Richard Orange, Telegraph (London), November 28, 2011
Bjerke Upper Secondary School in Oslo filled one of the three general studies sets solely with pupils with immigrant parents, after many white Norwegians from last year’s intake changed schools.
The controversy over the decision has highlighted the unease in Norway over how to integrate the 420,000 “non-Nordic” citizens who immigrated between 1990 and 2009, and who make up 28 per cent of Oslo’s population.
“This is the first time I’ve heard about this, and it is totally unacceptable,” Torge Ødegaard, Oslo education commissioner, said on Friday, before pressuring the school to inform parents that the three classes would now be reorganised. The letter to parents read: “Such a division of the students is not in accordance with the requirements of the Education Act. The school regrets this error.”
But Robert Wright, a Christian Democrat politician and former head of the city’s schools board, struck back, arguing that the authorities had been wrong to block the move. He also said that other Oslo schools should start to segregate classes to prevent a situation of “white flight” developing.
“I think we have to try this to see how it’s functioning,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “Bjerke School has come up with a radical solution to a real problem, but the politicians have just said ‘no’.”
He said that the school’s decision reflected problems stemming from the high rate of immigration Oslo has seen in recent decades.
The decision only came to the parents’ notice earlier this month after Avtar Singh, a Punjabi Norwegian, confronted Gro Flaten, the school’s headmistress, on why his son, Gurjot, had no ethnic Norwegian classmates.
“She said straight out that the school had experienced ethnic Norwegian students dropping out if they weren’t grouped together in smaller classes,” he told Dagsavisen newspaper.
Mrs Flaten told The Daily Telegraph: “We made the decision because many Norwegian students were moving to other schools because they were in classes with such a high percentage of students from other nations. They seemed to be in a minority.”
Students at the school have expressed their anger at the segregation. “This is apartheid. They do this because I’m from Africa and my father is from Africa,” said Ilias Mohamed, 17, from Somalia, who was part of the immigrant-only class. “But everyone of us is a Norwegian.”
Hibba Tudorache, 18, whose parents came to Norway from Romania, said: “The students are really mad about this. It’s an insult to those of us who are from other countries. It’s discriminatory to put the white Norwegian people before us.”
But Helena Skagen, 18, the head girl at the school, said she understood what the school authorities had been trying to do.
“They had the best intentions. They just wanted to keep the Norwegian students at the school. But they now know that what they did was wrong because you can’t split the students according to their culture,” she said.
Mr Wright added that he believed that the shadow of Anders Breivik, the anti-Islamic extremist who massacred 77 people in Oslo in July, had made discussions of immigration difficult in Norway.
“I think it’s a very emotional discussion because of what happened in July, and for that reason politicians don’t want to enter the discussion at all, because they are afraid,” he said.