The Department of Special Needs Education turns 50!

The 10th of February was a special day for the Department. It celebrated its 50th anniversary. Dedication, caring and enthusiasm were the qualities that were at the foundation of the Norwegian special education teachers college in 1961.

Guest lecturer Susan Tetler, DPU. Photo: Marte Holhjem, UiO

Through all these years the Department’s organization has been changing until it became a unit in the Faculty of Education structure in 1996. Education officials, researchers and staff of the department gathered to celebrate the round date and discuss the challenges and opportunities of the field in the future.

After a warm welcoming speech of the head of the Department Berit Rognhaug, the academic seminar was open. As professor Reidun Tangen has underlined, “the seminar enabled researchers of the field, enthusiasts and practitioners come together and look at the special needs education from various perspectives”. It was indeed a very enriching experience since the guest lecturers were from different backgrounds.

Special Needs Education seen from a Nordic perspective

The first speaker Susan Tetler, professor at Danmarks Pædagogiske Universitet (DPU) has prepared a brilliant presentation about the Special Needs Education in Nordic countries. Although the organization of the subjects, schools and colleges vary a lot from country to country, it appeared that the field has common challenges that are recognizable everywhere. As prof. Tetler noted, the Nordic countries are striving for including schools where no child is left behind. At the same time the process of treating children with difficulties medically and in special classes cannot be left unnoticed. Therefore, there exists a contradiction between policy documents and practical implementation. In addition, the Nordic social democracies aim for more diversity in the society and school, while many sided standardization in education is a well known trend. Professor Tetler concluded that these challenges should be taken seriously and treated on different levels: from national to individual. It was an inspiring speech with theoretical aspects and interesting conclusions.

Cooperation with municipal authorities

The seminar continued with a presentation of a practitioner in the field Hilde Graff, a representative of Sagene area in Oslo municipality. The cooperation with Sagene has been lasting for about 10 years and has indeed been fruitful for both sides. The majority of employees at Sagene have undergone formal training at the Department, and students can have practice at the municipality. The speech was full of warm words addressed to the Department and hopes for further cooperation.

Students about ISP

The students have always played a central role in the whole functioning of the Department:  after all they are the main reason it exists. Therefore, a special part of the programme was reserved for contributions from students and research fellows. They shared their positive experience at ISP with the audience, admiring open and friendly academic staff that is ready to help whether it concerns a theoretical question or big international project. Such words have always kept ISP going no matter how hard the times were and it is great to see that students and PhD fellows are heard.

Director of Academic Affairs in Oslo municipality about special education in school

Astrid Søgnen, director of academic affairs in Oslo municipality, has a broad experience when it comes to schools with special needs children. Oslo is a multicultural city and offers education to children with various backgrounds but the equity principle must prevail. She underlined that in her opinion “special needs education and teaching can be defined as especially good education, where a teacher dedicates time and attention to every single pupil”.  According to Søgnen, such particularly good education can bring brilliant results and improve the levels of trust in children with various backgrounds. “Norway is lagging behind other Nordic countries in a number of international tests, but this fact has woken up the schools and teachers and made them look at education from a different angle, which is positive”, says Astrid Søgnen.  She is convinced that the education at schools must be knowledge and evidence based and that is where the Department’s leading research in the field steps in. Therefore, both the Department and municipality are excited about future collaboration in such an important issue like special needs education.

The final part: the Journal

The Head of the Department Berit Rognhaug with a freshly published issue of the anniversary journal. Photo: Marte Holhjem, UiO

The seminar has ended with a very joyous event: distribution of a special issue of “Spesialpedagogikk”. The editors were working hard to make this issue interesting and scientific at the same time. The head of the Department Berit Rognhaug has received the first anniversary issue of the journal, mentioning that it is the third big anniversary of the Department. “Although many of the Department’s founders are not with us today, we have hopes for a new generation of researchers and practitioners. There are 35 PhD candidates at the department now of which 19 are employed here, and they are the future of the field”, said Rognhaug. All students at the Department will get the journal in coming weeks.

It is not the last event in connection with the Department’s anniversary. In May there will be held a conference “Futures past”, note that in your calendars!


By Zhanna Saidenova
Published Feb. 16, 2011 10:27 AM - Last modified June 24, 2011 10:30 AM