The Danish efterskole
The efterskole is a form of boarding school unique to Denmark. Here, students from the ages of 14 to 18 can choose to spend a year or two of their lower secondary school education before continuing on to upper secondary education.
About 20% of all Danish teenagers attend an Efterskole. The number of students has increased every year for the last 25 years. Currently there are about 245 of such schools attracting around 28,000 students from all levels of society.
The size of an efterskole can vary from 35 to 500 students but is on average 100-120 students. Most schools are located in rural areas or near provincial towns with only a few being located in a city.
The first efterskole was founded in 1851 by Kristen Kold based on the educational ideas of the famous Danish poet,
philosopher and priest N. F. S. Grundtvig (1789-1872), who founded the Danish folk high schools for adults and who wanted schools to provide enlightenment for life rather than formal vocational training.
Grundtvig wanted schools to arouse in the students an understanding of themselves and their place in life. Narrative and ‘the living word’ were given the favoured position previously allotted to books, and teachers would inspire students by talking about life, history, poetry and mythology.
While Grundtvig intended the folk high school to be for adults, Kold wanted to reach young people when they entered pu-berty. “Once the students turn 18, they start having girlfriends and smoking tobacco”, Kold argued. Today the efterskole is still for students age 14-17.
An efterskole is a private school that receives substantial state subsidy, about 66% of the school budget being covered from central government and 33% being paid by the parents.
The amount parents pay is regulated to reflect their parents’ income, so that families with a high income pay more than families with a low income. There are also variations between schools in the resources they use per pupil and therefore in the fees charged. The average fees parents pay are between 5000 to 9000 Euro.
For students living outside Denmark the fees are about 8000 Euro, because students without Danish citizenship will not receive support from the Danish government.
An efterskole will typically choose to offer the same compulsory subjects and final examinations as state schools.In addition to this, many schools focus on special subjects such as sport, music or outdoor life and other schools offer special education of various kinds.
As a result, many students at an efterskole share interests with their fellow students and as well as with the teachers, and com- mon interests of this kind promote a powerful sense of togetherness and shared values at the efterskole.
The fact that there are many specialized subjects on offer also means that these schools have teachers with very specialised skills and with an overriding passion for the subjects they teach.
Although most efterskole teachers have a teaching diploma, this is no requirement and the principal is free to hire teachers from all walks of life. This allows the schools to appoint teachers who have special qualifica-tions in a particular focus area. For instance, an efterskole that focuses on sports can appoint a former top athlete, or one that specialises in music can appoint a professional player to be a music teacher.
One of the things that is unique about the efterskole is the relationship between teacher and student.Teachers at an efterskole are responsible both for teaching and for supervision out-side school hours. This dual nature of the teacher’s role means that teachers and students are together at all hours of the day from the time the students wake
up until they go to bed. On those weekends when the students stay at the school, there are teachers on duty who play, talk and have fun with the students.
This often paves the way for close, perso-nal and non-formal relationships between students and teachers. As the students and teachers get to know each other better, mutual respect and understanding grow, and this in turn has a positive effect on the classroom, where the students and teachers work together for a common goal.
The positive effects of the teachers’ dual role is also reflected in the teacher acting as tutor outside the classroom, discussing schoolwork with students while they are eating or playing a game together in the afternoon. In the same way students can ask for help with homework in the afternoon and evening.
The results of the efterskole
Many students acknowledge that the positive learning environment and good relationship with their teachers at an efterskole give them a new appetite for learning. This positive motivation remains with the students when they continue on to upper secondary education, where both their teachers and researchers testify to the significant effects of the efterskole.
Research has shown that young people who have attended an efterskole come better prepared to upper secondary and higher education: They get higher grades than the students who have not attended efterskole, and they are less likely to drop out from upper secondary school.
The lower dropout rate is a result of the students being more mature and having deeper insight necessary to make the right choices in their secondary education. A number of politicians have pointed out that the efterskole’s role in reducing the rate of secondary school dropout is a major contri-bution to society in general and something that has a high political priority.
In addition, the students who have attended an efterskole complete their higher education faster than students who have not, and this represents a reduction in the government’s spending on education.
In the eyes of many Danes, a year at an efterskole is much more than a school year. A majority come to see it as the best year of their lives. It is a ‘journey of self-discovery’ that both in academic and personal terms prepares young people for adulthood. It is commonly said that, “one year at efterskole equates to seven years of human life.”
A central element of any efterskole is the notion of democratic enlightenment that goes back to their earliest roots. They embrace a common educational focus on enlightenment for life, and democratic citizenship.
Solidarity, community and togetherness are key concepts within the efterskole, which is based on the idea of combining academic education with a deeper learning about the world, oneself and others as a way of preparing for all aspects of life, including understanding the place of the individual in a community.
The students in an efterskole all perform practical chores for themselves and for the common good, cleaning their own accom-modation, making their beds, helping to prepare the meals, washing up and so on.
Students are grouped and are given tasks that contribute to the community of the efterskole. For example, one group
might have to wake up an hour early to prepare breakfast for the other students. This gives them first-hand experience of making an important contribution for the rest of their friends at the school. Without breakfast, the day would have been ruined for their fri-ends. The community has relied upon them to complete this task. And from this expe-rience grows a sense of responsibility and an appreciation of the meaningfulness of contributing to the common good.
Many parents mention this as one of the more noticeable effects of the efterskole. Suddenly their teenage daughter or son is offering to help do the dishes after dinner, and they know how to make their bed. The parents are surprised and proud to see how considerate and helpful their teenager has now become, and how they appreciate their position and their responsibilities in the family community.
The efterskole has enabled the ugly duck-ling to grow into a beautiful swan. Once so insecure, their teenager is now a mature young person ready to take on the world.
For more information about the Danish efterskole: www.efterskole.dk/english
(The text is written by The Danish Efterskoleforening)