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Vahl school Multicultural Library

Mirca Ognisanti

Abstract (English)

This case study concern a multicultural library that has been set up in 1998 in the most multicultural primary school of Oslo, where the almost entirety of students belongs to ethnic minorities. The library is intended not just as a book box, but as a place where students can learn Norwegian by preserving their mother tongue. This important aim can be achieved thanks to materials, books in different language, drama and theatre activities aimed at performing stories, using of ICT.


Abstract (italiano)

Questo caso studio riguarda una biblioteca multiculturale creata nel 1998 nella scuola elementare più multiculturale di Oslo, in cui quasi tutti gli allievi appartengono a minoranze etniche. La biblioteca non è intesa solo come luogo di conservazione di libri, ma anche come ambito in cui gli allievi possono imparare il norvegese, conservando la loro lingua materna. Questo importante obiettivo può essere perseguito grazie ai materiali e ai libri in diverse lingue, e a attività teatrali finalizzate alla creazione di storie, usando l’ICT.

1. The practice

1.1 Description of the project

The transformation of Norway in a multicultural country is evident while looking at schools, in particular in the capital (Oslo), where percentage of immigrants are nearly 20% and where compulsory schools count 35% of ethnic minorities pupils.
Results for pupils are not always positive, and reading tests have demonstrated difficulties in school achievement. Therefore traditional education and traditional school structures must be revised. This is the premise on the basis of which the Multicultural Library has been created with the objective of increasing communication abilities of immigrant students, in Norwegian, but also in their mother tongue. This library requires and improves pedagogical and communicational skills of the librarians while using drama as a promising technique to improve language proficiency among pupils, by promoting the joy of reading, curiosity and language acquisition.

The Project carries out this activities:

  • readings at the library both in Norwegian and in mother tongue of students; 
  • counselling and individual guidance on material and books in mother tongue; 
  • activities related to reading and writing with use of ICT (with devices and instruments that allow to maintain the mother tongue, i.e.: Urdu or Arabic keyboard, Chinese books, Philippines toys);
  • realisation of storytelling by the mean of drama;
  • direct involvement of students who became library assistants for one day (they collect book, help schoolmate in finding books, toys, or materials, help the librarian to supervise the good use of library resources);
  • poduction of materials for the readings.

    As a result of the activities carried out by the library, the level of understanding and communication abilities in Norwegian for ethnic minorities pupils have increased. Results of studies demonstrate that at Vahl School level f Norwegian learning are higher than in other schools: 10% of the 2nd graders students, 54% of the 3rd graders, 42 of 7 graders resulted below the critical level defined by national studies (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, PIRLS; 2001).

1.2 Time, structure and steps of the project

The building was built in 1897 and used as a high school, closed down and later renovated and used as a primary school from 1997.

1.3 Place and context

The Education Act of 1998 (comma 2.8) states that municipalities must offer training to ethnic minorities pupils in their mother tongue, to give bilingual training and also to simplify curricular norwegian language. As a consequence in Vahl school pupils speak 23 languages and at least 5 mother tongue teachers help the librarian.
It’s located in the eastern part of the Oslo city centre. The Vahl primary schools counts more than 95% of students belonging to ethnic minorities and is known as the most multicultural school of Norway. Vahl primary school has 7 grades, and in Norway children start school at the age of 6.
Among the 25 languages spoken in the school, Urdu, Arabic, Turkish and Somali are the main languages. The school achievement of ethnic minorities pupils was lower than that of Norwegian students as several studies demonstrated. Therefore the Municipality of Oslo tried to implement some Project in order to raise the reading level of pupils. This level has improved in 2002-3, but the figures shows a critical situation for non-Norwegian speakers, also at the beginning of primary school (7-8 year old), but especially in the 7th grade (13 year old). The Vahl School has succeeded in reaching better results.
The school is recognised as one of the best practice schools in Oslo from the multicultural point of view, and the best multicultural primary school.
library, situated on the upper 3rd floor of our building, painted in light colours, plants, with lots of specific teaching material.

1.4 Target

Pupils of the primary school and their families as indirect beneficiaries (258 pupils, 95% of them are ethnic minorities pupils).

1.5 Methodology

The library is seen and used as an extension of the classroom, where the teacher-librarian ensure that a broad range of library activities focused on language acquisition and development as well as on creating enthusiasm and interest among the children.
Also, the use of Drama implies innovative methods that facilitate communication and that are particularly successful in multicultural context where a variety of languages is spoken. The methods used by the project are the following: 

  • use of ICT and computer as instruments for learning: the children use technical equipment to create their own project, to download pictures, to produce presentations. They use digital cameras;
  • producing In-house printed materials (pupils set up their own “publishing company” called Laseforlaget, which printed more that 20 volumes);
  • involve children as Library assistants or Book Police (pupils are engaged in the management and care of the library by helping other children to find and to borrow books or to gathering in a trolley around the school books that must return to the library);
  • story telling (specifically addressed to 7-12 year old pupils) aimed at expanding Norwegian vocabulary. The story telling sessions are also used to understand what the children like more and mostly the level of understanding of Norwegian;
  • drama: arranging of drama performances based inside and outside the school.

1.6 Authors, Financing and networks

The Library is funded by the school with national funds from the Ministry of Education. The Library also receive funds from the Municipality of Oslo. 

2. Hints for an evaluation