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Public school system reform in Denmark: Claus Hjortdal on the 'Open School'

Clara Siboni LundDanish Technological Institute

Claus Hjortdal is the chairman of the Danish Association of School Leaders and gives his perspectives on the opportunities and challenges associated with the 'Open School'.

In Denmark, a reform of the public school system came into force in 2014. A part of the reform is the so-called 'Open School', which entails that schools must reach out to their local communities where local associations, companies or other actors should play an increasing role in the education and daily life of the children. The reform thus calls upon new and innovative forms of collaboration between the public, private and third sector for a common social purpose. It calls upon social innovation.

What can the private companies and civil society organisations contribute to, which the schools cannot do on their own?

There are different types of areas where the non-public players can play an important role. One thing they can certainly bring to the table is an understanding of the 'real world'. This is impossible to teach the children from the blackboard.

When looking at private companies, for instance, they can give our young people an understanding of the world of work, which they will join once they have completed their education. Moreover, the schools' collaboration with the companies should contribute to the children’s motivation to continue in the education and training system. For instance, when our young people have participated in an internship or mentor course in a company, they are better able to understand the importance of what they learn in school.

Other important actors are our sports and hobby associations. An increasing number of Danish children are overweight and some of them suffer from diabetes or other health-related diseases. The Sports Confederation of Denmark has initiated a project called 'Association SFO' where they create contacts to after-school clubs and local associations. The idea is that local associations offer children the opportunity to come and participate in different activities during after-school club hours. This has given good results and led to more children participating in different activities. Consequently, the collaboration with the local associations can help to place focus on some of the problems in connection with children's health in a new and different way.

What are the challenges in connection with mobilising resources in the local area and involving them in the schools?

The most important challenge is that involving them must lead to quality. It is not just a matter of having fun, but providing content and context. In relation to mobilising resources in the local area, it is, on the one hand, a challenge that companies when things are not going well do not prioritise the way they can participate in the collaboration. On the other hand, when they are doing really well, they are so busy that they give low priority to their collaboration with the schools. In relation to volunteers in the local area, it can be a challenge due to the turnover of volunteers. Enthusiasts most often run the voluntary projects and when they stop, we have to 'cultivate new land'. Nevertheless, we meet much kindness in the local areas, and this is what we must hold on to. People want to bring their ideas to the table and engage with the schools in new and innovative ways!

What can be done to overcome these challenges?

It is difficult to give a general solution. On the one hand, it is clear that in the places where 'Open School' succeeds, the municipalities have an overall plan. They may have contacts in the Confederation of Danish Industry, a business council or they already collaborate with the local associations about different activities. On the other hand, there are more challenges in municipalities with no municipal board or other intermediaries to create the contact between the surrounding world and the schools. It is important to have a collaboration structure on which to draw.

Can you give examples of initiatives that have done particularly well with 'Open School'?

The Municipality of Fredensborg has started a project called 'School in reality' and employed three persons to work with the links between the schools and ‘real life’. The department ensures that the local schools get in contact with companies and civil society associations. This has made it easier for the teachers to engage in creative and innovative collaborations in the local areas because the collaboration no longer depends on the teachers' personal contacts.

How can the 'Open School' help to ensure that the resources of the public school system also benefit the local area?

The local area also benefits when the children are motivated to go into general and vocational upper secondary education and when they are shown what they need to do to continue. At the same time, the collaboration gives companies the opportunity to profile themselves in terms of what they do and not least what they need from future employees. This could be areas that need young people for specific apprenticeships. 'Open School' helps pupils to be become aware of this.

There are also examples of older people becoming part of 'Open School' helping, for instance, with homework or creative work. This can benefit the children, but the older people certainly also benefit from helping.

Interview conducted by Clara Siboni Lund, Danish Technological Institute on the 8th September 2015.