Efterskoles are residential schools catering for pupils between the ages of 14 and 17, and at present there are around 250 of them spread across Denmark. They tend to have between 25 and 500 students.
New ideas in education
Historically, the efterskole springs from the theories of two of the greatest educators in Danish history : Christen Kold and NFS Gruntvig. The first one was founded in 1879 in Galtrup, Mors and, in the years that followed, several more opened in southern Jutland.
Kold and Gruntvig both agreed that education should be geared to producing fully-rounded human beings and should not just be book learning by rote.
Efterskoles today are self-governing independent institutions that provide for both the educational and personal development of their students. They adhere to the principles of providing a general education, life-long enlightenment and guidance on being a citizen in a democratic society.
Close-knit and free
Efterskole teachers are responsible both for teaching and the supervision of their students outside school hours. Teachers and students are together all day: from the time the students wake up until they go to bed. This can foster close, personal and informal relationships between students and teachers.
The schools have a high degree of freedom when it comes to the choice of subjects taught, teaching methods and educational approach. These vary in accordance with the school’s political, religious or pedagogical orientation. This freedom is assured via substantial state subsidies to both schools and students.
Some efterskoles concentrate on specific areas such as sport or music. This can influence the way the curriculum is put together, but it must not be at the expense of the teaching having a broad base and always measuring up to that offered by the folkeskole. Courses should be open to everyone – regardless of gender or previous educational experience.
Square pegs and round houses
If you are a teenager or a parent of teenage children, then the efterskole system is certainly worth considering. Not everyone is able to thrive in the mainstream educational system, and an efterskole can turn out to be the road to greater self-confidence, maturity and independence.
By its very nature, a boarding school brings disparate individuals much closer together, and so fosters elements of solidarity and communal responsibility. This can also lead to closer friendships than those made at traditional day-schools.
There are other educational benefits to be gained from a period at efterskole. A Danmarks Statistik survey conducted from 2010 to 2014 showed that pupils who had taken their 10th class at efterskole were academically more advanced than average.
They also ended up taking fewer breaks during their further education than pupils from other school systems – regardless of grade averages. So all the more reason to read on and perhaps make a choice that will change your life.
How does an efterskole work?
Advocates of the Danish efterskole will tell you that a year spent at an efterskole is like several spent in a more formal Danish educational institution.
When you attend an efterskole, you spend nearly all your time on the school premises. The school becomes your new home, albeit a temporary one and, like a normal home, things happen from early morning until late at night.
As well as ordinary school classes, there are lots of other activities taking place, both during and outside school hours, such as sports, cooking, games, music and drama, which all contribute to establishing a fellowship between the students at the school and the teachers.
Geared to internationals
Most efterskoles are open to foreign students, so if you’ve just moved to Denmark and are looking for an education in English for your child, an efterskole might well be the answer.
A number of them offer an international curriculum based on the Cambridge International Examination (CIE).
They also offer foreign students a ‘host family’ – a Danish family that offers the student hospitality and can act as a ‘reserve family’ when the school is not open, like during the holidays and on selected weekends.