ERG SES E 02, Language and Education
Norway, a Scandinavian welfare state in the north-western periphery of Europe, is being transformed by ongoing high levels of immigration. Increased immigration has meant an increased number of language minority students. According to Statistics Norway (Statistisk Sentralbyrå, 2017), the immigrant population makes up 16.8% of the total population in Norway. With the recent influx of immigrants, immigrant students are entering schools in Norway in unprecedented numbers. Pursuant to international inclination, the Norwegian government has set a goal that all immigrant children should attend school when they arrive in the country, regardless of where they live, their social and cultural background, and/or any special needs (Horst & Pihl, 2010; Nilsen, 2010; Strand & Tjeldvoll, 2002). Thus, newly arrived minority language pupils (NAMLPs) have become the focal point of attention for many, particularly in the educational system and for those formulating educational policy measures (Hilt, 2015). ‘Newly arrived minority language pupils’ is abbreviated as NAMLPs, in this paper refers to the translation of ‘nyankomne minoritetsspråklige elever’ used for those pupils who are new in the country.
According to Engen (2010), there is much emphasis on the cultural and linguistic homogeneity associated with political nationalism in the Norwegian educational system, and the unitary school system is built on a selective range of Norwegian cultural elements “en kultur, en nasjon, ett språk og ett folk” (“one culture, one nation, one language, and one people”). In Norway, the schools are mainly public and regulated by the principles of a unitary and community organisational model. Nilsen (2010) explains the unitary model entails inclusion of all pupils in the same school, despite their different backgrounds and abilities. And, he, among others, also attempts to identify decisive stages in the long process of gradually extending, reforming and restructuring the educational opportunities for children with different backgrounds and abilities within ordinary unitary Norwegian schools.
NAMLPs come with highly diverse backgrounds depending on the global political situation. NAMLPs are expected to learn the majority’s language for self-advancement and community, group, and individual empowerment (Engen, 2010). The organisation of adapted language and remedial education is accepted as an exception to the principle of unitary school by an addendum to the Norwegian Education Act, in 2012. According to Norwegian Education policy, it’s considered as minority language pupils’ right to learn the language to the level of sufficient language proficiency to be able to follow the teaching in mainstream classes. Adapted/remedial education is offered in language centres (språksenter), literacy groups (alfabetiseringsgruppe), intensive language centres (intensiv språksenteret) and reception classes (mottaksklasser). The special classes for NAMLPs are called ‘mottaksklasser’ in Norwegian and this is translated either as ‘introductory classes’ or ‘reception classes’. It is called ‘reception classes’ in this paper. Among all these institutes, this paper aims to explore the perceptions and experiences of the professionals about different strata of functionalities within which the reception classes are organised in two municipalities of Norway: Oslo and Trondheim. The location of two municipalities steered considering not only different context and different regional guiding documents but also cogitating its influence on the specific functionalities and processes used within the organizational structure of the reception schools.
Research question and methodology The main goal of the study is to achieve an understanding of the Norwegian primary reception classes as an activity through an interpretation of the professionals’ perceptions and experiences in a natural setting. The new interpretations are enduring with the gain of new information and knowledge, however, the aim of this study is to frame an informed and academic construction of the phenomenon according to the informants’ perceptions and experiences. The guiding research question for this paper is what are the professionals’ perceptions and experiences about the processes and organisation of the reception classes to integrate NAMLPs? The paper is based on a qualitative study in which the perceptions and experiences of the professionals about the phenomenon of Norwegian primary reception classes’ organisation is the focus. The data is collected from the first and third biggest municipalities of Norway, namely Oslo and Trondheim. Two primary reception schools, one from each municipality, were the basic sources of data collection. The dissertation on which this paper is based stems from multiple data sources. The data was mainly collected through interviews, field conversations, and relevant available documents, and this provided an opportunity to gain understanding about different aspects of the phenomenon through the perceptions and experiences of the professionals involved in the activity (Maxwell, 2013). The head teachers, subject coordinators, and reception teachers from the two schools were interviewed. The informants shared some relevant documents regarding reception classes. Ample time was spent reading them and finding relevant patterns and codes for validating themes developed from the interview data. Then, I returned to the informants for further one-to-one audiotaped field conversations. This allowed me to enter into the research informants’ perspectives (Brinkmann & Kvale, 2014). These audio-taped conversations were framed in addition to audio-taped semi-structured interviews. Besides the Norwegian Educational Act, the archive documents include a number of documents. All regional and national documents are originally in Norwegian, however, several of them are accompanied by an English summary. The rational for going through these documents was the reference of the informants in the study. The informants consider and/or use them while making decisions and working in reception classes.
The theoretical framework is Activity Theory (AT), and the paper offers a combinative analysis of all aspects of the reception classes in relation to their organisation. AT analysis is primarily focused on the descriptive nature (Engeström, 1999), thus, AT is used as a supplementary tool in the study. The research doesn’t stand with an intervention position, but instead AT is used as an analytical tool for understanding the function of the reception classes in natural settings (Lynch, 2010). The preliminary findings evince that national and regional guidelines are typically weak in spelling out requirements for the stable organisation of reception classes. In education policy, these classes are referred to merely as language training for NAMLPs. There is no standardised national and/or regional curriculum for these classes. Therefore, it is suggested that central authorities must develop standardised curricula for reception classes, with a clear focus on subject content along with language learning. It is indicated that the lack of available educational materials and books force the reception teachers to develop their own books and teaching materials. This paper, thus, calls attention to the challenging job of reception teachers due to the complex strata of challenges built into the way the reception classes are organized. There is no pre- and/or in-service professional development training or courses for reception teachers. The exacting nature of their work should be realised by providing them with professional support, in order to accommodate the needs of NAMLPs. In this area, very little educational research has been carried out about and/or in reception classes, with no research about the organisation and functionalities of reception classes. Thus, there is a need for more research to better understand the normative contexts and organisation of reception classes, which may improve the progressive adaption of NAMLPs in reception, as well as mainstream classes.
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