Historical outline of youth policy in Norway

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Norway did not have a youth policy until after World War II.This
is, of course, associated with the fact that, as a result of changes in social institutions,
such as education and the labour market, young people were seen as
being separate from adult society. One of the main trends is that fewer young
people are employed and an increasing number of young people pursue a
higher education after primary, lower secondary and upper secondary school.
Young people have thus acquired their own arenas and a life situation distinct
from childhood and adulthood.

Although the principle of comprehensive education was laid down at an early
stage in the Acts relating to the primary school (folkeskole) (grades 1-5) of
1889, many years passed before a comprehensive educational system was
established for the period after seven years of compulsory schooling.Trials of
9-year education began in the 1950s, and in 1969 the Storting adopted a resolution
to increase the period of compulsory education from 7 to 9 years.At the
same time, the term “folkeskole” was replaced by “grunnskole” (“basic education”,
i.e. primary and lower secondary school). Under this Act, municipal
authorities were required to introduce 9 years of compulsory education by
1975. In 1997, the period of compulsory primary and lower secondary education
was increased to 10 years and children started school one year earlier, at
the age of six.

In parallel with the reform of primary and lower secondary education, work
was also in progress to reform upper secondary education.Vocational schools
and academic upper secondary schools (gymnas) were amalgamated under the
Act relating to upper secondary education, which was adopted in 1974 and
entered into force two years later. In 1994, a comprehensive reform of upper
secondary education took place whereby all young people were given the
right to upper secondary education. It also became possible to qualify for higher
education at colleges and universities after completing vocational education
at upper secondary school.

The highest levels of the educational system were also significantly expanded
in the post-war period.New universities and regional colleges were established
and some study programmes were upgraded to college programmes. These
changes provided possibilities for a sharp rise in the number of students, and
in 2001 28 per cent of 20-24 year-olds were studying at universities or colleges.

In the period after World War II it was easy for young people to find work.
During the years immediately after the war, the employment rate rose sharply.
There was a shortage of manpower, particularly young manpower.The labour
shortage was exacerbated by women marrying at an earlier age and an increase
in the number of people getting married.The labour market situation continued
to be favourable for young people in the 1960s. The large numbers of
young people who gradually entered the labour market replaced the large
numbers of older people who retired. Moreover, the economy grew strongly
and there was great demand for labour. The strong economic growth of the
post-war era slowed down in 1973 and since then the growth rate has been significantly
lower than in the 1950s and 1960s. Parallel with this economic slowdown,
unemployment among young people entered the political agenda as a
special problem. In the mid-1980s and early 1990s,the unemployment rate was
high. In addition to the economic situation, the demographic situation also had
a certain impact on the labour market.The baby-boomers born at the end of
the 1960s were faced with a situation where they were to replace smaller numbers
of pensioners.The labour market had changed as well.The jobs that had
previously provided a starting point for young people had disappeared, which
led to growing unemployment in the younger age group. From the 1980s
onwards, education and training programmes became important measures to
combat unemployment among young people.As a result of the large numbers
of young people embarking on upper secondary and higher education, youth
unemployment has been relatively low.

In the post-war period, leisure time also became a matter of political interest.
In the wake of industrialization, the labour movement had fought for and
achieved a normal working day and fixed leisure time. Leisure time was intended
to provide opportunities for recreation and development, and the authorities
put holidays and leisure time into a social context at an early stage. It was
not only a matter of the well-being of individuals, but also of public health and
productivity. At the same time, the authorities feared that more leisure time
would lead to idleness and problems, for individuals and for society. Many people
were particularly concerned about the leisure time of young people.When
all the political parties presented a joint programme in 1945, leisure time was
described as “the leisure problem”.The programme gave notice that the leisure
problem would be the subject of a thorough political process aimed at giving
young people possibilities for healthy recreation.

In 1946 the Storting established the National Office for Sport. In 1950, this
office was given responsibility for youth policy and renamed the National
Office for Youth and Sport, a part of the Ministry of Church and Education.An
important part of its work was in the beginning related to physical education
and preventive health measures. There was strong focus on the preventive
aspect of leisure policy at the beginning of the 1960s. From 1951 onwards, the
National Office for Youth and Sport invited non-governmental children’s and
youth organizations to two youth conferences each year to discuss youth
policy issues and cooperation between the public and private sectors. The
ministerial departments that have since been responsible for youth policy have
continued to arrange national youth conferences. Until the Norwegian Youth
Council was established in 1980, the national youth conferences were the most
important platform for cooperation between non-governmental organizations
and the designers of national youth policy.

The Government established the State Youth Council in 1953 to act as an advisory
body on youth policy issues. Non-governmental organizations elected a
majority of its members at the State Youth Conference.The State Youth Council
was disbanded in 1986.

A committee appointed by the Government to study official support for youth
organizations submitted its recommendation in 1960 and concluded that nongovernmental
organizations must be the cornerstone of youth policy.However,
the Committee proposed that public leisure services should be provided for
“unorganized youth”.These services should be provided as an exception to the
main policy line. The purpose of these municipal youth programmes would
also be to persuade young people to join voluntary organizations. The
Committee’s report was followed up by political resolutions that largely conformed
to the recommendations. Consequently, youth policy was formulated
along two lines: public leisure activities would be provided for those who
needed them,while voluntary organizations would receive funding so that they
could provide services for the majority of young people.

In the 1970s, official involvement in youth policy became more direct.
Politicians agreed that leisure activities must target the entire young population.
Measures would be based on the needs of young people. The Committee
also pointed out that prevention was complicated and should not be the objective
of leisure activities, even if they might have certain preventive effects.One
topic that became important in youth policy concerned the possible consequences
of commercial leisure activities for young people. An official report on
youth policy published at the end of the 1970s emphasized the dangers of
commercial forces being permitted to fill an “opinion and identity vacuum” in
the lives of young people.This view was subsequently promoted by the parliamentary
Standing Committee on Education and Church Affairs, which stressed
how important it was to support alternatives to speculative forms of commercialism.
One measure with a clearly preventive perspective was youth clubs.
The first youth club was established in Oslo in the 1950s, and from the end of
the 1960s an increasing number of municipalities established clubs for both
younger and older children.

In the 1980s, there was once again stronger focus on the preventive potential
of non-governmental organizations. There was particular emphasis on the
environment-forming qualities of organizations in areas where ties to the local community were weak.There was stress on the ability of organizations to partially
replace the lack of neighbours, friends and other local ties. When the
Conservative government took over in 1981, it indicated a certain amount of
opposition to strong official involvement in leisure policy. It emphasized that it
is primarily the responsibility of the individual to decide how to spend his or
her leisure time. In an appendix to the Report to the Storting on Youth Policy
that the Social-Democratic government had submitted before it resigned, the
new Government stated that central government should respect individual
freedom of choice.To the extent public authorities would provide support, it
must be aimed at facilitating development and activity. Even though there was
a certain amount of political disagreement on youth policy, public services
have been substantially expanded in the past 20-30 years. The central government
has provided financial support for a variety of measures, such as music
schools. Since 1998, all municipalities have been required to provide schools of
music and the arts.

One important goal of youth policy is to strengthen the involvement and
participation of young people. The socio-political justification for such measures
has changed somewhat since the 1970s.Today, prevention is intended to
be a result of measures, since integration and qualification make young people
competent members of society.The main goals of youth policy are, therefore,
to help ensure that the resources represented by young people are focused on
and utilized in important areas of society, and that the participation and influence
of young people are promoted. The most important grounds for youth
policy are presented as qualifying them to participate in society, in the widest
sense. Participation is a key word in this respect.The cultural and leisure activities
of young people are regarded as being both a part of such qualification
and an opportunity for experience and recreation. In the leisure area, the term
qualification means at least as much the acquisition of qualities such as initiative,
self-management and self-control as the acquisition of knowledge and
skills. In Report No. 48 to the Storting (2002-2003) Cultural policy up to 2014,
which was submitted by the Government in autumn 2003, the term digital
competence is used to describe the ability of children and young people to
make use of new media.The report points out that it is important to develop
such competence so that young people are able to utilize new educational
services, and in order to prevent the emergence of new social dividing lines.

(From (PDF) National Report on Youth Policy in Norway)