Hans Christian Who? Government relaxes school requirements

While government argues teachers should have more freedom, Venstre says not knowing Danish history is “a real threat”

Should students in public schools in Denmark be required to learn about Christian IV? Or Hans Christian Andersen? Or is it up to the individual teachers of history and literature to decide the curriculum in their classrooms?

Those questions are being raised once again in the latest showdown on education, with the Socialdemokraterne (S), Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF), Radikale (R), Enhedslisten (EL) and Liberal Alliance (LA) on one side and Venstre (V), Konservative (K) and Dansk Folkeparti (DF) on the other.

The public school curriculum, including the so-called 'kanonlister' — lists of people and topics that school children are required to know — was established under the previous government. Upon leaving the ninth grade, students were expected to have knowledge of 25 different points of history and have read the works of 14 different Danish authors. The instruction is designed chronologically, so students learn different parts of the curriculum at different grade levels.

The current government and its partners, however, believe that the curriculum is too restrictive and want teachers to have more freedom in the classroom.

“We should not micromanage classrooms from Christiansborg,” said Troels Ravn, S's education spokesperson, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “Teachers should have the freedom to educate without being restricted by mandatory lists.”

Ravn emphasised that S felt that the lists contained “relevant and good material” but that they should not be required, and that teachers should be free to include other writers and historical events.

V spokesperson Karen Ellemann said her party disagrees with dropping the current curriculum.

“Students are cheated and the society’s values are weakened if a thorough knowledge of our own cultural heritage is not taught in school," she said. "This is a real threat.”

Ellemann said that V would immediately reinstate the old curriculum if they regain political power.

A recent study revealed that many teachers could not answer some of the questions that their students were required to know.

The chairman of the Danish Teachers Union, Jens Raahauge, argued that the study's results were not valid.

“Individual teachers taught different parts of the curriculum at different times and shouldn’t be expected to know the answer to every question,” he told Politiken.

Raahauge expressed concern over abandoning the required course of study and believes the change will require a significant restructuring of how teachers are educated. He was a member of the 2005 committee that developed the old curriculum’s compulsory literary section and said that before the rules were established, teachers were failing to teach classic Danish literature.

Ravn is not concerned that will happen again.

“There are still targets and required knowledge for each subject. We have nothing against lists suggesting academic content," he told Jyllands-Posten. "The question is should they be voluntary or compulsory.”

Here is an example, in Danish, of the history knowledge that V says students should know before they leave ninth grade.