding of most of those who have to teach it, and the first
evaluations have already shown up negative effects arising from these inadequacies.
For the first time in the history of education, we have an outlook, and the first evidence, that
technology will enable us in formal education and with large groups, to pay respect to the
principles of differentiation and adaptive learning and teaching.
We are stilI on the threshold, there is scepticism and there are failures. But certainly there is
an irreversible movement to a totally different approach to education.
Technology gives us the tools to follow learning processes and the progress of individual
children and to tune our next and connected offering to that knowledge. We have the outlook
that we can cope with second language problems by using individualised educational
software. Children in different countries working together on the same project is already quite
normal in lots of schools. Foreign language learning has a meaningful context for children
when they are corresponding with others. Coping with networks, as a user and as a supplier,
is as much a preparation for future tasks and roles in society as is learning by heart all the
names and dates of a country. From an economic point of view the school cannot ignore the
changing expectations of society. If schools do, society will find its own solutions to fill the
gap between supply and demand.
To the question: quot;What did you learn at school today?quot;, the answers of the next generation
will be quite different from ours. The answers will concern more the skilIs than the factual
knowledge. The separation between school, home and society in respect of learning, will
finally evanesce or fade away. So, if we expect a revolution in any sector, education is on the
move and technology is one of the mainsprings.
A final remark on these determining factors. To be honest, this reader cannot and will not:
pretend to elaborate all these factors comprehensively. Nevertheless, we believe that: while
looking at educational developments in our primary schools, we should not ignore the
influential factors we described earlier. The search for answers to our questions, when we
are comparing educational developments with respect to some key concepts, is proceeding a
step further when it is possible to assign vague and complex questions to specific factors.
Besides the four factors in our framework for analysis we presented also some determining
facts. In the next chapter we will explain the differences and we will elaborate these facts in
the same way as we did in describing the factors.
4. Determining facts
* In most German primary schools the evaluation system -as far as the lower grades are
concerned, where student performances in different subject matter areas are reported
quantitatively (in terms of numbers or letters: a B for mathematics or 'eine
2 für Lesen') -is now replaced by more qualitative reports ('John is doing quite weIl
in reading. He can read short stories rather fluently. His vocabulary however is too
* In the Netherlands at the end of primary education most primary schools let their children
take a comprehensive final test. Test results are used for allocation and selection purposes
(e.g. determination which level of secondary education is appropriate). There is a tendency
to more goal-oriented testing in the whole period of primary education which respects
differences between students: 'Regarding his reading performance, what are John's strong
and weak points now? On which reading aspect John's teachers should par more attention in
the rears to come?'
Why do schools change their evaluation procedures? Where do the arguments, which lead to
alternative evaluation techniques, come from?
Besides the four factors mentioned earlier, education in schools is influenced by what we call
determining facts. Factors and facts -for some reasons mentioned before we use different
terms -differ in the way they affect education: whether directly or more indirectly. Figure 5
gives an overview of such determining facts.
Here we make distinctions between natural, philosophical, demographic and educational
facts. In Figure 5 examples of each fact are given. In our view these facts urge educational
processes in schools to change, but these changes do not occur suddenly. Or, stated in
other ways, schools will have to change their educational practice, but more smoothly. The
motives and arguments, which lead schools to alter their evaluation procedures -see, the two
examples we gave at the beginning of this chapter- may stem from the category 'educational
facts'. It is, so to speak, a collection of general views on education developed by all persons -
whether or not in professional settings -who care about education at school and whose
words are taken seriously in the educational debate. We can think of educational scientists,
counsellors in education, representatives of parents, leading officers in ministries of
education, but also of the headmaster of a school or the teacher who reflects on their daily
work at school. Suppose a school recently adopts the concept 'emancipation' as a key
concept in formulating educational goals at the school level. The daily teaching practices in
the classroom however will not change from one day to another. New
ideas in the heads of teachers will not immediately be translated into other activities.
Nevertheless, after a period of time you could probably see some events in a classroom that
foster emancipatory goals. In our view the basic arguments on emancipation as an
educational aim come out of the 'philosophical corner' and are worked out in educational
processes, so here two different categories of facts are concerned.
We give some more examples to demonstrate what we are trying to say.
* In country A the proportion of 5-10 year old children in the whole population will
decrease by 5% in the coming 15 rears. Probably the student/teacher ratio in primary
school will be lowered (this is a demographic fact).
* Because of climatological reasons the amount of the school budget spent on lightning
and heating in Finland differs from that in the United Kingdom (a natural fact) .
* Curriculum content based on utilitarian arguments -students should learn subject
matter which is useful for society -is replaced by content that foster personal interests
and goals (a philosophical fact).
* National, content referenced standards in the evaluation of learning outcomes are
replaced by individual, student referenced standards and measurements (an
Some of you would argue that finally all arguments and motives for educational change are
located in the philosophical corner and have to be seen as philosophical facts. AII changes in
society perhaps have their basis in altering views on values and beliefs, on changing ideas
about fundamental views on human life. Perhaps you are right. However, as far as changing
ideas of a philosophical nature are related to formal education in school and are transformed
into new views on education, we would like to distinguish between philosophical facts and
Just as we did in describing factors, we will now work out the facts somewhat further. We will
start with some educational facts. As you will notice, we put some emphasis on historical
roots. Sometimes a look back into the past is very useful.
4.1 The educational facts
In all European countries, which we are comparing in this reader, primary education at
school is now an undisputed reality. AII societies feel a responsibility to provide for the young
generation basic knowledge and skills in formal education. Education is something of all
times. The systematic and formal approaches however, are rather recent.
Members of pre-historic tribes educated their children. The main purpose was survival. The
ancient Greeks and Romans developed a very sophisticated educational system with
attention to several issues from their high culture. In medieval times education became one
of the tasks of monks and priests. Besides learning how to read and write the transfer of
Christian believes and values was the major aim. Education however, was still nor
systematically organised and certainly nor available for all.
In later times we see growing attention for a more general responsibility and some people
hold pleas for national systems of basic, elementary or primary education.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was asked by a Polish nobleman to give an advice about the reform of the
Polish state. One of the main advices in his quot;Considerations sur Ie gouvernement de Ia Polognequot;
(1772) is the setting up of a national educational system. For Rousseau good education and -on the
other hand –the moral, ethic, cultural and scientific level of a nation are strongly tied. Rousseau was
weIl aware of some dualistic problems. At one hand society is makable by education. At the other
hand good education depends on an already existing well-balanced nation. Good education is only
possible in an ideal state in which the individual is not constantly confronted with the conflict between
inclination and duty and in which civic responsibility and self-fulfilment can coincidence. (Boyd. 1969.
In the times he wrote Emile (1762) Rousseau had concluded fir himself that the ideal nation does not
exist. Therefore good formal education does not exist and cannot exist because there are no nations,
like Ancient Greek city-states, which are expressions of real democratic virtues and values. Public
education needs to be in harmony with the individual nature of the civilian. For being unnaturally,
Rousseau condemns the societies of his times. Public services like formal education only exist by
suppressing the individuality of the child.
In 1763, a year after Rousseau's Emile, the attorney general of the parliament of Brittany Louis-Rene
de Ia Chalotais, published an essay with great influence in his times. The book is called Essay Sur l'
education nationale. De Ia Chatolais was advocate of a non-denominational educational system and in
his essay he pleas for such a system and he offers a curriculum proposal (Boyd J 969. pg. 345).
Besides these two examples of people who were writing and thinking directly about education, there
are others -and non-educationalists too -who offered views on the role and importance of a national
educational system for aII. Adam Smith for instance, godfather of modern political economy, wrote in
his book The Wealth of Nations (1776) that a society has the duty to provide for .a national
educational system, especially for the lower classes. The components of such education had to be
reading, writing, arithmetic, geometry and mechanics.
In Germany, in Weimar, compulsory basic education was aIready existing since 1619; Prussia.,
another German state, folIowed a century later. Further impulses to national education in Germany
were given by Johann Bernard Basedow, the founder of the so-calIed Philanthropinum (1774), a kind
of what we could call 'demonstration' school. Very important for further deveIopment of education in
Germany and far abroad was Friedrich Frobel, the founder of the Kindergarten and the special didactic
theories in educating young children. Still in our days the name Kindergarten is in Anglo-Saxon
countries the expression for the first years of formal education. Johann Friedrich Herbart has to be
mentioned as another early German pedagogue. It was him who linked psychological notions to the
science education at school. Herbart was influenced by the Swiss pedagogue Heinrich Pestalozzi and
author of the novel Lienhard und Gertrud (1781).
In the eighteenth century educational developments in Europe took place as a result of the
thinking of important individual educationalists. What they taught us is the awareness of the
importance of national educational systems. especially for the benefit of children from lower
social classes. Systems based on theoretical principles, which refer to both individual and
collective aims. Education as a tool for personal development; education as a vehicle to
reach collective (national) goals. On the one hand we notice the pleas for basic skills and
knowledge and the transfer of elements of cultural heritage. On the other hand there is an
intense interest in the individual
development of the young child’s character, for their own sake and happiness, and also for
the sake of society as a whole. A society has to invest in formal education for pedagogical,
psychological, religious, moral and economic reasons.
Let us return to history and look again at educationalists -most of them, but not all, were men
-whose ideas strongly affect educational practices in schools even today. AlI of them cared
for the well-being of children at home and at school- some of them even with a great deal of
charisma and superb visionary views -and all of them offered us prosperous innovative
concepts on education.
In Italy (and the Netherlands) Maria Montessori, who lived from 1870 till 1952, developed a
considered and practice-based educational model. She believed that the natural processes
development should be the base for education. Specific competencies need their own time
development and in certain age periods children are most sensitive for it. Education should
take that principle into account. The Iearning environment should be attuned to that process
of development. She aIso paid much attention to specific educational resources and learning
In Belgium Ovide Decroly (1871-1932), aIso a physician, developed theories about education
based on his practical experience with children in problem situations. Children should
become equipped for live in educational settings, which were as real as life itself, this was his
thesis. He could not live with the traditional subdivision of subject matter in several areas. He
composed his curriculum around what he called centres d'interet, coherence units of
Iearning experiences who arouse the interest of children in a natural way.
In Germany and Austria Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) developed amongst others his ideas
education based on anthroposophic thoughts and principles. An important role in Steiner’s
ideas is put aside for the personality of the teacher. Steiner introduced the Free School, not
only as a mere school type but more as the representation of his concept of education. Also
in Germany the pedagogue Peter Petersen (1884-1952) developed the so-called Jenaplan.
The Jenaplan concept stresses the importance of groups and collective tasks in education,
and pays much attention to duties and celebrations. Self-responsibility and self-discipline has
to be one of the main results of the education in the community of the school.
Two main (anthropological) concepts determine the work of the French educationalist
Célestin Freinet (1897-1966). The first is the intrinsic motivated need in children to explore
the world around in what Freinet calls meaningful work. A second idea is based on collective
responsibility. According to Freinet a school is a work place (just literally taken) where
children work for their personal development and for the benefit of the society to which they
belong. Teachers should guide their children in experience-by-doing.
Speaking about responsibility for formal primary education at schools, in many European
countries the following sequence is applicable to historical developments. In the beginning
the school was a school of the church. Then the school was a school of the (national) state
and finally the school became a school of parents.
Most of the traditional innovators we mention, were working within the context of a formal
system of primary education. In many European countries formal systems were established
and became objects of government concern. The governments in several countries took over
the tasks traditionally carried out by churches. They established formal legislation, funded
schools and paid for equipment and salaries. They also put demands on the curriculum of
schools and the quality of teaching. To control their investments and keep an eye on the
output most countries established an inspectorate system.
quot;The school system represents the political will of a country on the way its citizens will be
(Primary education in Europe)
For reasons of illustration Iet us return to Iceland and see how things developed. We chose
Iceland because we do not think that all of our readers are familiar with the educational state-
of-art in that country. Besides that, Iceland indeed offers a good example of historic
Schools have existed in Iceland for more than 900 years, from the time that Bishop Jon Ogmundsson
established a school at the episcopal residence Holar at the beginning of the 12th century. During
most of this time education was only available to the chosen few and that situation did not change until
the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Although the general population had no
opportunity to receive formal instruction, this does not mean that people grew up without education.
The tradition of evening entertainment on Icelandic farms involved reading aloud stories from the
Sagas or homilies for the whole household as well as chanting epic poetry, all of which provided the
necessary education at that time. By the 16th century children were expected to know the basics of
religion by heart. Since the middle of the 17th century, the clergy were commissioned to give religious
education to children and later they were also supervising parents, which taught their children how to
read. It is estimated that at the beginning of the 19th century most Icelanders were literate. It was not
until the second half of the 19th century however that all legislation on education began being
In 1880, a law was passed in Iceland concerning instruction to children in reading and arithmetic. In
1907, compulsory education for children between the ages of 10 to 14 was established and so was
instruction in certain subjects. This legislation marked the beginning of the involvement of the state in
educational affairs in Iceland, as free education became available to all children in this country. At the
same time the post of Director of Education was established. In the period between 1903 and 1904 a
survey showed that there were 50 schools operating in the country and teaching was being provided
at some 800 places. In 1929 a law was enacted concerning the establishment of state-run lower
secondary district schools. In accordance with this legislation eight district boarding schools were
established in different parts of the country. To begin with, most of these schools offered a two-year
educational programme. In 1946, Iegislation was passed, which coordinated the educational
programmes of the state-run district schools and other lower secondary schools. In that same year,
new legislation on instruction for children was passed, extending compulsory schooling to include
children from the ages of 7 to 13.
In 1974 new legislation concerning compulsory education was passed following an extensive debate
on education in lceland. It stipulated nine years of compulsory education and provided for the division
of the country into eight educational districts, each with its own educational committee and office
headed by a Director of Education. The Act also made the services of psychologists available to the
schools. A new National Coordinated Examination at the end of compulsory schooling replaced the
previous selection examinations. What mainly characterizes this Iegislation is its emphasis on equal
opportunities in education. During the preparation of the 1974 Iegislation, an extensive developmental
work for the primary and lower secondary level (the compulsory level) was started, resulting in the
revision of teaching materials and new methods of teaching in practically all subjects. At the same time
in-service education for teachers was established. In 1991 a new Education Act replaced the one from
1974. lts main objectives remain grossly unaltered; some alterations intended to adapt education to
changing social trends. Thus the number of hours youngest children spend at school has been
extended. The intention of providing a single -shift education programme in all primary and lower
secondary schools is announced. It also contains provisions for an increased measure of
decentralisation, more influence of
parents and the introduction of school counselling. Compulsory education in Iceland now contains a
10 years period, beginning at the age of 6 and ending at the age of 15. (Education in Iceland)
In short, the history of education in Iceland gives examples of educational facts in relation to
political and sociological factors, and philosophical and natural facts. In the next section we
can say something more about education and the natural context.
4.2 The natural facts
Very often natural facts (matters of temperature and climate, fertility of the ground, presence
of natural resources, being on an island or being situated in the middle of a continent, are left
outside the educational debate. Why? Perhaps they are so obvious, unchangeable and
stabIe -perhaps even trivial - that we feel inclined to ignore them.
We cannot change our natural environment drastically, that is certain. We have to cope with
it. But nevertheless this is no reason to exclude given, natural characteristics from the
discussion. Educational systems in Spain and Finland differ; they differ for natural reasons
The natural context of a country has an influence on several aspects of education and the
educational system. We give two examples of such an influence. The first one refers to
Iceland again, a relatively small country in Europe, and because of its geographical situation,
rather isolated. For the next example we are going eastward to Norway. A rather big country,
with a relatively small population.
If we take the population number as a criterion, Iceland is one of the smaller countries in Europe.
Nevertheless, when we consider the total surface, the country is bigger than some other countries
together. However, most of the country is uninhabitable. The small population (255,000 inhabitants) lives
scattered over the main cities and some small settlements. Most people are living in the capital Reykjavik. Iceland
is geological spoken a rather young country. By having the profits of hydro-electric power and the lack of main
industries and because of the small number of the population environmental pollution is not such a main issue in
Iceland as it is in other countries. Of course there is a concern for the global problem itself, but in Icelandic
schools the issue plays a different role as in schools in densely populated and industrial parts of Europe like
Germany or England.
The size of the schools is connected with the natural context too. In urban areas the largest schools have over
1000 pupils, while in rural areas there are many small schools, some of them have fewer than ten children.
The smaller rural schools generally have only a single teaching shift, that means: all children attend school at one
and the same period of time, but many of the larger schools in urban areas have staggered hours due to a
shortage of suitable classroom space. Here sometimes children have to attend classes in specialized facilities,
such as gymnasiums and swimming pools. In rural areas the school has a social function for the community too.
To mention another natural fact,. anyone can imagine what it is to educate children in schools, which are situated
near the polar circle. Often very practical questions with respect to say lightning, heating and transport determine
what is possible in this educational field.
Norway is a big country with a relatively small population number. The size of the country related to a rather small
population makes it impossible for children to attend school in the direct neighbourhood of there homes. Some of
them have to travel by bus to come to school every day. Because of this, it is not possible to start very early with
compulsory schooling, like other countries do. Compulsory schooling in Norway starts at the age of seven.
AIthough there is a tendency now to lower the start of compulsory education (from 7 to 6 years of age), apart from
pedagogical and traditional reasons naturally determined considerations play an important role.
4.3 The philosophical facts
This is the field of norms and standards, beliefs and convictions, morality and ethics, values
and aims. Here questions about the meaning of life are discussed. Here questions are put
such as whether we should educate children in schools. And if we do so, which values,
beliefs and attitudes are worthy of transferring? We can illustrate the impact of philosophical
determined facts on education by looking at the role of the church in formal education.
By creating formal educational systems, controlled by governments, the role of the churches
was not brought to an end. In most countries churches kept and keep playing an important
role in the educational system. In all countries religious education is explicitly mentioned in
the curriculum. (Since the decline of the Marxist/socialist doctrines it is also true in Eastern
Europe.) Whether given by priests or by the teachers themselves, students are confronted
with the traditional (mostly
Christian) beliefs and values.
In many cases there is a tension between the centralised administration and the relatively
autonomous position of the church systems. In France there was a real conflict about
subsidising denominational schools by the central government. A compromise has later been
The Flemish part of Belgium and the Netherlands give examples of a very strong influence of
so called denominational education in which Christian religions and churches play an
important role. The strong position in education of confessional groups has finally led to
freedom of education. In [he Netherlands denominational schools are subsidised in the same
way as the government public schools.
In Scotland the schools, which were associated with churches, were accommodated under
the wing of the government, when the power of the government increased. Other countries,
like Ireland, subsidise two or more denominations. In England and Wales a compromise has
been found. All schools provide for a form of religious education. Denominational schools
receive a restitution for expenses, but the churches have to pay for the equipment and
In countries with a dominant main religion, like for instance the Scandinavian countries, the
role of the church is rather incorporated in the national system. In Norway the Ministry of
Education is the Royal Ministry of Church, Education and Research. In the principal aims for
primary and lower secondary education we see the Christian upbringing formally mentioned
in the Education Act. We can notice this in some other Scandinavian countries too. Such a
privilege for only one religion
would be impossible in, for instance, the Netherlands, a country with a mixture of cultures
Primary and lower secondary education shall, with the understanding of and in cooperation with the
home, assist in providing pupils with a Christian and ethical upbringing, develop their mental and
physical abilities, and give them a broad general education so that they can become useful and
independent persons in their private lives and in society. Primary and Lower Secondary Education Act,
At the beginning of the twentieth century most schools were controlled by central or local
authorities. They prescribed what schools should offer, the subject matter, school times and
the appointment of teachers. In most cases the main demand for the appointment of a
teacher was a good moral and ethical behaviour and some knowledge about the main
subjects they were to give education in.
Nowadays -to a great extent due to reasons of secularisation -confessions and churches
have lost some of their former power. But in all European school systems, and all schools,
issues about values and beliefs, which make life worthwhile are incorporated in the
curriculum. Sometimes they build even the cornerstone on which the whole education at
school is built. In all schools ethical questions are discussed; in all schools children are
guided in their questions to real values for life. As said before, arguments and motives which
often underlie pedagogical or political
decisions come from this area of public life, which we summarize in the term 'philosophical
4.4 The demographic facts
Demographic facts refer to changes in population characteristics, which affect education. We
could mention increasing life expectation rates or a phenomenon like a sudden birth bulge.
Demographic facts do not have quantitative properties only. It is not a matter of more
(children) or less (teachers). Demographic changes have qualitative aspects as well.
We should like to illustrate demographic effects on education by pointing to the phenomenon,
which we could call ‘the feminisation' of primary education. We mean the strong increase of
the proportion of female teachers in primary schools and (rather as a consequence) the
decrease of male teachers. More and more, in West European countries, primary school
affairs are kept going by women. Commonly nearly all the teachers in a primary school are
females. In former days we were accustomed to the fact that our youngsters were educated
by female teachers, whereas
male teachers took over when children grew somewhat older. This situation has changed
drastically. We have to point at one exception: leading positions at schools are often
occupied by male teachers. But also here females are making up arrears. Why this shift?
Sometimes the reasons are of a practical and pragmatical nature.
During World War II in the former Soviet Union most male teachers were called up to act as
soldiers at the front lines. Female colleagues took over their places. Another reason rests on
pedagogical arguments. Some of us state that educating young children in formal primary
education could be done better by female teachers rather than by males. A caring mother at
home is replaced by a caring female teacher at school. There might be other reasons. Think
for instance of the lowered status of the teaching profession.
At any rate, there cannot be any doubt that the character of primary education is affected by
the 'replacement' of male teachers by females. The questions whether the quality of
schooling is changing, and whether the kind of quality we are striving for is affected by this
demographic fact, are very intriguing indeed.
We could ask our readers now to reflect on this issue. Would you argue that education at
primary school is fostered better in situations where both male and female teachers are
working? What difference would it make -whether for the daily educational practices at
school or in terms of educational aims -when all teachers at school are females?
As it is with the case of natural facts mentioned before, demographic developments are often
regarded as belonging to the context of primary education. It is happening before our own
eyes; we have to live with this situation and we cannot exercise influence on it. This is a
misunderstanding. Politicians, for instance, and national or regional governments could
encourage females to enter the education profession. Or they could alter situations -making
the teaching profession more attractive -in a war that males decide that teaching children in
primary schools is indeed a highly satisfying job.