Opinion | The farce that is the school lockout

The introduction of longer school days and more classroom hours for teachers are two of the significant steps towards the proposed reform that would make the school system more closely resemble those in Great Britain and Australia. Children in those countries go to school 35 hours per week and teachers are there for most of that time. This requires a higher level of discipline at all grade levels, and is part of a focused style of learning – and similarly corresponds to less playtime and independence. But the more formalised learning becomes, the more disorderly and disruptive fidgety children become. As a consequence, children in all-day schools must be closely watched by teachers constantly reminding them to follow rules and regulations. All this means that a lot of time is spent keeping the system running smoothly for the sake of the system – something that is not conducive to a child’s learning.

My children attended school in Australia. Our experience with all-day schools there was that children seem far more tired, less mature and more dependent while at the same time being less equipped to deal with unforeseen incidents and complicated challenges. School work in all-day schools is about teaching and learning in a regimented manner that children are forced to take part in – for better and for worse. The focus on discipline is emphasised by the fact that teachers have no freedom to plan their own lessons, and must instead follow centrally planned orders. In a situation like this, you can only say thank goodness that the OECD has given us PISA tests and introduced waves of academic evaluations in recent years. It is easier to put children into a system and individually manage them if you can test them regularly.

From a social perspective, there are no benefits from attending an all-day school. In order to be a good classmate you need to be able to share experiences with others. By blurring the difference between in-school and after-school activities and introducing continuous learning time, children are deprived of the opportunity to develop the same social competences as children who have time to play freely.

I am a parent to two children who are affected by the ongoing schoolteacher lockout. As I see it, representatives from KL, the national association of local councils, haven’t approached the negotiations very seriously. In fact, it is a farce that hundreds of thousands of Danish families are forced to take part in. The absurdity of the situation is underscored in its own bizarre manner by KL’s attempt to justify how it can waste taxpayer money on an advertising campaign aimed at winning over public sentiment. “The teachers’ union,” KL argues, “paid for its own advertising campaign with its members’ tax-deductable union fees, which, by way of extension, makes it tax-payer funded.” In other words: because union fees are tax-deductable, local councils are obliged to spend tax money to conduct collective bargaining through the media. 

I wish I could laugh at all this, but there’s nothing funny about it. One thing, though, is the farce that we are witnessing. The real problem is that the type of school KL and the Finance Ministry want to ram down our throats isn’t just worse than the schools we currently have, it’s also less welcoming – for teachers, for children and for parents.

The author is an external lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen. 

Originally published in Berlingske.