Why Copenhagen has taken steps to increase diversity in its classrooms

Why Copenhagen has taken steps to increase diversity in its classrooms
File photo: Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix
Copenhagen has since 2010 sought a more even distribution at its schools between children with Danish and minority ethnic backgrounds.

In 2010, 16 schools in the capital – 1 in 4 – had a ratio of over 50 percent for children termed ‘bilingual’ (Danish: tosprogede), meaning a language other than Danish is spoken in their home environments.

That number has now been reduced to 9 schools in the city, newspaper Politiken reports. As such, demographics are now spread more evenly between schools in Copenhagen.

According to Copenhagen Municipality, the composition of schoolgoers’ backgrounds is important because 'bilingual' children fare worse at school than ethnically Danish children, on average.

“This is a pleasing development. We want Copenhagen to be a city in which the places where we live and go to school and daycare is mixed. We think this has a big impact with respect to integration and opportunity,” Social Democrat councillor Jesper Christensen, who heads the municipality’s children and youth committee, told Politiken.

The municipality has given greater flexibility in allowing children, particularly those from minority ethnic backgrounds, to attend schools other than their local district school.

That has, for example, enabled children from underprivileged areas in parts of Nørrebro to go to school in Østerbro, a neighbouring and more affluent area.

Nationally, Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye has previously (when in opposition) said that school classes should have no more than 30 percent ‘bilingual’ children.

The Ministry for Children and Education told Politiken that “it is still (our) ambition that distribution of school students should better reflect that of the general population,” the newspaper reports.

Although little research into the topic exists, a Danish study from 2011 found that the average grades of children in a class is negatively affected when the proportion of ‘bilingual’ children in that class exceeds 50 percent.

Pisa, the OECD's programme for international student assessment, has previously found that children with non-immigration backgrounds who attend schools with over 40 percent ‘bilingual’ students fare worse than equivalents at schools where the proportion is less than 10 percent.

READ ALSO: How do Denmark's Pisa school results compare to other countries?

Mikkel Høst Gandil, an assistant professor at the University of Oslo’s Economics institute, noted in comments to Politiken that the figures should not necessarily “be interpreted as the effect of going to school with many bilingual children”.

“The study cannot tell whether a specific child would fare better if the number of immigrant-background children in her school fell,” he told the newspaper.

The difference in results does not occur if differences in social conditions between students at the same schools are taken into account, he said.

A 2018 University of Copenhagen PhD project co-authored by Gandil and partly financed by Danish think tank the Economic Council of the Labour Movement found that weaker students benefited from attending stronger schools. Meanwhile, stronger pupils were not negatively affected by attending a school with a high proportion of students with weaker backgrounds, Politiken writes.

The project analysed school trends amongst 580,000 children.

READ ALSO: Why Copenhagen is the cheapest city in Europe for international schools


Member comments

  1. So the liberals think to do what the Americans did in the ’60s, 70’s, school busing in order to force integration is going to result in a better society. Well, I have news for you, America is as divided today than it ever was. And as for this nonsense of diversity is so great, there is scant evidence that it works. Every western society including nearby Sweden is suffering from this group think that their country is TOO WHITE and therefore bringing people in who share NOTHING, not the culture, not the religion, not the work ethic are in some way going to improve the life of the average Dane. What is fact is that crime, taxes, lower quality of life, unemployment all increase. Are there individuals from various ethnic groups who assimilate and integrate, for sure, but by and large the majority do not, and have no interest in doing so. Danes should be wary of these forced social experiments! This does not mean we should prevent all immigration to Danmark, but it should be changed so that only immigrants, of any ethnicity who can contribute to society and have a strong desire to become Danish, should be allowed. Otherwise, Danmark will suffer all the social ills other less enlightened countries have made and condemn their children to a lower quality of life with more crime, higher taxes, and a divided society.

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