School experiment shakes up century-old education system

Teachers and students are both excited over the project, but Dansk Folkeparti dismisses it as “a hippie ploy”

Teachers who are only allowed to speak for seven minutes at a time, students who don’t have books, and the end of homework.

These are just a few of the aspects of the education experiment that is taking place at six upper secondary schools (gymnasium) in the Copenhagen area.

The experiment, named ’Gymnasiet tænkt forfra’ (’Rethinking school from scratch’) has been initiated by Region Hovestaden in an attempt to counter the traditional model of upper secondary education that has existed largely unchanged since 1903.

The goal of the initiative is to “radically rethink the organisation and implementation of teaching so students and teachers are more highly motivated and the students obtain new and innovative competencies that compliment the work life of today and the future,” according to a document from project leader, Jacob Kjærsgaard.

“What’s unique about this project is that it is the first time in many years that we have the opportunity to do such considerable and comprehensive experiment on what works in future upper secondary school (gymnasium),” Kjærsgaard said in a YouTube video about ’Gymnasiet tænkt forfra’ (see it below, in Danish). “We can gather evidence from several arenas on whether it works and have new intuitive competencies in play."

The project, which began in August 2012, will involve one school year from six schools and will run for three years. The six schools involved in the initiative, the first of its kind in Denmark, are CPH West, Handelsskolen København Nord, TEC Lyngby, Espergærde Gymnasium, Københavns Åbne Gymnasium and Borupgaard Gymnasium. In all, there are a total of 168 students involved in the experiment. 

All aspects of the project are continuously monitored by a research team from the University of Copenhagen. And for the 30 teachers involved, the experiment has been fun, demanding and chaotic, all at the same time.

“There are some rules, such as teachers only being able to speak for seven minutes at a time, which means that tasks are a lot shorter and more precise and are constantly being moulded by where the students’ work takes them," Adam Geisler, a teacher from Borupgaard Gymnasium, said in the video. "And while it takes a lot of work to not just use something [from your curriculum] that you used last year, the students get much more out of it.”

Another aspect of the experiment is that every student is assigned a teacher as a mentor. Students are expected to contact their mentors if they miss school or experience other issues. The students must also spend four days a year outside of school and although they will still take exams as they have before, that could also change in the future.

The new interdisciplinary, problem-orientated teaching approach is being viewed as a possible replacement for the classical teaching platform in Denmark. The attempt has received a mixed response in Christiansborg.

“I think that the gymnasium has been stagnant since it was created 110 years ago. We need to develop, because life after secondary school has changed and students need to be able to use their diplomas for something,” Marianne Stendell (Socialdemokraterne) told Politiken newspaper.

But right-wing party Dansk Folkeparti (DF) is not so impressed.

“This is a hippie ploy and our standpoint is clear. There has to be homework and a fixed setting and it is ridiculous that the teacher can only speak for seven minutes,” DF's education spokesperson, Alex Ahrendtsen, told Politiken newspaper.


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