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Educational comparisons

Writer Shani Bishop discusses the difference between British and international education in Denmark.

Photographs: Unsplash

Text: Shani Bishop

Since leaving Denmark, many expats who still live in Denmark have asked me this question. My children were at an international school for five years. My eldest was six when he arrived and could already read. This was unusual - generally, the teaching of reading starts later at international schools in Denmark. While many schools claim to teach a UK curriculum, I think they are more of a hybrid. This does make for an interesting mix.

What are the pros of International schools in Denmark?

My kids enjoyed their school in Denmark, as the curriculum was creative and exciting. I liked how a topic was taught across all subjects at our school. For example, my son studied the topic of chocolate, so in art, he made packaging for a chocolate bar, while in science, he learnt about melting points, and in music, he created a jingle. The way everything pulled together was great, and I could see how it enhanced his learning.

The focus on problem solving and skills was a good start on soft skills, which will prove helpful in the future.

As you would expect, when you’re in a classroom with children from all over the world, you learn so much about culture and points of view that would be impossible to replicate anywhere. It creates children who are curious and interested in the world around them.

What I love about schools in the UK

A UK education is of a higher level, and I have been impressed with the teachers and how the learning is delivered. The focus on literacy and numeracy was surprising to me. For example, my son has four books on the go simultaneously. A class book which the children read and study in class, a reading book for quiet times, the book the teacher reads and finally, the book he reads at home. Many studies show that children who read well succeed across all subjects. At the secondary level, this focus continues with a programme that rewards reading. For my son, this has motivated him; he’s read 66 books since September.

In maths, the teachers seem good at getting the children to practise differently, so my son can now manipulate numbers and process calculations very quickly.

The UK schools are also surprising international; in my son’s class, there are families from Italy, Ukraine, Korea and Sri Lanka.

"Living in Denmark, where individuals are not singled out for praise, I still find the awards the kids bring home in the Uk a little odd."

Flaws in both systems

No school or system is perfect. There are good things about every educational system. The main problem is changing systems where levels, standards and expectations differ. Moving from a relaxed system like Denmark to a UK system with high expectations has been challenging. Luckily both of my boys have risen to the challenge, but it has taken ongoing tutoring to plug gaps between the different curriculums.

If I had to point to issues within the international school system, it would be that whilst the curriculum was creative, only some teachers applied it in its full glory, so it could sometimes feel like a missed opportunity. In addition, the lesser sharp focus on numeracy and literacy meant that the academic levels were lower.

My issues with the UK system are that it can sometimes feel dry. More could be done to focus on soft skills. I also feel there is too much focus on performance and testing. Finally, living in Denmark, where individuals are not singled out for praise, I still find the awards the kids bring home in the UK a little odd.

In an ideal world, a school would combine the best of both of these systems. I wondered whether this might be the International Baccalaureate, but a mum told me they never learn any facts, and this drove her mad, so maybe not!

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