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Right to education in Denmark

Marieke Hopman


14 juni 2016

Lesgeven in Denemarken #2: inclusie en het autoritaire systeem

14 juni 2016 | By | No Comments

Today I taught my second lesson of philosophy in a Danish public school. I teach two very different groups, and my story today is about the first group. They are a 7th grade class, all 13-14 year old boys and girls. In Denmark, compared to the Netherlands, the authoritative structure of the school is quite loose. For example, classes are scheduled to start at 8 am. However, it seems like most don’t start before 8.15 – amongst others because teachers are late – and until about 8.30 students are arriving. In the Netherlands on the other hand, if you are 1min late your name is registered, if you come late twice it means two hours of cleaning duty. Another Danish example is that apparently it is quite normal for students to decide they want to work elsewhere but in the classroom and to simply leave the classroom without saying anything. So far I have several times lost some of the students and I have to search them in the school, because otherwise I can’t help them with their work. Yesterday the students chose questions they found interesting and today they got assignments and texts to philosophically examine these questions. The questions are (links refer to the assignments): A) How do we know that we do not live in a game?; B) What is time?; C) Morality: how can we solve a moral dilemma? In the 7th grade there is one boy, let’s call him Max. Max is very hard to handle. He is not necessarily unkind, but he simply does not participate in class activity. Obviously I don’t know him very well, but it seems like he is quite unhappy, restless and not motivated to learn anything. Yesterday he was spending most of his time either walking around the classroom touching some of the other boys – mostly holding his arm around their neck and pushing them down -, sleeping on his desk or he was just gone from the classroom altogether. So this morning I started the day by asking him what he wants, what he needs to learn, what he likes, what he finds interesting, what he needs from me. He said that in fact he thought the class was interesting and when I asked him why he did not participate, he said that he did and in fact for a moment started discussing the question of the moment (Matrix: would you take the red or the blue pill?). However, quite soon after, his interest or concentration or whatever was gone again. When later in the afternoon I offered to read a part of Plato’s The Republic with him and two of his friends, his friends were willing and we started reading together. He first came and sat with us without his text. His friends told him to go and get his paper. He walked back grudgingly, got the paper, dropped it on the floor a bit further, said something in Danish and walked away. When I asked what he had said his two friends shrugged their shoulders and said that he was just going. They wanted to read the text. When I suggested to wait for Max they said they would rather not, because Max wasn’t interested in learning anything. So they would rather read without him (and these were not very serious, hard studying boys). When later I asked the other teachers about Max, they said that it was a school problem. They didn’t know what to do with him. Danish education is inclusive; the idea is that all children, no matter their background, religion, behavior, iq level, etc. are welcome. In this way the class represents regular society. But what to do with a boy like Max, when you have 25 other students that need your attention? The answer in practice, apparently, is: you give him the freedom to leave the classroom whenever he wants. It is a problem, the teachers admitted. They did try to get the boy psychological help, he has been out of school for 1,5 years, he has been in a special school for a while. I am at a loss here. I don’t know what to do with this boy. He has a right to education and I want to teach him. But I cannot sit next to him all the time if I also have to teach 24 other students – even if I would love to and I think it would help him. It would not be fair to the other students. But this means that Max plays around in the classroom or walks away, and in either way he is not getting any education…

Marieke Hopman


12 juni 2016

Teaching in Denmark #1

12 juni 2016 | By | One Comment

Dear all,

The coming week I will be teaching philosophy in Denmark, and I intend to write about it on this blog. I will be teaching 13-15 year olds, who are in regular school in a village called Hundested. Coming from the Netherlands, I am curious to see the education system from more of an insider perspective!

For now, I have already noticed that the organization aspect is quite different from what I am used to. In the Netherlands, if I would come to a school as a guest teacher (especially for this age category), everything would be arranged in detail a few weeks or more before the course starts. In Denmark on the other hand, up until last friday I did not even know who I was going to teach exactly and it was mostly because I was in the school to do some printing and ran into some of the teachers that I found out that I will have two groups; the local-global class from 8.00-11.00 and a selection of three students who have the best level in English of their class from 12.00-15.00 (although I am not exactly sure about these times either).

program hundested course

Preparation for this week’s philosophy course


I have been enthusiastic about the flexibility of the Danish curriculum before, however experiencing this flexibility from up close like this has been challenging for me (and quite an insightful confrontation with myself too), as I usually like to be well-prepared. It is an exercise in letting go, and just go with the flow!

On the social side, which I was equally enthusiastic about before as being so important in Danish education, I got to experience this right away firsthand. Everyone has been incredibly friendly and open, willing to help with anything I need, coming over for drinks and inviting me to social events (most notably last friday’s teacher’s party). One of the teachers is allowing me to stay in her wonderful summer cottage (pictures below), and I feel so lucky and blessed to be here.

garden1 garden 2







Tomorrow I will start the first class, so let’s hope all goes well…

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Marieke Hopman


12 april 2016

Recht op educatie in Denemarken #4: het uitgangspunt van onderwijs

12 april 2016 | By | No Comments

Rector Malene Nyenstad, het hoofd van een reguliere Deense openbare school, legt in deze video de basis uit van het Deense onderwijssysteem. Ze legt uit dat in Denemarken het meest belangrijke doel van onderwijs is het leren van sociale vaardigheden. Dit wordt gezien als zowel een voorwaarde voor het leren van cognitieve inhoud omdat ze ‘ervan overtuigd zijn dat het onmogelijk is om te leren als je je sociale leven niet op orde hebt’, alsmede een van de belangrijkste leerdoelen in het leven. Zoals Malene aangeeft: ‘uiteraard is het ook zeer belangrijk dat leerlingen weten hoe ze moeten lezen, rekenen en Engels spreken […] maar als je niet weet hoe je om moet gaan met andere mensen, dan doet de rest er niet toe’.


Marieke Hopman


9 april 2016

Recht op educatie in Denemarken #3: Sputnik school

9 april 2016 | By | No Comments

The Sputnik school is the result of an experiment of the local government of Copenhagen. Nine years ago they started a project to realize the right to education for several children who had dropped out of school and for whom there was no good alternative. These are young people with very serious mental issues, who might otherwise be in a mental hospital.

In the location we saw, they edDSCN0261ucate the children who are more introvert (suffering from depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, etc). There is another location where they educate the children who are more extrovert.

The facilty is open to children age 13-17. There is one teacher for every three students. Each teacher picks three students who are then his “favorite people”. The teachers function as teachers, social workers and therapist in one, in addition to regular external support.

The 32 students all have a personal space in a small shared room, such as you see above. Teaching and therapy take place in informal settings.

The facility is expensive (about € 5000 per month), but very effective; in the end many of the children find their way intDSCN0259o the regular education system and/or into employment. The key to the success is the flexibility of the teacher and the school system. One of the things that works is that they have a car service and go to great lengths to get the children to school and create a safe environment. If necessary, they visit the house of a child who has been signed up. The child might hide under the blanket in its room. The teachers they will just sit on the bed and say “we are staying 10 minutes today”. Then they come back the next day and stay for 15 minutes etc, until the children are ready to go to school. Another child who could not learn in a group setting was taught by a teacher in a car for 6 months.

Their idea is that these children have already been forced to do all sorts of things in the school system and this is part of the reason why they dropped out. One of the most important goal of the facility is to stress down these children. DSCN0262

The Sputnik school is where these drop-outs get a new start. The teachers take children by the hand and create new narratives (such as “I can see you are a fighter”). Very rarely they find that they cannot work with some children. They live by the rule that “we can’t expel children for a reason that we knew already when we decided to accept the student in the school”.

Financially, Sputnik is a private educational institution. Children who are signed up are paid for by the local government, on the basis of a year contract. Even though it is an expensive facility, they argue that on the long term it saves money as they invest in children who would otherwise never contribute to society.

Marieke Hopman


9 april 2016

Recht op educatie in Denemarken #2: Deense inclusieve basisschool

9 april 2016 | By | No Comments

Today one of the things we were shown was a regular primary school. In Denmark the classes have a maximum of 27 (or sometimes 28) students. Since some years now the policy is based on inclusion; they try to keep all children with any kind of problems in school. To this purpose, at this school they have “period classes”, or “p-class”. The space they work in is just a classroom in the regular school. When there are children with externalizing problems (anti social or agressive behavior etc), they can go to this special class. There are 11 students currently, two teachers and a social worker. DSCN0249Some students are there for a few months and slowly re-integrate into their regular classes, some children are there for years and might only follow gymnastics for example with their regular class. On the left you see some of the kids working on a group assignment (the older kids help the younger kids). The children create their personal learningDSCN0250 schemes on which together with their teachers they set up personal goals. On the right you see one of these forms. This boy, Rasmus, has three goals: 1. work conscientiously every day 2. come to school every day 3. not to distract other pupils Every day at the end of the day he and his teacher will evaluate whether he reached his goals. He will get a score between 0-5. As soon as he reaches 200 points they celebrate and he can pick a reward, such as having 2 hours of football matches outside. I thought this was a very ingenious and positive system for encouragement and making school fun, especially for children with personal, social or learning problems. Another teacher explained that in her higher class sometimes a student is misbehaving for some time, and she will go and say “I have to score you now”. They work with the same system, and it makes students feel a little embarrassed because it is considered childish. They then get 5’s every day. DSCN0251 Another thing that I thought was very interesting, is their playground. It looks very nice, spacey and natural. They told me that actually the design was a democratic process, where they let children participate in the decision how the playground should look. While the adults wanted to have only sand, the children suggested to have some concrete places so that they could play there with a ball. And so they did.

Marieke Hopman


8 april 2016

Recht op educatie in Denemarken #1: productie school

8 april 2016 | By | 2 Comments

Via een Erasmus programma heb ik de kans gekregen om op een studiereis te gaan en het Deense educatie systeem te bestuderen. Ik zal hier op deze blog verslag van doen – maar in het Engels zodat hopelijk zoveel mogelijk mensen het kunnen volgen en ik niet elk bericht in 2 talen hoef te schrijven. Mocht iemand vragen hebben: voelt u vrij om die hieronder in een reactie te stellen!


An Erasmus+ program offered me a last minute chance to join a study trip to Denmark to learn about the Danish educational system. I am especially interested in the solutions they have for inclusion/ exclusion of pupils. Today we visited a production school. This is a special facility where students between age 15-25, who are “school tired” (meaning they are having a hard time staying in school for different reasons, such as low IQ, difficult family situation, psychological problems, etc) can go. They follow practical education for  maximum one year, where they work on (in this order): 1. personal development 2. social development 3. practical/technical skills The main goal of the program is for them to find an answer to the question “what is the way for me?”. They get help getting their life on track. How does it work? There are several workshops, which you can see below. They perform work, in part for customers. The financial model involves in part government funding, in part profit from the work that is done. Students are payed about € 1 per hour for the work they do. DSCN0231DSCN0233                 On the left there’s a little part of the “pedagogical workshop” where students are training to work on creative things with children (for example in daycare), to do hairdressing, sewing and art. On the right you see the music studio where students learn to make music together and record their music, sometimes working with local bands. DSCN0235 On the left you see one of the school’s bands. Because they have only been together for a short time I did not expect them to be so good but they were!! They make money by performing during parties, school parties, etc.       In the woodworkshop students train to be carpenters and do woodworking. They are hired by local companies for production work. The house below is a house they are currently building. DSCN0237 DSCN0238             DSCN0239   In the garage students do mechanical work on cars. Local people bring their cars in that need reparation, like a normal garage really. One of the Danish teachers accompanying us said he brought his car in recently and it still works well :-).   DSCN0241   In the television workshop they produce 2 hours of tv material per week, for the local television network. They use professional equipment and are paid, as long as they reach a minimum amount of viewers of 15.000 per month. Luckily, they have 30.000 and another 20.000 online per month. DSCN0246     In the IT workshop, students learn programming, building websites and 3d printing. They create about 10 websites per year for companies or individuals.     DSCN0248   Lastly the kitchen workshop. Here students learn to cook etc. We had cake and coffee that they had prepared. Every day they provide breakfast and lunch for the 100 students in the school.     All in all it seems like it is a successful project – students find fun again in learning. They build confidence (many come from broken homes and very negative social and educational experience). Whenever they start, they start by setting personal development goals with a counselor. They might work on building confidence, being less shy, learning to be on time in the morning – even though they have a drug problem, etc. Internal research shows that students are happy in the school and there is NO bullying, which is amazing seeing the selection of students and their backgrounds. I spoke to quite a few students – whose level of English was amazingly high – and they were very friendly, happy to show their work and explain what they were doing. They all said how much they liked the school. On the downside: what happens to these students when the year is over? The school counselor spoke about how hard it is to find a subsequent placement for these children. The requirements for technical educational programs are sometimes linked to high school grades, which these students sometimes don’t have. There is a shortage of work and so they cannot always start to work. However a teacher mentioned that about 75% of the students continue into further education.