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Comment: Few lecture hours may be not so bad

Judging from the number of hours in class, it looks like students at Danish universities have it easy. But the Danish system is good for self-motivation, writes American student Hannah Wirtshafter

While studying in Copenhagen, several differences stood out to me between the Danish education system and my own experiences in school in the United States. One main difference is in regards to how student self-motivation is emphasized in the Danish system.

The education system in Denmark is based much more on self-motivation that the system in the United States. This difference is evident primarily when examining the class and examination structure in Denmark as compared to the United States.

All of the humanities and social sciences classes I have taken in the United States meet at least twice a week, for at least three hours total. Classes, even when they last two hours, do not contain a break period.

Class for 3 hours a week

In Denmark, all my classes were slated for two hour blocks. However, class doesn’t really start until 15 minutes into the block, and then there is a 10 to 15 minute break in the middle of the lecture. Thus, in actuality, a class that is listed as lasting for two hours long only has 1.5 hours of actual instruction.

Combined with the fewer hours of instruction in Denmark as compared to the United States, all of my classes in Denmark only met once a week as compared to the two to three times of my classes in the United States. As a result, I only had 1.5 hours of a particular subject in a week.

Additionally, a full course load in Denmark is considered 30ECTS, and most classes are 10 or 15 ECTS. For instance, one class I took is 15ECTS, yet it only met once a week for ‘2 hours’ (really 1.5 hours). This means to be a full time student, one could technically only take two courses, each worth 15ECTS, and only have class for 4 hours (really 3 hours) a week. In all my classes, the final was the only test of knowledge during the whole semester.

Career is not everything

To generalize, the attitude in Denmark is you should do whatever you think benefits your learning, and if that is not going to class, then don’t go. In fact, in one of my classes, the professor said, ‘Oh, there probably aren’t any Danish students here today because the 7th week is a popular week to go skiing.’ He didn’t even seem perturbed at this.

I believe that this fits in with the fact that school is based very much on self-motivation. Classes are only held once a week because students are expected to do outside learning. There is only a final exam because students are expected to keep up and learn the material on their own time. Classes are optional because it is the student’s own responsibility to manage his or her learning.

I also get the impression school, jobs, and careers are not the be-all-end-all in Denmark the same way that they are in the States. It seems very few students’ lives in Copenhagen revolve around school, and I have gotten that impression about people’s careers as well. In a recent study, Danes worked the fewest paid hours per day (3.75 hours) out of all the OECD countries.

Is this why they are happy?

In Denmark, school and jobs are a part of life, but that’s it – they are a part, not a defining whole.

Denmark is consistently ranked one of the happiest countries in the world. I wonder if this reliance on self-motivation and de-emphasis on work-centered lives contributes to the high happiness levels.

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