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Education in Denmark

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Denmark has consistently ranked among one of the happiest countries in the world.  The Scandinavian country of 5.8 million is notable for its high quality of life, advanced education, health care and civil liberties and the Hygge (pronounced Hooguh, meaning cozy and comfortable feeling) lifestyle.  Pursuing an education in Denmark offers an entry into this socially developed country.

The Danish education system is similar to its Scandinavian neighbors, with the public school and education system financed from high taxes and is free of charge. Municipalities handle primary and lower secondary education.  Parents must contact the municipality where they live to contact the appropriate school for enrollment of their child.  Private schools including 24 international schools are also available and subject to partial payment from parents.   Children of foreign parents attend them while living in Denmark for a shorter period of time.

In an OECD study, Denmark devotes 6.4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 to education from primary to tertiary level, from the previous 5.8% in 2008.  The government provides annual expenditure of USD 11,355 for every student at the primary level, while the OECD average is USD 8,477.   Students at tertiary institutions are provided USD 16,460 annually from the Danish government, a figure above the OECD average of USD 15,772.  Research and development expenditure comprises 56% of tertiary expenditure and Denmark ranks second after Switzerland.

Denmark’s student population of 215,000 supports a range of educational opportunities.  Children begin attending public daycare at 9 months and 98% of children attend public kindergartens at the age of 3.  The kindergartens are staffed with professionals trained in early childhood education.  The teachers offer basic concepts such as letters and numbers, along with social rules including taking turns and helping others.  Teaching hours cover 1,051 hours in a year at the primary level and is higher than the OECD average of 799 hours.  Children usually spend their days on free play and outdoor activities.

Children begin their formal schooling at age 7 through free government Folkeskole (people’s school) and state subsidized private schools Friskoler until the age of 16 for grades 1-9.  There is no class ranking and formal tests.  They are taught to work in groups and challenge the established way of doing things.  Teachers are known on a first name basis.  The main focus is on problem-solving not memorization.   Children are awarded the diploma Folkeskolens Afgangsprøve based on exams after grade 9 or grade 10 exam (Folkeskolens 10 –klasse prove). They continue to middle school Middle – Efterskoler (only after grade 10 exams) from age 15-17.

Schools are coeducational and there is no school uniform.  The school day in Denmark is from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, but the first three years of school end at 12:00 noon.  There is a half-hour lunch break.  The school year is from August to June.   The curriculum for primary and lower secondary education comprises compulsory courses and some optional for older students.  Children begin learning English from Year 3 to Year 9 and learn another foreign language such as German or French from Year 7 and afterwards.

Upper secondary school, Gymnasium, offers the option of 2 to 3 years of in grade 10-13 for students age 16-18 in preparation towards university studies or grade 10-12 in technical school Technical- Erhvervsskole (Handelsskole or Teknisk Skole) to enter the labor market.  Students of Gymnasium take Upper Secondary School Leaving Examination or Higher Preparatory Examination (Højere Forberedelseksamen-HF) before  graduating.  Students attend technical school 16-20 and receive the diploma Højere Handelseksamen - HHX (Higher Commercial

examination) or Højere Teknisk Eksamen – HTX (Higher Technical examination).  Since 2014, 42% of upper secondary students in Denmark follow vocational programs, with students in a combined ratio 30:70 of school and work programs.  Students at this level pursue high-paying skills such as metalworking, electrical technology, mechanics or a business school to learn about accounting or software development.   Some other students delay the decision for a year, by choosing after school (efterskole) by living away from home and study topics such as theater or sports along their academic program requirements.

After graduation from high school, full-time students in Denmark can pursue tertiary education among the country’s 8 universities, 9 art and performance institutions including the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and 8 university colleges awarding professional bachelor degrees in areas like nursing.  Similar to Sweden, they are eligible to enroll for full-time programs and receive limited income support (Statens Uddannelsestøtte, or SU) from the government while working to help pay for their expenses during their studies.

Universities in Denmark practice personal initiative and problem-based learning, while including traditional lectures with industrial placements for practical applications of studies and preparing students to meet the need of the global labor market.   In a 2015 study, 44% of 25-34 in Denmark had a tertiary degree and is slightly higher than the OECD average of 42%.  The number of tertiary degree holders continues to increase 4% since 2005 and 9% on average out of the OECD countries.   It is projected that 64% of young adults, including foreign students, in Denmark would graduate with a tertiary degree in comparison to 49% in the OECD.

The high number of tertiary institutions attract international students, numbering 24,000 in Denmark.  International students at doctoral level comprise 32% at tertiary education.  Tuition reforms were introduced in 2006 for international students on bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and affected non-European students.  But students from European Economic Area (EEA) were not affected and enrollment nearly doubled from 2006 to 2014. The number of non-EEA  students only increased 22%.  Across all tertiary levels, the proportion of international students graduating in Denmark is either higher than or equivalent to the OECD average. At doctoral level, 32% of graduates are international students, compared to 26% on average among OECD countries.   International students in Denmark came from Norway (12%), Germany (11.4%) and Sweden (8.8%).

Education is a lifelong pursuit in Denmark, with one of the highest public and private investment in Europe for developing new qualifications and skills.  The country is dedicated to having a well-educated and highly skilled workforce to succeed in a global knowledge economy.  One out of three Danish adults from 25-64 is taking a continuing education course whether for professional or personal reasons.  Public and private providers offer classes to help build business and professional skills.  Many Danish workplaces pay for their staff’s additional training.  Those who are unemployed are required to take courses for their return to the job market.  Aside from professional development training, there are classes for personal enrichment such as cooking, painting, foreign language, music or dance.  Many of these classes are publicly funded and available for a minimal fee.

Adult education has helped ordinary people in Denmark to develop skills in the folk high schools (folkehøjskoler or højskoler ).  There are 70 such schools throughout the country and they are voluntary without grades or exams. The low-cost program offers classes in film, design, sports, theatre and politics.  The folk high school program is held for a week or more and includes attending the classes, room and board.  The concept was inspired by leading Danish educational leader Niels Grundtvig (1783-1872).  He believed in offering higher education to rural people and his ideas have been widely copied in other Scandinavian countries.

Schooling continues in Denmark as it is the first European country to relax its coronavirus lockdown.  But social distancing, sneezing into a sleeve, washing hands remain in place to flatten the curve of the outbreak.  Primary schools, nurseries and kindergartens reopened on April 15th after 5 weeks of lockdown from the pandemic in Denmark.    Parents are required to have their children return to school and have to notify the school with a doctor’s note if they are not in school.  High schools resumed classes on May 18th, as did restaurants, bars and shopping centers.

The government has increased the maximum limit of public gatherings from 10 to 50, and gyms and swimming pools have been allowed to reopen. There has been no increase of infections since reopening of schools and public areas.  The low rate of infection is due to the quick shutdown and messages from Danish authorities to the public about good hygiene and social distancing.  The infection rate of coronavirus remains very low and new infections continued to fall despite more tests being conducted.  Denmark comprises 12,391 cases of infected, 600 deaths and 11,282 recovered.

Article by Wirasti Wiryono
Erlass Institute
Pejaten Office Park Blok D
Jl. Warung Buncit Raya no. 79
Jakarta 12510
Ph: (021) 7918 0467



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