What is the point of education? Claudia Cerra, from Odder Højskole, has been a student at two different ‘folke højskoler’ in Denmark. This has made her think. What she didn’t expect was, that not everything she learned, was in class. The whole concept of ‘højskole’ is bewildering until you go and experience it for yourself. What you learn there is difficult to quantify or measure, but Claudia have discovered that it is no less valid or important for that reason.

By Claudia Cerra, edited by Nicky Abraham

Højskole is a form of an adult education founded about 200 years ago by pastor, author, poet, philosopher, historian, teacher and politician (he was a busy man!), N.F.S. Grundtvig. His focus was not on formal education but on popular education and enlightenment. The idea was to give the peasantry and other people from the lower echelons of society, a higher educational level through personal development in order to enable them to participate actively in democratic society. Today, it is like an adult boarding school where you can study almost anything – from ceramics, music, dance, acting and film production, to permaculture, environmental entrepreneurship, cooking, journalism, political activism, sport, health, the list goes on.

Is education only about exams?

I believe we need to open our definition of education. Højskole taught me that there is more to education than passing exams. Things like experiencing the creative process, considering humanity’s impact on the world and each other, working in co-operation with people from other countries and cultures, social responsibility, and as a British person in Denmark, other ways of doing things as in our society.

Højskole is a way of stepping back and getting another perspective on the world, which may affect the part you want to play in it. You can still measure the effects of this learning though. Look at who you were when you started, look at who you were when you finished. Is anything different? I can measure it for myself. I wouldn’t have dared put my thoughts and opinions to paper for others to read before going to højskole.

I don’t value these experiences any less than the more recognisable version of education. And let’s not forget that højskole is partly state funded, making it available to more people, than would otherwise be possible. Even foreigners are welcome to the schools where English is also spoken.

Eduction for all?

So there I was, musing on how we need to expand our definition of education when I got a rude awakening which made me think even more about the state of education in the UK. I met someone from the UK while I was at højskole who had been accepted on a Masters course at a university in London. The fact that her application had been accepted showed that she had the relevant experience and knowledge to study this course. The only thing that was stopping her was the cost. I’m sorry I can’t be diplomatic about this. It is a crime.

At the moment, in Denmark, undergraduate degrees and masters are free and students still get financial support from the government while they are studying. I would like to start a discussion in the UK about what that tells us about the culture of equality and how much education is valued here in Denmark. I would also like us to discuss the less quantifiable, but equally important aspect of enjoying the learning process for itself, allowing your eyes to be opened and letting yourself and what you thought you knew be changed as a result.

Altivisten has payed a visit at Odder Højskole, to meet up with the young inspiring people staying at the school. From this visit a series of articles has been made to discover the possibilities of sustainable living, social communities and action toward a better world.