By defending international statistics showing that Danish teachers spend less time in the classroom than teachers in other countries, the DLF, the national teachers’ union, loves to point out that the most widely cited report, produced by the OECD, is misleading because it compares apples with oranges. They may be right, but there are other statistics that clearly illustrate room for improvement when it comes to both student-teacher interaction and school results.
The first statistic can’t be reputed: teachers spend an average of 16 hours per week in the classroom. The remaining 21 are spent on preparation, meeting with students and parents, and other school-related work such as helping with computers and in the library.
After the government’s proposed reform, teachers’ classroom time would rise to 18 hours a week. No-one doubts the teachers when they say they aren’t idling their time away in the faculty lounge, but it’s hard to see how they, with the support of their administrators, wouldn’t be able to devote an extra five percent of their working week to their primary task.
What’s also worth keeping in mind when considering the teachers’ resistance is that no-one is asking them to work more or to take a pay cut. Just a few weeks ago, employees at SAS had to do both, and many other companies are considering at least one, if not both, measures.
The other statistic that’s hard to ignore is that while Denmark has one of the most costly school systems to run, its results in international tests are mediocre. While those kinds of tests purport to give an objective assessment of student performance, what they don’t take into account is that much of what is emphasised at Danish schools is difficult to measure. In a system where class cohesion and socialisation are valued just as highly as factual knowledge, any learning that hints at memorisation is flatly rejected.
But being good at making friends will only get you so far in life. At some point, you’ll have to prove that you know something. Acquiring that knowledge starts with learning the basic facts, and learning the basic facts starts with adequate teaching.
Also of concern are the high rates of functional illiteracy, particularly for boys, among those completing primary education. For some at-risk children, an age-appropriate reading level may only come through remedial education and parent counselling, but more teaching certainly wouldn’t hurt.
More teaching isn’t the same as good teaching, but recent evidence shows that giving students more class hours may raise their interest in being at school. Such an attitude adjustment would be of immeasurable benefit to all students, not just the weakest.