A slice of primary school life in Denmark
Text: Monika Pedersen
School is something almost all of us have experienced firsthand. Being part of a diverse mobile population, there will be varying ideas on schooling. If you are new to Denmark, it might be helpful to understand the Danish mindset towards schooling.
The pre-school journey
Children can start nursery school, ‘vuggestue’, at the very young age of 9 months until three years old. They then transition to kindergarten, ‘børnehave’ until six years old. The focus is on developing the basic foundations of social interaction, verbal and written communication, creative self-expression, coordination, and problem-solving in both institutions. Then, through free play, organized games, drawing and storytelling, a child’s educational pathway begins.
At the age of 6, students start primary school, otherwise known as ‘folkeskole.’ Students begin in 0 class, which is like a recap of the final kindergarten year, followed by the compulsory schooling years of class 1-9.
Schooling is free unless parents opt for private options, where fees tend to be about 1000-2000kr per month. However, it is a competitive fee, as the aim is not to create elitism against Danish ‘everyone is the same’ values.
In the early years of primary school, the focus continues to be on well-being, social development, and a deeper understanding of group dynamics. Unlike some other educational systems, it is not about testing, assessing, and benchmarking. Instead, students are encouraged to explore, be curious, and develop an interest in the world around them. Testing takes place only in latter years. This approach may take some international parents by surprise.
It is important to note that Danish society is built on teamwork, collaborative decision making, and celebrating the efforts and successes of a group. This approach starts in these formative years and continues into adulthood and the workplace. Thus, it forms the cornerstone of Danish society.
The curriculum has breadth. Languages are valued with Danish and English being taught, along with a third language; science and math; history and philosophy; art, music, cooking, and PE fill the schedule.
There is also an emphasis on special project weeks. The regular schedule is suspended, and time is allocated for a trans-disciplinary approach to investigate concepts such as conservation, world poverty, climate change in mixed-aged groups. Students are encouraged to ask questions and query the ‘status quo’.
Time is allocated for extended or day trips for classes to team build. A primary class remains together for their entire folkeskole life, so close bonds are formed between the students. The parents of the class also develop a supportive network and often arrange events for the class. As a result, a sense of community exists, and class reunions are very common!
The focus is on well-being with time allocated for breaks and lunch, so children can decompress or burn off excessive energy. The schooling system acknowledges the early start of 8:00 and the need to chunk up the day to retain focus.
"Students are encouraged to ask questions and query the 'status quo'.”
Life skills such as swimming and cycling proficiency sessions are given high priority. The philosophy is to develop the whole child. Moreover, many schools do not have canteens, so students either bring a bagged lunch or order a meal online delivered at lunchtime. Students are responsible for collecting the ordered food and milk and cleaning up the classroom by sweeping the floor and removing the trash. This builds a sense of cleanliness, community and responsibility.
To complement this thinking of whole child development, the amount of homework assigned is limited. Parents from specific countries often judge a school’s rigour by the discipline, academic standards, and amount of homework. And yet, in Denmark, little homework is issued unless it is for exam level classes. The belief is that the students have fulfilled the required academic hours within the day.
After school is the time for clubs, activities, and family - this same ideology is seen amongst adults who maintain a strict work/life balance. The focus is on maintaining an excellent psychological and physical status.
Some of these aspects may cause concern as an international, but statistics indicate that over 145 thousand students attend upper secondary school, 16-19. In the last three years, there has also been a steady increase in students attending university. Students are not disadvantaged; thus, it is worth trying a different approach.