In 2016, Denmark was yet again declared the happiest country in the world. In her book, Happy as a Dane, Malene Rydahl discusses the principles upon which the high level of well-being in that country is built.
We decided to take a closer look at the rules used by the school system in Denmark that are applied to help every student develop at a personal level and find their place in life.
Being the best isn’t the main thing in life
Most attention in the Danish system of education is devoted not to training kids to pass tests but to developing their curiosity and their aptitude for self-development.
Schools try to encourage the formation of an understanding in every student that he is valued for his personal qualities and abilities. This means that every person, regardless of their grades, can count on finding a place in society and being a benefit to it irrespective of their occupation.
The curriculum is based on the idea that the majority of students will be able to get to grips with it. As a result, there are practically no children in Denmark who fall out of the education system. The system is orientated not toward only the high-achievers but to helping everyone.
Knowing how to be yourself is just as important as being able to read and write
The school curriculum in Denmark is aimed in the first instance at encouraging the development of an individual’s personality. This isn’t just an empty phrase: Danish education law states that the system of primary education should not only provide children with basic knowledge and skills but also help their personalities to develop. Even before attending preschool institutions (kindergartens and preparatory classes), children have several tasks before them. They’re supposed to expand their vocabulary, get acquainted with school rules, learn to be tolerant, and prepare for full participation in society.
Rote learning should not be encouraged
In Danish schools, students are encouraged to look for information themselves, to conduct their own experiments, and to analyze sources independently.
It’s believed that in order to learn, the student should take part in the learning process himself, rather than just listen to the teacher.
Students are taught to be skeptical of claims made by others and formulate their own personal opinions. In so doing, the system tries to instill a self-respect in them as well as a keener understanding of who they are as an individual.
Creativity, critical thinking, and the ability to take initiative are qualities that are considered useful and desirable for participation in society; the ability to memorize a paragraph from a textbook is considered to be of little importance.
It’s not the result but the student’s well-being that counts
If comparisons of different national education systems were made exclusively on the basis of test results, then the Danish system would hardly come out on top. Yet Denmark is in the top ten countries for education levels and is considered to have the third best higher education system in the world.
In Denmark, people think it’s important for school pupils and university students to actually enjoy learning and not see it as an endless process of suffering with respite only coming at the weekends.
For those young Danish citizens who aren’t sure what they want to do in life or have difficulties with socialization, the education system provides a chance to attend an Efterskole. Teenagers aged 14 to 18 can spend a year studying at these special schools before deciding what they want to do next. Attention is focused on those areas that aren’t covered in ordinary schools, thereby giving the pupils more chances to develop and discover their talents and creativity, be it sport or arts and crafts. Students are encouraged to help each other, especially those who struggle to adapt to life in society.
Everyone should have an equal chance
Only 11% of Danish people see a big salary as an important factor when deciding on what career they wish to pursue. In a country where people pay some of the highest taxes in the world, striving for enrichment is not acceptable. A profession chosen exclusively out of pragmatic considerations might not correspond to a person’s real interests and turn out not to be right for them as an individual. This is something that Danish people start learning about in school.
Choosing a profession that will make you happy is facilitated by the country’s career guidance system. A dedicated social service exists to help senior school students select a higher or secondary educational institution that corresponds to their ambitions for the future. In the upper grades, meetings regularly take place where school pupils can discuss their plans individually with teachers.
According to surveys, 50% of young Danish citizens are convinced that they’re completely free to choose their future, and, moreover, they have control over it.
Malene Rydahl has dubbed Denmark a country enjoying “real social mobility.” This means that everyone can be successful irrespective of their starting point in life. To a great extent, this is possible because education in Denmark is free and subsidized by the state. All students, regardless of their material situation, are given a stipend that is sufficient to cover both their education and living expenses.