Monday, 22 September 2014

Scout Residential Schools in Denmark

A rather special part of the Danish educational system is the residential schools that offer classes for the last years of the mandatory school system.

Everybody are mandated to attend at least nine years of education in Denmark, and this is offered in the public system by the public schools in nine grades, along with an optional zeroeth grade that nearly everybody attend, and an optional tenth grade that is taken by rather fewer children. 

During the last couple of years of this system, and in the optional tenth grade, students have an option to attend an efterskole - a residential school - instead of the normal public or private schools. Most of these residential school are based on some theme or principle, and two of them are based in Scouting.

Some 83.5% of the children in Denmark attend the public school system in the first 7 mandatory years, with 15.1% attending private schools (at extra costs) and the remaining 1.4% finding other solutions, including home-schooling. In the ninth grade, some 12.4% move to the efterskole system, which is, due to the residential nature, more expensive (numbers are for 2013). 

You can read more about the efterskole system at the official efterskole web-site:

As a part of this system, we also have two schools that are based on the Guide and Scout fundamentals.

These two schools  are Brejning Efterskole and Korinth Efterskole - Spejderskolen (web-sites are in Danish only). Korinth Efterskole - Spejderskolen started as a housekeeping school for Guides, but is now a residential school based on the fundamentals of Scouting and Guiding (currently in its 93rd year, including the years as a housekeeping school), and Brejning Efterskole is currently hosting its 18th year of students. These two schools have a close connection to the Danish Guide and Scout Association as the sponsoring association within Scouting. 

At the organisational level this means that there are regular meetings between the two Scout residential schools and the relevant standing committees of our SAGNO, with the schools generally represented by a headmaster, a teacher and someone from the board, and the association being represented by members of our Training Committee, our Scout Relations sub-committee and our Programme Committee. Here we discuss issues of common interest, including the relations between Scouting and formal education in general. 

During the latest academic year (2013-14) Scouter Kasper Killerich, a teacher at Brejning Efterskole, wrote an essay on the residential schools and their mixture of non-formal and formal educational techniques. He has kindly permitted me to publish this description here. Reading this will probably make it easier to follow the remainder of this article.

Also during the latest academic year, my own daughter attended Korinth Efterskole – Spejderskolen, and so I had the opportunity to get to know the school as an interested parent as well as from my work in the Programme Committee. Speaking, therefore, from this particular viewpoint of being both a member of the Programme Committee of the sponsoring Scout association, and a parent to a student, I recognize a lot of what Kasper says in his essay. 

Particularly the relationship between the students and the teachers is markedly different from what we have experienced previously (she is our fourth child, but the first to go to a residential school) - the students obviously share a relationship with their teachers that is closer to what we see between Scouts and Scouters than it is to what we have seen in the ordinary formal school system: as older siblings in many ways (albeit our oldest son has been a very uncompromising educator for his younger siblings). 

It is also our impression, as parents and Guider/Scouter, that the school is incorporating elements of the Scout Method in their work to the widest possible extent. The following paragraphs are reflections on how I have observed he various elements of the Guide and Scout Method employed by the school.

Parents and students giving a hand at maintenance jobs
As the schools are also open to young people who are not Guides or Scouts, they cannot use the Promise and Law as we do in Scouting, but they can still rely on the students to make a voluntary commitment to a set of shared rules. I have noticed that the students are deliberately made a part of formulating the rules that govern their interactions, and these are generally phrased positively – in our year we do this or that, not phrased as don'ts. I suppose this can be confusing for the teachers if the students should come up with widely differing rule-sets from year to year, but my impression is that they end up with something that looks quite similar – as is the case at Brejning, most of the students are scouts before going up, and so I suppose that they have a basis of shared values at the heart of the rules that the students work up every year. Though not quite the same, I believe that this way of negotiating the rules and agreeing to them in plenary sessions has much of the same effect as the Law and Promise has in Guiding and Scouting.

At both schools, the students, whether Scouts or Guides or not a part of the Movement wear neckerchiefs in the school colours, and the Scouts among them can wear the school name and school badge on their uniforms. This use of symbolism to enhance the identification with the school, including the school values, helps the students' motivation – by creating a kind of group-identity that the students take upon themselves, the motivation to achieve, not just for oneself, but also for the school, is strengthened. 

Making school ready on the first day – setting up camp.
At the start of the year they started out by sleeping in tents and cooking on wood-fire and camp-stoves for six weeks (mid-August to the first weekend of October). The school offers additional education in topics such as outdoor leadership or riding, and the annual school trip to Catalonia included activities such as mountain hiking, climbing, caving, canyoning, and rafting as well as meeting the Catalan society in Barcelona. Both schools are situated in an area with beautiful landscapes that allow the students to actively use the nature and outdoors experiences as an important setting for their school experiences, and teachers often move the classroom outside, consciously using the outdoor setting in the educational process.
A chance to experience nature that isn't found in Denmark.

After being asked to give up their mobile phones and laptops during the first week of school (except for necessary school work), the students themselves chose to give up their devices for another week to have time to get to know each other even better in the patrols – and yes, they work in patrols. I believe that the school allows a changing patrol at a few occasions during the year if things do not work out, but in general they are fixed teams that work together on everyday tasks such as cooking and cleaning their assigned parts of the communal areas. 

It is also our experience that the teachers use a more problem-proposing approach than we have seen in the regular school – the education is firmly rooted in the idea of learning by doing with deliberate use of reflection to anchor the learning. Not that the normal Danish school system can be said to be of the Victorian industrial kind, but there is nonetheless a marked difference between the learning environment of the residential school and the regular school, and one that cannot be fully explained merely by the residential thing – old-fashioned boarding schools unfortunately show that classic classroom teaching ("instructing" the students) can thrive without problem in a residential school system. Not having any experience with other residential schools, I cannot say if this is general in the Danish efterskole system, but I believe that it is more marked in the Scout residential schools.
Science class

Kasper has explained in some detail how the adult support works, so I don't need to go further into that, but I might add that I have experienced a school where the students are remarkably open about their personal development goals for the year. We met students who were quite open about their need to develop social skills and independence, just as others have other personal development goals for their year at school – things that I have never experienced neither students nor their parents talking about in the regular school system. At most this was kept for private, confidential talks between teachers and parents, or, occasionally, with other parents with whom we had a special friendship and trust.

This awareness and openness about the self-development projects of the individual students allows the teachers as well as the other students to support the students in their project, ensuring personal progression. Looking back, at the students who started a little more than a year ago, the progress is not just visible, but stunning.

Finally, it is a critical aspect of life in the school that the students have to help out. They help with the cooking and the cleaning, they organise activities in their free time and generally take on a great part of the responsibility for a smooth everyday life at school. This service in the school community is also of essential importance for the educational proposal of the residential schools. Visiting the school, we have seen the students naturally giving a helping hand wherever the need arose and always with a smile, embodying the Founder's words about cheerful helpfulness.

A final word about the personal development of the students.  In Guiding and Scouting our raison d'être is to contribute to the development of young people to reach their full(est) potential, and in order to have a language in which we can speak of this development, we look at six areas of personal development (developing what we might call six aspects, or facets, of the whole person). These areas are the spiritual, physical, intellectual (or creative), character (or moral), emotional (or affective) and social development.

That living with a large group of your peers for a year when you are some 14 to 18 years old will develop you socially and emotionally is probably obvious, and that it will support the same educational objectives for social and emotional development as we have in Guiding and Scouting is a natural consequence of applying the Scout and Guide Method as the methodological framework.

In a secular society such as the Danish, it is perhaps not obvious that a school will be able to support the spiritual development of the students. However, hearing about the many discussions of moral and existential questions that the students have had among themselves (only occasionally initiated by a teacher), it is obvious that there is a great potential for spiritual development. The trust that is created between the students allow them to open up and be receptive for spiritual values and to search for a meaning that goes beyond the answers provided by crass materialism. And of course these many discussions of ethical and philosophical issues also help develop the morality, character, or identity of the young people.
”It is not in the mere material qualities that life in the back bush makes a man
a man, but rather in the spiritual development when he finds himself an atom
communing daily, face to face and heart to heart with Nature.”
Baden-Powell, Headquarters' Gazette, 1915

Schools are all meant to develop their students intellectually, but one of the things that many schools fail to do is to develop that side of the young people's intellectual capacity that is spanned by such terms as creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Certainly the ordinary Danish school system is being criticized for not doing enough to develop these sides of their students' intellectual abilities. However, the special problem-posing approach of Scouting combined with the learning-by-doing-and-reflection that we practice seems to foster these qualities in the young people, and this has been very visible at the school, with the wealth of student-initiated and student-driven project; as Kasper describes it for Brejning Efterskole, so also for Korinth Efterskole – Spejderskolen.

Obviously I could continue – and some other day I might do just that, going into more details about the application of the individual elements of the Scout Method in this not-quite-formal and not-quite-non-formal educational setting of the Scout residential schools, but this is not the point I wish to make today.

Today the point is simply to illustrate that it is possible to use the Scout and Guide Method in a setting that also comprises formal education.

Having said that, one should also consider the ways that the residential schools differ from the normal school system. Already the residential nature of these schools is surely a strongly contributing factor to their ability to incorporate the Guide and Scout Method in their work. So is also the fact that the students choose one of these schools particularly, not just from the 260 efterskole schools in Denmark, but also above the normal, free, public schools that most young people in Denmark attend. These circumstances mean that the students are generally more motivated, and have a greater family support, than can be counted on in the normal school system, but this is also in accordance with the voluntary nature of the Guide and Scout Method (see for instance the WOSM publication The Essential Characteristics of Scouting, p.24).

So, while we have seen that it is possible to integrate the Scout Method in a formal educational setting to a very high degree, we must also ask ourselves whether this high degree of integration is dependent on the special nature of these schools? To what extent could the Scout Method be integrated with the normal day-school system? And what changes would be possible in both systems that would allow an even greater integration? To these questions I have, alas, no answer. 

No comments:

Post a Comment