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HomeEuropeEducational Equity in Scandinavian Countries

Educational Equity in Scandinavian Countries


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Scandinavia has for many years enjoyed an excellent reputation for providing high-quality education based on educational equity. The Nordic economies have in fact become increasingly dependent on skilled workers, and their educational systems are well-suited to meeting this challenge.

The starting point in the Nordic school system is pre-school education, which is universally provided for children from the age of one year. The provision of such a wide-ranging service is unique in Europe, and it is largely due to Finland’s efforts to improve the educational opportunities available to all its citizens that it has been chosen as the “best practice” example by both the European Commission and UNESCO. In Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, pre-school education consists mostly of daycare services that are provided primarily by municipalities, though there are also privately owned facilities.

What is educational equity?

Educational equity has become a topic of interest in recent years, especially in countries across the globe. In 2005, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) defined educational equity as “the absence of all forms of discrimination in education”.

The term ‘educational equity is used to describe the way in which educational equality is achieved. Ensuring educational equity is one way to create an equal playing field for all students. Educational equity is often used interchangeably with ‘equality of opportunity, although the two concepts are not identical. For instance, if a school system provides high-quality education for all students, it is providing educational equity, but this does not mean that the education offered will be exactly the same for every student.

Equality of opportunity refers to the idea that everyone should have an equal chance of success, regardless of their background or social status.

What is the issue of educational equity?

The issue of Educational Equity is one that has been around for many years. In their school systems, children are not treated equally, and there is a large focus put on the social standing of the family they are born into. There are many different factors that go into deciding the success of a child’s education. The most important being if they come from a wealthy family or if they come from a low-income family.

Children from wealthy families are more likely to be able to attend schools that offer an overall better quality of education than those children who live in poor families. The students who attend these schools have access to more resources, such as computers with internet connections, books, and other educational tools needed to learn and excel in their studies. It is not just about having these resources available, but also about having teachers who can use them effectively and creatively when teaching the students.

The students in schools from low-income families are more likely to have less access to these things like computers with internet connections, books, or even teachers that can teach effectively and creatively. This can lead to a wide gap in the level of education between the students in high-income families and low-income families, which is known as educational equity.

Historical Perspective on Educational Equivalence

There are many different aspects of schooling that are looked at when deciding how well a student has done. One of these is educational equity. This is basically the differences in how well students do in school, and who they are. It’s important to understand what causes these differences, and what we can do to fix them.

The historical perspective of educational equality is that no one actually knows why there are differences in education between students. There hasn’t been much research into the topic, and it’s mainly focused on the Scandinavian countries. There isn’t much research because it’s hard to tell which students did better, because of their home conditions, or because of their education.

There are two main theories for why there would be educational equality:

1) The first theory is that people all start out with equal opportunities, and everyone gets what they deserve based on their own merit. This means that the reason for inequality in schools is that some students work harder than others, and so those students will get better grades and more opportunities than those who don’t work as hard.

2) The second theory is that students start off with different opportunities based on their home situation. Students who come from a stable family environment will have an advantage over those who don’t.

Why is this discussion important today?

When you are thinking about the phrase, “Educational equity” what comes to your mind? Do you think about how well kids are doing in school? Or do you think more about the teacher’s role in delivering a high-quality education? The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) defines educational equity as “the absence of discrimination based on social, economic, cultural or other factors affecting students’ performance and learning potential.”

This definition is quite broad. It encompasses much of what we talk about when we talk about education policy, including not only access to education, but also resources within the school itself, and what happens after children graduate and enter the workforce.

One way we can look at educational equity is through an international lens. Do all countries have equal opportunities to educate their citizens? Do they all provide high-quality schooling to all children? Are there any commonalities in successful educational policies around the world? We can look at these questions by comparing education systems across different countries.

Norway – Educational Equity

Education has been free since 1975. The education system consists of three levels; primary school, lower secondary school, and upper secondary school. In the last two years of primary school, students are able to choose between a general and a vocational program. Lower secondary school lasts for four years and all students attend the same type of school (unlike upper secondary). Students take national tests at the end of each school year which show if a student is ready for upper secondary school.

Most students do go on to upper secondary but those who do not have to attend a supplementary education program where they can acquire basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Primary schools are managed by municipalities while schools at lower and upper secondary levels are managed by county authorities. There are no private schools except for language schools that prepare students for foreign language examinations. Primary and lower secondary education is based on the same curriculum throughout Norway.

Denmark – Educational Equity

Scandinavia is known for its high-quality education system. Although the definition of educational equity varies, in general, it means that people have access to schools that provide them with equal opportunities, regardless of their background. For example, a child’s chances of completing upper secondary school should not depend on his or her parents’ socioeconomic status.

If educational equity is measured by the completion of upper secondary school, Denmark has achieved equity in education but still has room for improvement. In 2009, 87% of students completed upper secondary school (ISCED level 3), which is an increase from 79% in 1999. However, a large gap still exists between children whose parents have low levels of education and those whose parents have tertiary education: 82% and 96% respectively. 

Education can be considered equitable if every citizen has access to good quality public schools that offer equal opportunities, regardless of their background. Currently, there are no private schools in Denmark; all schools are public. The Danish Education Act states that “the primary goal in Danish Schools shall be to give pupils knowledge and insight and to develop their ability to think critically and creatively.”

Sweden – Educational Equity

The idea of educational equity is a relatively recent phenomenon in Sweden. The government has been working hard to improve the quality of education for students from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds since the 1970s. Despite these efforts, there are still significant inequalities among students from different social groups.

The Swedish government has since developed various programs and policies to promote educational equity. These include the introduction of compensatory budgeting and an amendment to the Education Act (1996), which requires municipalities to take action to reduce the gaps between students with different backgrounds. The government has also invested in steadily increasing teacher salaries, increasing teacher training opportunities, and providing additional financial resources for schools with disadvantaged students.

Although these efforts have improved student achievement, especially among lower-performing students, Sweden remains a country where school districts with more advantaged populations outperform those made up of disadvantaged students.


The Scandinavian countries are known for their emphasis on quality of life, including a high standard of living, low unemployment, and a high level of happiness. All of these factors contribute to the success of the education system in Scandinavian countries. The countries have made it a top national priority to create educational equity, and they have developed policies that all contribute to the success of their education system.

Do you find this article interesting? Let us know your thoughts by writing us at talk@educationin.eu or contact us.


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