Comparative analysis of education

By Harald Hegstad

The connection between baptism and instruction in the Christian faith goes back to the New Testament and Jesus’ commission of “baptizing (…) and teaching” (Matthew 28:19–20). Through the history of the church, this has been taken care of through catechesis in various forms, either before or after baptism. In the Nordic folk churches, this task was historically taken care of by public schools on the one hand, and confirmation in church on the other hand.


Traditionally, teaching religion in religious public schools in the Nordic countries was based on Lutheranism and under a certain control of the church. This situation has changed. Finland is the only country where there exists a curriculum that is confessionally based. This is only compulsory for members of the Lutheran church, and there are alternative curricula for members of other churches. Neither the curriculum nor the teaching is controlled by the church. In Denmark there is a reminiscence of the confessional instruction in the 1975 school law, where instruction in Lutheran Christianity is emphasized for all levels in public schools for historical and contextual reasons. In reality, instruction can be very scarce and dependent upon the individual teacher’s interests and abilities.


In the other countries, religion is taught on a non-confessional basis for all students in public schools. Over time, this has led to loss knowledge about Christian faith in the population, especially by younger people. This situation has led to discussions and new initiatives in the churches.


In Norway, the church initiated a large scale-reform in 2004, organizing an educational program for all baptized between 0 and 18 years old. Through a national curriculum and a financing, this program is mandatory in all congregations.


In Sweden, a program for education was introduced recently on a smaller scale. Dioceses and congregations have to a varying degree their own programs. Local programs are also the case in churches with no national programs. All churches see instruction in Christian faith as an important part of the follow up or preparation of baptism.


Transmitting of knowledge of Christian faith is also an important element in various activities for children and youth, run by congregations and by organizations affiliated to the churches.


The most important part of faith instruction in all five churches is confirmation, usually for 14-15 years old youth. Instruction in the faith of the church is an important part of the confirmation program. Confirmation has a high degree of participation, also measured by 14-15 years old in the general population. In Denmark 68 % in the age group were confirmed in the folk church in 2019. In Norway, this share was 54,4 % the same year.


In addition to general instruction in Christian faith, the churches have been engaged in teaching and information about the meaning of baptism. Books, brochures, and didactic resources have been developed for use in faith instruction and in communication with parents and candidates for baptism.