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Denmark Liaison

Charlotte Ringsmose, Aarhus University

Last updated February 2016

Early Years Education Affected by Efforts to Align With More Structured Learning

Lately, the Minister of Education who is responsible for child care in Denmark has identified more focused learning plans for child care, with specific targets for professionals. At the same time, the ministry is trying out a program with more structured activities in early years. Thus, we see children experiencing more pressure while they are being tested to measure their cognitive and social abilities. (Read more here.)

Although specific details on the ministry’s plan for future child care have not yet been revealed, I want to raise a concern about how the push for learning and this move away from the traditional Danish/Nordic tradition toward more structured learning approaches may affect childhoods in Denmark.

Some of the key characteristics of the Danish tradition concern the importance of play, outdoor life, and children’s participation and influence on their everyday lives. The Danish tradition is based on lived democracy, acknowledging relationships between pedagogues and children and respecting children’s own perspectives. The traditional Danish perspective focuses on how important it is for children to enjoy childhood, while learning to actively participate in society and develop the social and cognitive skills and competencies necessary to do well in society.

The increased global focus on quality early childhood education is a consequence of the growing awareness that education starts earlier than primary school, and that high quality education in early years influences children’s learning and development from a lifelong perspective. Consequently, politicians take action to achieve what they assume will be most effective, despite misalignment with the Danish historical philosophies and traditions of child care. Countries and/or organizations that carry out or publish the most research internationally are having a potentially overwhelming influence, and alternative valuable practices might not be adequately explored.

You can read more about these challenges facing early childhood education and care in an era of increasing globalization and academic pressures to increase accountability in my new book (in progress): Nordic Social Pedagogical Approach to Early Years (Springer, 2016).

The Danish/Nordic tradition is discussed in the following articles:

Ringsmose, C., & Kragh-Müller, G. (2015). Educational quality in preschool centers. Childhood Education, 91(3), 198-205

Ringsmose, C. (2014). Children's choices in Denmark: "What do you think?": A day in the life of a child. Childhood Explorer, 1(1), 16-19.

Ringsmose, C., & Kragh-Müller, G. (2013). How positive childhood experiences promote children’s development of democratic skills: A reflection from Denmark. Childhood Education, 89(4), 224-233.

August 2015

Denmark held an early parliamentary election on June 18, 2015, which means that Denmark has a new government and a new prime minister. Before the election, the responsibility for child care at the national level was shared between two ministries: the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education. Now, early years learning is the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Education. It is our hope that this consolidation will be the first step toward placing more political focus on the importance of early years learning. Since this development is very new, we do not yet have any statements or policies from the new Minister of Education.

Until 2004, early childhood care and education in Denmark was subject to a set of broad-based regulations. In 2004, a Pedagogical Learning Plan was introduced with six overall aims and six learning themes: language, social competencies, personal competencies, nature and nature's phenomena, cultural expressions and values, and body and movement.

Research evaluating local learning plans and curricula have shown that parent education and home life are strongly linked to children’s performances. Preschool attendance has not been found to make a significant difference on the performance of children from families with disadvantages. Education strategies and curricula are being developed based on this research to determine if changes can be incorporated that will improve the outcome for children from disadvantaged families.

For more information:

Please go here for information about the political system of Denmark

Ministry for Families MfF, (Denmark) (2007) Pedagogical Learning Plans, Copenhagen: MfF.

Ministry of Social Affairs/Welfare. (2010) Consolidation Act on Social Services: Pedagogical Learning Plans. Copenhagen: Socialministeriet/MfSA.