Opinion | Dumb, dumber, Danish

It’s apparently a national problem that the EU bureaucracy is gradually being drained of its Danes.  The reason: more are retiring than are passing the EU civil service exam.

Last year, exactly 357 out of the 357 Danish university graduates who took the test failed. Their union is, naturally, up in arms. Denmark, they say, is losing influence. The Europe minister, Nicolai Wammen, is equally indignant. “We have reached an unacceptable low point,” was his reaction to the revelation.

That’s an interesting way to put it. He must feel that there are certain low points that are unacceptable – such as his party’s standing in the polls.

The reason why Danes are failing the EU exam in droves – and instead need to stay here in Denmark to collect welfare – is obvious. As the graduates’ union itself explains it: in order to get a job in the EU, you need to pass a test that emphasises not only academic ability, but one that also tests general knowledge, mathematics and logic – questions of the sort Danish university students rarely encounter in their studies.

Might there be a connection here? If so, could someone do something to rectify the situation?

The most likely answer would be a big, fat nej. Over the past 40 years, we’ve undermined the educational system, all the way from primary school to university, and left behind little that can be fixed.

Our schools are still there physically, of course. In fact, they continue to build new ones around about the country, particularly in the cities. And, if there is one word our talking heads like to repeat, it is the word ‘education’. But it’s all empty buildings and empty talk. The buildings are shells, the campuses Potemkin villages, and the discussions meaningless. There’s nothing behind the facades. No-one is learning anything and no elite is being fostered. There’s plenty of room for everyone. Each and every one of us.

Now that we’re on the topic of empty talk, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Marlene Wind, a professor of EU studies. She had the following to say about her own academic rising stars: “We have some outstanding students. Failing the test isn’t a sign they aren’t smart enough. It’s the test there’s something wrong with. They find the test old-fashioned and drawn-out and the ability to rote learn, which is being tested, does not appeal to them.”

Instead of blaming the test for not appealing to Wind’s students, why don’t they actually make an effort to pass the exam? Is there a chance of that happening? Not really, since that would require an outstanding effort. A well-placed source has told me that Wind has no idea what she’s talking about. Memorisation is no longer required to pass the exam. The professor’s knowledge about the subject is out of date. The European Personnel Selection Office completely revamped the exam two years ago. What’s emphasised now is “abstract, verbal and numerical reasoning”, as is clearly stated on the organisation’s website.

Unfortunately, none of those skills are the strong suits of a school system that seems to believe that our ‘knowledge society’ liberates us from ever having to know anything as long as we have Google at our fingertips.

Of course these types of tests won’t appeal to a spoiled generation of young people who are allowed to have laptops, iPads, the internet, Wikipedia, spell checkers and what have you during exams.
What’s worse, the EU exam doesn’t have a group project, nor does it test social skills.

“Abstract, verbal and numerical reasoning” – what a good slogan for an educational system in need of reform.

The author is a historian, author and columnist.