Danish school day falls short of international averages

September 12th, 2012

This article is more than 12 years old.

Experience has shown that longer school days result in better students, so why are students’ schedules still half-empty?

Students in Danish schools spend less time in the classroom than children from other countries that are a part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to the study 'Education at a Glance' just released by the organisation.

The meagre amount of hours students spend in school comes despite the fact that Denmark remains one of the countries that spends the most money on education.

"The low number of hours in school and fewer teaching hours compared with other countries is one of the things we will look at in the context of school reform," the education minister, Christine Antorini (Socialdemokraterne), told Politiken newspaper.

In first and second grades, students in Denmark spend an average of 701 hours annually in class, compared to the OECD average of 774 hours. In the nation’s secondary schools, students receive only 377 hours of direct contact with teachers per year, compared to the OECD average of 658 hours.

"The report shows that high school teachers in Denmark teach for less than one fourth of their work day,” said Antorini. “Nevertheless, we must be careful when interpreting international data that may use different methods of calculation.”

Antorini admitted that a report from April of this year by Rigsrevisionen, the national audit office, showed that instructional time in the nation’s high schools was “very low”.

The OECD report also revealed that the number of people between the ages of 25-34 in Denmark who have completed upper secondary education is below average. In fact, Denmark ranked 26th, behind countries like Poland and Hungary.

The number of 25-34-year-olds who went onto and completed further education was also lower than the OECD average.

Meanwhile, students attending Selsmoseskolen in Taastrup appear to be living examples of the benefits of longer school hours.

The students attend class everyday from 8am until 4pm with a one hour lunch break and two more 30 minute pauses during the day.

Even though many of the school’s students come from economically challenged backgrounds, 95 percent of them are bilingual and the school is outperforming the national averages in every category.

After six years as a full-day institution, the number of 'slow readers' in the third grade has dropped from just under 40 students to two, far better than the national average.

“We have seen improvement in our students at every level since we became an all-day school,” headmaster Ellis Andersen told DR News.

Ellis said her teachers can spend more time with each student, or take a break and sing a song with the children or send them out for a run to get some fresh air.

“Of course they can do the same things at other schools, but it cuts into class time,” said Andersen.

Andersen was also quick to point out that dedicated teachers and students were a big part of the school’s success.

The students themselves seem to enjoy the longer school day.

“I'm learning a lot, and it is more fun because we have three breaks,” fourth grader Salaheddine El-Bouhalati told DR News.

Fadwa Kassoudi came to Selsmoseskolen in the middle of the fourth grade:

“Before, I only went to school from 8am until 1pm and I did not learn as much as I do here,” she said to DR News. “I have become better at science, technology and history, and now I can multiply by two numbers, which I had not learned before.”

Teachers in Aarhus are also onboard with the idea of longer school days. They have decided to defy the wishes of Danmarks Lærerforenings (DLF), the national teachers' union, and have agreed to spend more hours in school starting next year. The deal struck between the city’s 3,200 teachers, the council, schools and the local union means that educators will be in school for six hours each day and spend fewer hours working at home.

“We get more education for our money, create meaningful local solutions and ensure a good life for students in our schools,” Kristian Würtz (Socialdemokraterne), a local child and youth councillor, told Politiken.

Aarhus’s teachers are well aware that theirs is a controversial agreement, but insisted that they can see the benefits of spending more time in school.

“We know from satisfaction surveys that the conflict between work and family life is one of the things which affects most teachers; teachers take too much work home,” Søren Aakjær, the president of the Aarhus teacher’s union, told Politiken. “We will use the extra school hours to make sure we take fewer tasks home and hopefully improve job satisfaction.”

DLF Chairman Anders Bondo Christensen was sceptical of the Aarhus deal.

“We will have to see how the experiment in Aarhus goes, but it is not the mindset we need in our 2013 agreement,” Christensen told Politiken.


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