Denmark Through the Eyes of an American – Education System

Now that I have lived in Denmark for almost 7 months, I have had time to reflect on the differences between our two countries. I’ve learned the Danish language, tasted all the traditional foods, toured castles and churches, experienced the weather, and even attended Danish school. The education system in Denmark is very different than our American school system.

Team building is important in Danish school. Here her class had to build rafts and cross a cold fjord working together to accomplish the task

When Danish children start in kindergarten, they have a choice to enroll in an “outdoor kindergarten.” This is a class that does not take place in a classroom, but is entirely outside. The children climb trees, play in the water, and learn about nature outside; even in the harsh Danish winter! Many foreigners that come to Denmark are shocked by the amount of freedom and trust that is placed in small children here.

Grades 1-9 are referred to as “folkskole” and are fairly similar to our American system. One noticeable difference is that the environment is more relaxed. There are fewer exams and testing requirements in Denmark.

While in the United States there is a strict structure that all students follow (elementary, middle and then high school), Denmark allows students to choose the path of schooling in the upper grades they want to take based on their strengths and interests. It is normal to take off for gap years to attend a boarding school, work, or simply travel. Because of this freedom, the normal graduating age of students is 19-21. While I am here in Denmark, I attend “gymnasium,” which is one version of high school. It is 3 years long and all teens stay with the same class of 20 peers and the same group of teachers for each of these years.

The environment at this school is more like a United States university than a high school, as classes are always changing and frequently canceled when the teacher is not available. Some days I have up to 4 class periods while others I have only 1. In their first year of gymnasium, students choose which subjects they want to focus on, and then are grouped into classes based on that choice. For example, my class has students who focus on politics and music, so these particular classes we take are much harder than our math and language subjects. My political and music classes are similar to my honors and AP classes in the United States. This allows students to develop their strengths in a safe classroom environment and to grow in the areas they are passionate about.

Teachers are respectfully referred to by their first names. In gymnasium, every hour or so the class is paused for a short coffee break or a scone. 100% of our work is on with a computer and we don’t have any textbooks. One more notable difference in Denmark is a relaxed feeling in the school. There are typically only 1-2 exams per course per semester along

Kelsey’s regular profile picture for author description. Author description is italicized at the bottom of the article

with approximately 1 hour total of homework per night. I can’t even begin to count the amount of exams and tests I took while in the U.S. Additionally, my American nightly homework requirements were approximately 2-4 hours, while at Cienega High School. Another difference is that at the end of the year students are given a month off to study for the big 3 exams of their choice. These exams decide if they move on to the next grade level. 2 of these 3 final exams are given orally.

I love being able to experience this culture and more importantly to learn from both systems. By immersing myself in the schooling system in Denmark, I’ve been able to explore what needs improvement and what works in both of the school systems.

Kelsey Thomas is a Rotary exchange student currently living in Denmark. She graduated high school in 2016 and is spending 1 year in Europe, learning the language and culture while being a youth ambassador for the U.S. Rotary program.


Picture 2 with subcaption of girls of a raft along with quote: Team building is important in Danish school. Here her class had to build rafts and cross a cold fjord working together to accomplish the task

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