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A unique schooling experience

Photographs: iStock

Text: Monika Pedersen

Being a newcomer to Denmark and fascinated by education, ‘Efterskole’, which does not have a translatable name, is an educational opportunity I had never encountered before. Moreover, I was intrigued by the forward-thinking concept that emerged over 150 years ago as part of the Danish free school movement.

Historical and cultural context

The movement wanted young people to experience the enlightenment of education through discussion and debate, hoping it would lead to a greater understanding of life and one’s context in it. It initially targeted the youth from rural areas to inspire them to look beyond the countryside.

It was felt this could not be achieved by the usual formal and restrictive educational approach. Instead, time and head space were needed for a more profound exploration of the ideals of democracy within life, the workplace, politics, and what it meant to be a citizen and how to act within the country’s culture.

The Efterskole concept

Nowadays, an efterskole is a residential boarding school students can attend from as early as 14 through to 18 for one or two years. The programmes maintain the focus on life skills, social development and interaction, and offer a range of subject opportunities that regular schools cannot.

It can help a child weary of regular schooling ‘folkeskole’ find their identity and direction, or a school leaver who has completed compulsory education and wants some inspiration before committing to ‘gymnasium’, high school.

It is also an incredible option for internationals with teenagers who need to adjust to a new country and educational system, for it gives them the chance to experience the country’s culture, make close friends, and transition smoothly, whilst following enjoyable learning choices. The popularity of an efterskole has increased over the years, and now there are almost 250 across Denmark, including international options with English as the language of instruction. However, there are some specific entry and administrative requirements for students coming from abroad.

Life skills

Students learn essential life skills by sharing living accommodation, cooking and cleaning together, and socialising in a close-knit democratic community. It is about developing a group mentality whilst maintaining an individual identity, working through conflicts and finding solutions, learning tolerance and acceptance, among other skills. The approach allows teenagers to mature, be better prepared for life’s challenges, and take on high school education with a new appreciation.

“Students learn essential life skills by sharing living accommodation, cooking and cleaning together, and socialising in a close-knit democratic community.”

Exciting choices

Students select an efterskole based on their personal passion or interest such as computer programming, sport including unique options such as horse-riding or archery, music, dance, theatre studies or culinary skills and many other possibilities. The schedule is heavily weighted towards the pursuit of the specialist area. Schools are small, with 100-200 students in total. There is a fair distribution of schools across the whole of Denmark, which tend to be located outside of cities, where there is plenty of space for schooling and accommodation facilities.

What will it teach your child?

Efterskole teachers are specialised educators. They have academic duties but also dorm duties. Moreover, each student is allocated a mentor teacher to support them along their journey and help provide the ‘family’ experience. As a result, unique bonds of trust and support are formed between the students and their teachers.

Although efterskole has exciting learning options, they also include traditional subjects. In recent years, it was decreed that students can also sit their public final exams in an efterskole the same way as they can at a ‘folkeskole’. There is a real emphasis on the development of the whole child and to provide everyone with a platform from which to leap into life’s next chapter.

Is it affordable?

Efterskole, unfortunately, may not be a possibility for everyone as they are private institutions where students are required to cover tuition and accommodation costs. The payment is approximately 2,700 kr per week and additional administrative fees. However, if your child is a Danish citizen or has equal status, you will receive a subsidy from the state based on your total household income. For more information visit:

Efterskole provides a wonderful option for some young people who want a different path.

This sentiment was echoed by a couple of personally known students who commented, ‘it taught me so much about myself, and ‘it is the best educational decision I made, even though it has been tough at times.’

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