Full coverage of kindergartens not only reassures working parents that their children are receiving adequate care during the work day, it provides children under the compulsory school age with good opportunities for development and activity.
Kindergartens also provide an important arena for integration of children of different ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds, as well as for social equalisation.
More and more
In 2008, 87 per cent of all children aged 1-5 attended a kindergarten, compared to 69 per cent in 2003. This percentage continues to rise, in large part due to the introduction of maximum payment for parents as from 2004. Over the 2003-2009 period, the average parents’ fees for municipal and private kindergartens fell by 20 and 28 per cent respectively.
There has been a particularly large increase in the number of children under the age of 3 and minority-language children enrolled in kindergarten.
In 2009 the Norwegian authorities took a step to further increase attendance by making it a statutory right for all children between the ages of 1 and 5 to have a place in a kindergarten. Construction of kindergarten facilities reached a record high in 2008 in an effort to provide a sufficient number of places.
Better and better?
There is public debate about whether such a rapid rate of construction will have a negative impact on the quality of the kindergartens. Although the number of employees has risen at a pace with the number of children, only one of three employees in Norwegian kindergartens is certified in early childhood education and care.
Now politicians are directing their focus away from building enough kindergartens and toward ensuring that they are of adequately high quality. A white paper on quality in kindergartens was presented in 2009 to follow up this issue.
Not for everyone
However, not all parents wish to send their children to kindergarten. The Norwegian authorities therefore provide a monthly cash benefit to parents who do not enrol their child in kindergarten. This is intended to promote greater equality in the distribution of state funds to families regardless of the type of childcare they choose.