08/06/2011 Off By Geet Shroff

educationThe Philosophy that governs the Danish Education System


Those of you who have had an experience with the Danish Education System probably know it is quite unique. There are aspects of it that are quite visible, such as dialogue-based education and a less competitive culture. But what often escapes the eye is why it is the way it is. We aim at highlighting the philosophy that makes the Danish educational system what it is —unique!


There are different reasons why expat students come to Denmark. Some believe that the system is innovative, others are attracted to the relaxed culture, and yet others are here to join their family.


When Yvette Sindilariu moved to Denmark from Germany in 2008 and enrolled at Aarhus Tech, she had no prejudices. “The Danish system offers freedom that we lack in the German study pattern. I enjoyed managing the study plan all by myself. Of course, I asked for help when I needed and I sure got it”, Yvette shares. The question, however, is whether younger expat children would be as proactive as the system demands them to be.


“We trust students to be motivated. We expect them to be critical. But the system by itself is modest” agrees Lotte Rahbek Schou, Lecturer at the Danish School of Education (DPU) and expert on new teaching methods in Denmark. “Here in Denmark, we stimulate the student’s involvement through dialogue-based education. By “education”, we mean not just imparting knowledge but a ‘wholesome’ development of an individual”, she adds.


As expats, we often fear that our children may not be well-prepared for the competitive world that lies beyond the land of the Janteloven, the Scandinavian mentality of discouraging individuality and   refusing to acknowledge individual effort by placing all emphasis on the collective. To that Lotte responds, “Although only 8% of school leaders are in agreement that competitive exams are the way to progressive education, DPU is keen on implementing the system in the name of Globalization”.


Recent changes in the Danish educational system have promoted a shift from progressivism to a conservative policy based on scores from achievement tests. Research has demonstrated that such systems have failed in numerous ways in other countries and focusing on test scores has often had unintended consequences. However, mandatory national tests have been introduced along with regular assessments and performance-based final objectives. A new Education Act has been developed, mandating requirements for written progress reports for individual students twice a year, as well as annual school reports on overall academic achievements.[1]


Research has also shown that teachers at DPU have an irresistible urge to motivate students to fair well in these evaluations. “But the focus is not just on theory and exams,” says Signe Høiberg Facius, teacher at the Efterskolen-Ådalen. “At the Efterskolen, our aim is to lay the foundation for a strong self-esteem and help students discover their inner self. I would never give up the progressive philosophies on which our education system is founded!”, she stresses. Most teachers in Denmark today are worried that the stress imposed on academia and exams are taking over the traditional teaching system that they call “humanistic”. “The best way to prepare students for the future is by helping them know who they are. Theory is restrictive. Self-esteem and creativity are the basis on which they step out from here”, states Signe.

But is this concept of high “self-esteem” a shocking reality for us expats? Dr. Mohit Kothari, who is pursuing a doctorate at Aarhus University, answers: “It took me six full months to be able to come to terms with the fact that it was okay to question my professor! The Danish system lacks the hierarchy I was used to back in India and Singapore. And although it took me some time to get used to, I think it has opened me up as a person.”

So, does that mean that high self-esteem can prepare one for the tough competition outside Denmark? “Competition is used as a negative word here”, says Lotte. “By attending to the psychological, sociological, philosophical and anthropological development of students, we aim to make them democratic” she corrects. She states that the system is designed so that students can learn to be democratic instinctively. And by “democratic” she means the right to exercise opinion, individuality, creativity and criticism.

“My Danish colleagues are fearless. They address professors by their first name and question them without hesitation. This truly makes ideas constructive”, comments Dr. Mohit Kothari. Authority in Denmark is not based on titles. “No spoon-feeding, no mind-blocks; just productive learning”, he adds.

So is it this hidden curriculum that has led to a flat-structured society promoting equality amongst all? The Danish Education system promotes creativity and lives up to the true definition of democracy. The involvement of students is institutionalized through this unique dialogue-based or shared educational system and, intrinsic motivation is evident with over 50% of the population continuing up to the University level. The foundation is strong yet flexible, and an expat can continue building on it forever.

If you have been hesitant about your child or yourself being pampered by a culture that doesn’t believe in competition, think again. This innovative teaching methodology is sure to help expats profit and mature into liberal, equal and strong individuals.



That according to Danish law any group of parents can collect 50 students and start a school that follows its own unique teaching methods, and also get 75% of funding from the State?



  • Visit the prospective school/schools, talk to the teachers, the headmaster, parents of children studying there, and then choose a school that suits your interests.
  • Participate actively in meetings organized by the school for parents and communicate regularly with teachers.
  • Stay up-to-date with school activities and engage as much as possible.
  • Socialize with other parents, even outside of school activities.
  • Try to choose a school close to home, so that your child has friends in the locality.
  • Learning Danish is a great way to integrate and help your child integrate too.

[1] Source – Lotte Rahbek Schou, “Danish Teacher Attitudes towards National Student Testing: A Comparison between NCLB and Danish National Testing Standards”, pp. 185-199 in: Donald K. Sharpes (ed.), Handbook On International Studies In Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.


Article re-publsihed with permission from: Insight – Magazine for the International Community. You can subscribe or read the magazine or join the Insight group on Linkedin by clicking here: