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Empathy is Being Taught in Danish Schools

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

Cat Cunningham looks into Denmark and their alternative techniques to teaching.

Photo by Joshua Clay

According to the UN’s World Happiness Report, classifying the happiness of 155 countries in the world, Denmark has been ranked in the top three happiest countries for the past seven years.

A considerable contributor to the happiness of the country could be the inclusion of empathy in the national school curriculum since 1993.

In Danish schools, ‘’Klassens tid’ or ‘The class’s hour’, is a fundamental part of the curriculum, with students aged six to sixteen spending an hour a week learning how to practise empathy, build relationships, prevent bullying, and become successful at work.

This hour of learning is considered as important as time dedicated to other subjects such as English or Mathematics, and allows children to talk about their struggles, challenges and issues.

Hygee: The Danish Lifestyle Phenomenon

Schools also incorporate the concept of ‘hygee’, a lifestyle phenomenon of Danish culture, into the day. One definition of this word is ‘cosiness’ – creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The concept is now reaching beyond Denmark with more than 900 books on the lifestyle being sold on Amazon, and over three million Instagram posts under #hygee.

The Danish Way of Parenting, co-authored by Danish psychotherapist and educator Iben Sandahl and American writer and cultural researcher Jessica Alexander, argues that the Danish upbringing is the reason behind the happiness of the Danes.

According to the book, Danish parents raise happy children who grow up to be happy parents and emulate the way they were raised in their parenting style; thus, the cycle repeats itself.

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Teamwork and Collaborative Learning

Teamwork is a significant focus of the empathy curriculum, making up 60% of the classes. The focus is for students to work on improving skills and talents collaboratively, rather than trying to excel in comparison to their peers; competition only exists with oneself, not with others.

Children learn collaboratively, improving pupils’ communication skills as they use their natural talents in different subjects to help others improve, rather than just focusing on their own achievements. Alexander states, that learning in this way

‘is a great lesson to teach children from an early age, since no one can go through life alone’.

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Self-Improvement over Competition

Similarly, prizes and trophies are not offered to students who excel in school or sports – instead, there is a culture of students being motivated to improve in relation to their past achievements. This discourages hierarchies from being formed within cohorts, and prevents students from feeling under-achieving or marginalised.

The explicit focus on empathy in Denmark from a young age results in a more cohesive and supportive society, promoting the growth of leaders, managers and entrepreneurs making Denmark one of the best places to work in Europe. Successful people do not obtain successful results without the support and empathy of others.

The collaborative approach in the country’s curriculum benefits all individuals irrespective of their own particular skills sets, knowledge and experience, creating a more balanced and happy society.


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