Opposition to ‘activity time’ weakens school reform

With teachers and opposition parties against instituting alternative teaching methods, the government’s ambitions for reform now risk “being just a little adjustment”

The government's proposed school reform looks likely to be more of a tweak than an overhaul, now that opposition parties and the teachers' union, Danmarks Lærerforening (DLF) have refused to give their support to alternative teaching methods.


The government's plan to add five to nine hours of 'activity time' in public schools is meeting stiff resistance from opposition parties Venstre (V), Konservative (K) and Dansk Folkeparti (DF). K's leader, Lars Barfoed, said that his party simply could not support what he characterised as a "social experiment" with the nation's children.


The stated intention of the 'activity time' hours is to create new methods of education that will engage students and compliment their traditional learning. For example, the education minister, Christine Antorini (Socialdemokraterne), famously suggested on the DR2 programme ‘Debatten’ that rather than learning about the anatomy of a goat via books, schools could consider dissecting an actual goat.


But the opposition's resistance to the plan is likely to make the government drop the 'activity time' element of the reform plan. Doing so would "amputate" the proposed school reform, according to Aarhus University pedagogy professor Per Fibæk Laursen. 


"The big, fundamental reform that was put forth in December will end up being just a little adjustment in which students get more hours [in school]," Laursen told Information newspaper.


Peter Allerup, a professor of education statistics, agreed that without the 'activity time', the government's plan is severely crippled.


"If activity time will end up being similar to the rest of the teaching, then the idea behind the reform is gone," Allerup told Information. "Students will just get more of the same and that won't help to improve the performance of the weakest children."


According to V, parliament's largest political party, the government's plan is just too unclear on what the 'activity time' will be used for and who will be responsible for it. 


"It's important to get a handle on this time so that we can prevent it from just becoming hula-hoop time, because we don't want 20 percent of [students'] time in school to be used to just have a good time," V's school spokesperson, Karen Ellemann, told Information. 


Fellow opposition party Dansk Folkeparti (DF) is also against the 'activity time' aspect of the government's reform plan. 


DF's education spokesperson Alex Arhendtsen said that teachers should decide what to do with the extra school hours. 


"Maybe that's just more of the same, but that is also what has worked until now," Arhendtsen told Information. 


The political resistance to the government's proposal is shared by DLF, which represents 95,000 teachers. 


"We agree [with the opposition]," DLF's deputy chairman, Dorte Lange, told Politiken. "We have said all along that it doesn't make sense to separate activities from the academic teaching."


According to Lange, activities should just be viewed as a normal part of education as it is now. 

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