June 26, 2009

Danish Ministry of Education Fails Again

After the American Century

An independent study that cost 312,000 kroner, has found out what any experienced teacher could have told us for nothing in less than a minute. News flash: Students will cut more classes if they can get away with it. What a revelation!

The 2005 "education reform," brought in against the advice of many teachers, has markedly increased the number of gymnasium students who skip classes. The Danish Ministry of Education should have been able to figure out what would happen if they weakened attendance requirements. It used to be that no student was allowed to miss more than 10% of the classes - which was already a liberal requirement compared to many nations. Now, thanks to the 2005 "reform" there are entire schools where all students on average skip classes more than 10% of the time. Another triumph of the bureaucrats over the teachers!

During the last quarter century the Ministry of Education has repeatedly demonstrated little understanding of students, teachers, teaching, or the academic calendar, much less morale building. Had a foreign foe set out to undermine the educational system, it might have pursued the same policies as the Danish Ministry of Education. If other nations want to know how to sabotage an educational system, here are the main points.

- Drown the teachers in bureaucratic paperwork, so they have less time in the classroom.

- Cut back on the money for short courses and seminars, so that teachers no longer will have as much chance to develop their competence.

- Reward schools not for quality but for quantity, and pay schools only for students who pass. This will encourage teachers to let more students slide through without learning much.

- Should a student be caught for plagiarism, pay the school nothing, but insist on elaborate procedures so that teachers will learn that catching students who cheat is unrewarding, unpaid work. Also, make the punishment for plagiarism mild.

- Eliminate the already relaxed attendance requirements, and let students graduate even if they have missed as much as 35% of all their classes.

- Redesign the grading system, making it less nuanced, and pressure teachers to give higher grades. (At the same time, make the new grading system unlike that in any other nation, so no one outside the country can understand it.)

- As much as possible, let students dictate what subjects the teachers will teach, and at the same time underfund school libraries so there is less likelihood that materials will be available. Cut back on funds to buy new textbooks.

- Let school facilities deteriorate, especially bathrooms, but also more generally, so that the school is not an attractive place to be.

- During years of national budget surpluses make sure teacher salaries increase more slowly than in the private sector, so that the profession becomes less and less attractive. (Indeed, tacitly support national PR campaigns launched to attack the humanities, urging all students to study "practical" subjects.)

- Demand that teachers use the latest computer technologies, but do not put money in the school budgets to buy, install, and maintain the equipment. Also, do not set aside time or sufficient funds to train teachers in how to use the equipment.

Historians will one day wonder why a wealthy nation like Denmark misused its resources and undermined its educational system and demoralized its teachers. They may wonder how the Minister, Bertel Haarder, could have made so many mistakes for so many years without being fired. But they will realize that the Ministry of Education as a whole was a vast, growing, incompetent parasite that ate up resources and may have been beyond the control of anyone. Furthermore, bad as he was, Haarder was by no means the worst minister in the government between 2001 and 2010. Indeed, it is hard to pick a "winner" among so many self-assured incompetents.