Primary & Preprimary Education
In Denmark, education is compulsory for nine years and usually commences in August in the calendar year of the child's seventh birthday. While preschool is optional, the majority of children attend one or more of the three types: the vuggestuer, which are day nurseries for children younger than three; the bo⁄rnehave, which are kindergartens for children between three and seven; and the bo⁄rnehaveklasser or preschool classes for children between five and seven.
The municipal folkeskole and private schools offer optional preschool classes (i.e., bo⁄rnehaveklasser) for the year preceding compulsory education; 97 percent of families accept this offer for their children. Since 1986, preschool classes have been an integrated part of primary education as it has been made possible for schools to combine some of the teaching in preschool classes with that of the first and second forms of primary school.
Primary & Lower Secondary Education: In Denmark, education—and not schooling—is compulsory for nine years, which means that education can take place in the public folkeskole, in private schools, or at home, providing that national standards are met and that an adequate range of subjects is offered to the pupil. Primary and lower secondary schooling is not separated in Denmark, and pupils thus attend the same school from the first form through to the ninth. Approximately 89 percent of children go to public schools (folkeskolen) free of charge, while approximately 11 percent attend private schools.
Folkeskolen: The Danish folkeskole provides nine years of compulsory education free of charge. It also offers optional preschool classes and an optional 10th form. The aim is to contribute to the all-round academic, social, and personal development of the individual child by providing subject-specific qualifications and preparing pupils for living in a democratic society. The latter requires that the school and its daily life be based on intellectual freedom, equality, and democracy. As the schools are required to emphasize the personal and social development of each pupil, an intimate collaboration between the school and the pupil's home is considered vital. Pupils and parents or guardians must accordingly receive information about the child's academic and social performance at school at least twice a year.
The school year starts in August and ends in June, and comprises two hundred school days. The folkeskole has virtually abandoned streaming of children, and all pupils therefore automatically proceed to the next level. Pupils remain together in the same class for all nine years. While class sizes must not exceed 28, the average is 19 children; the pupil-teacher ratio is 10:4.
The Danish folkeskole employs a unique "classteacher" system, whereby one teacher is responsible for a class for nine years. The class-teacher supervises the academic, social, and personal development of all pupils in the class and is the principal link between the children's homes and the school. The class-teacher is allocated one weekly hour called "Klassens time" ("the lesson of the class") for discussion of issues concerning the well being of the class. Moreover, the class-teacher may spend some teaching time on camps, outings, or work experience.
Curriculum: The Minister of Education is responsible for setting the targets of achievement for each subject taught in the folkeskole; however, local authorities and schools are free to decide on how to reach these. The Ministry of Education provides curriculum guidelines for each subject; the guidelines are merely recommendations, and the schools are allowed to formulate their own curricula as long as they are in accordance with the overall target levels. Most schools appear to employ the guidelines articulated by the Ministry.
Danish, mathematics, physical education/sport, and Christian studies are compulsory all nine years. Art must be taught from the first to the fifth forms, science and music from the first to the sixth forms, and history from the third to the eighth forms. Textile design, woodwork and metal work, and home economics should be taught at one or more levels within the fourth to the seventh forms. English is compulsory from the fourth to the ninth forms, geography and biology at the seventh and eighth forms. Physics and chemistry must be taught from the seventh to the ninth forms, and social studies should be offered in the ninth form. Pupils are offered instruction in German from the seventh to the ninth forms, but may be offered French instead.
There are certain compulsory topics to be included in the educational program. These consist of traffic safety, health and sex education, and educational, vocational, and labor-market orientation. Furthermore, a wide range of optional subjects may be offered from the eighth to the 10th form, including, for instance, word processing, technology, drama, Spanish, and common immigrant languages.
Pupils in the ninth and tenth forms are required to complete and present an interdisciplinary project. The project is assessed in a written statement, and if the pupil so wishes, a mark may be given and indicated on the school-leaving certificate.
School Leaving Examinations: There are two levels of school-leaving examinations in the Danish folkeskole: The Folkeskolens Afgangspro⁄ve (the Leaving Examination) and the Folkeskolens Udvidede Afgangspro⁄ve (the Advanced Leaving Examination). Both comprise a mixture of written and oral exams. The former may be taken in 11 subjects after the ninth and tenth forms, while the latter may be taken in five subjects after the tenth form only. Marks are awarded on a scale from zero to 13. The Ministry of Education provides standard rules for the examinations; the questions in written exams are set and marked centrally.
Neither of the leaving examinations is compulsory, and the pupil, along with parents or guardians—and following consultations with the school—are free to decide whether to take them. School-leavers receive a leaving certificate with marks for the performance in classes during the final year and their examination results. Furthermore, the pupil may wish to include the mark for the ninth or 10th form interdisciplinary project.
Alternatives to the Public Folkeskole: There are 421 private schools distributed throughout Denmark. Rather than having been founded for academic reasons, these schools are generally based on denominational preferences, pedagogic theories, or political and social ideologies. Eleven percent of children attend private schools for the compulsory nine years of education.
The State subsidizes approximately 80 percent of private schools costs, while parents pay the remaining 20 percent, which in average amounts to 700 DKK per month, with substantial variation. The combination of non-academic reasons for founding private schools and the relatively low tuition fees means that, in contrast to other countries, Danish private schools are not generally considered "elitist," and they do not necessarily provide pupils with higher social status or advantages in terms of entry to higher education. Private schools are free to articulate the content of their curricula, but they are required to meet national standards in their providing school-leaving examinations.
Education of Teachers for the Folkeskolen: Denmark has a unified training system, training a group of teachers who cover the whole period of compulsory schooling with a minimal specialization of subjects, clearly distinguishing primary and lower secondary school teachers from other categories of teachers. The training takes approximately four years and consists of a mixture of theoretical studies and practical training in the form of practice teaching. The curriculum includes common core subjects such as Danish, psychology, pedagogy, social studies, arithmetic, and religion, as well as the in-depth study of two optional subjects. The course contains 16 weeks of practice teaching, divided into four periods of four weeks each, in four different schools. There are currently 18 colleges offering teacher-training courses.
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