Operating parallel to this decentralized process, however, has been the state's effort to exert more management and control over the schools in order to protect a democratic popular education. Such control is considered necessary for maintaining equality in education.
In 1997, Norway developed a new national curriculum plan for primary and lower secondary schools. The 343-page plan (Laereplanen, 1997) is ideologically based on nationalism, is oriented both to children and to the community, and focuses on projecting methods and integrative strategies for teaching. The plan also stresses subject knowledge and explains, in detail, "what should be learned."
Today, not only public schools but also private schools receive almost all of their funding from the state, and they must follow an overall state policy for education. The vast majority of students attend public schools. At the university and college level, only about 10 percent of students attend private institutions. At the upper secondary level, 4 percent are in private education. More than 98 percent of primary and lower secondary education students attend public state schools. Only a very few children are home schooled. For all intents and purposes, the state has a say in almost all school matters in Norway, and its reach is extending toward such alternative education methods as home schooling.
As a result of the special geography and history of Norway, there is no historically rooted national upper class. While some children have learned from private tutors, or at Christian schools or other private schools, Norway does not have a strong tradition of private, upper-class schools. Some alternative schools at the primary and lower secondary levels were established by special interest groups for religious or other ideological reasons.
Teaching in the state schools has long been based on the state religion of the Lutheran church. Religious hegemony in the country has been decreasing, however. Christian groups and others have pressed for the establishment of private schools that are based on more secular issues such as parents' rights and human rights, as outlined in international conventions (Habermas, 1995; United Nations, 1948; UNESCO, 1960; Vestre, 1999).
After a long political conflict, a law establishing private schools was passed in 1970 and renewed in 1985 (Privatskoleloven, 1985). Alternative schools, including those based on a different religion, now were allowed, and they could receive financial support from the state, at a rate of 85 percent of the cost for a state school pupil. Up until the late 1980s, however, only Christian and Rudolf Steiner schools were sanctioned. Some years later, Montessori schools were permitted. Today, Norway has 28 Rudolf Steiner schools, approximately 40 Christian schools, and 8 Montessori schools as alternatives to the 3,200 Norwegian public state schools. The first Muslim school is expected to open soon.
Private schools tend to specialize in subjects not offered by public schools, like business economics (microeconomics), marketing and MBAs. Again, private schools do not loom large on the horizon, although the fraction of students attending private schools