Newcomers: We’re not learning enough about Denmark

Students enrolled in Danish as a second language programmes say they aren’t being adequately prepared to pass immigration exams

Newcomers to Denmark are not learning enough in the classes designed to prepare them for immigration exams, according to a report from the Social and Integration Ministry.

Every third new arrival to Denmark argued they don’t learn enough about the labour market, education system, democracy or history during their classes, which are taught as part of Danish as a second language programmes and form the basis for citizenship and permanent residence exams.

The figures concerned Hanne Pontoppidan, the head of Udannelsesforbundet, a union representing 11,000 teachers.

“The language centres are an essential component in preparing a person to adjust and make it in Denmark,” Pontoppidan told Berlingske newspaper. “It is very serious that a third of the people taking the classes are not learning about important aspects of Danish society, and that needs to change.”

She added that the results of the study painted a similar picture to the one painted by her members.

“Teachers are telling us about being under pressure and being forced only to prepare the students for the language test,” Pontoppidan told Berlingske. “Time to focus on the broad understanding of what Danish society is about has been cut to save money.”

The report, titled ‘Fakta om Integration 2012’, showed that more than 52,000 new arrivals took Danish language and culture courses in 2011, up from 34,000 in 2007, and that the total cost to the Danish state amounted to one billion kroner.

The report categorised students as foreign workers, students, refugees, those moving to Denmark to live with a spouse or family member and foreigners receiving unemployment benefits and who are looking to improve their chances of finding work. Foreign workers and students were most critical of the courses. A third of them said they learned little or nothing they could use in their daily lives.

As part of 2013 budget negotiations, the government had proposed to cut 200 million kroner from Danish as a second language programmes, but that decision was reversed after government ally Enhedslisten (EL) protested.

“The teaching is a prerequisite for people becoming integrated properly,” Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, EL’s integration spokesperson, told Berlingske. “The report shows that the foreign workers and students demand better teaching and I will look into that.”

Nationwide, there are about 55 councils and privately run schools that offer Danish as a second language programmes, and Poul Neergaard, the head of FLD, the association for administrators of such schools, admitted that there were problems that needed addressing.

“Since the report was released, language centres have focused more on improving their classes in Danish culture. I believe that they are making progress,” Neergaard told Berlingske.

The education minister, Christine Antorini (Socialdemokraterne), said she was pleased that the majority learn Danish, but was disappointed that classes focusing on culture had been found lacking.