Alternative Education Creates Opportunities

by Clark Pratt

 A bus is coming down a mountain pass in Turkey as the sun rises and the little villages beside the highway begin to stir with life. Inside the bus there are computers, a video camera, tools, books about Asia, half-written reports in social science, notes for interviews, a kitchen, beds, 10 restless sleepers, a driver and a co-pilot. They are on their way to India to study some of the most difficult problems and greatest possibilities facing people in the next century.

 Thousands of miles away, outside the town of Huambo in Angola, where once the Portuguese had a trading center in the southern African highlands they called Nova Lisboa (New Lisbon), a group of students is gathering for a morning assembly. The topic is “Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela—social change and civil rights.” The teacher is from Holland, but he has studied in Denmark the past three years and now teaches Portuguese. The class is made up of young men and women from 4 provinces in Angola, men and women who have lived 20 of their 22 years of life in war, and have just begun education as teachers. Now there is peace again and Angola has need for new schools and new teachers.

 A young man from Guinea Bissau takes the train to Silkeborg in Denmark, meets a van, and drives out to a school where 15 children have been abused. He has huge problems with studying and with his self-confidence. He now has the responsibility for a riding center with 20 horses awaiting him. He will work there for two months as a teacher, friend, father figure, social worker, mechanic, carpenter, sports coach, artist, musician, dance instructor, and student of the art of teaching.

 What is common in these three scenes is that they are all part of the experience of the best teacher training programs in the world—the Necessary Teacher Training College in Denmark. The people in the bus, the Dutch and Guinea Bissauan teachers, are themselves students in extraordinary situations which are an ordinary part of life at the college. The college, which has the acronym DNS, began in 1972. Located outside of the village of Ulfborg [in Denmark], DNS shares land which was once a farm with a primary boarding school and with a training center for adults who carry out health, construction, agricultural, and educational projects in Africa.

 The class of 1999 has 30 students from 15 countries who, during the course of their education, will take the ordinary studies and qualifying exams to be a teacher for first through eighth grade in Denmark—and much, much more. They will be qualified to be global educators.

Some of the ideas behind DNS include

  • Teacher training should help form men and women who will be teachers not only in one classroom in one country but for a whole generation in the whole world.
  • Education is a lifestyle, not a task.
  • Schools are communities, not buildings. The information revolution gives schools the chance for much more responsible, creative, and efficient study, research, and production.

Some of the methods that are used include

  • A personal computer for each student and a network database system for intensive self-studies in 13 basic subjects and 2 major subjects
  • Teaching practice at boarding schools in Denmark and at a teacher training college in Africa.
  • Working periods to develop multiple skills and support the common economy of the year group which pays the school fees.
  • Fundraising periods to discuss international issues with ordinary Europeans and collect hundreds of thousands of dollars for projects in Africa.
  • A “full-time” approach to life at the college, with all practical, cultural, and economic tasks organized with students and teachers together.
  • A four-month study of Asia, with focus on India.

In a world with great injustice, ecological problems, and growing population, the teacher for the first time in human history is moving to the center of historical potential. Teachers can feed or smash dreams. Too often now in the world’s big cities, teachers see themselves as police officers with a job that is too broad for their shoulders. Of course is it difficult to work with people because of their complexity. But it is also the best work one can choose. DNS teachers hold fast to this position.

DNS education is based in Denmark, but the students go out into the world at least seven different times during their four years of study. They do not go out protected by guns or bank accounts or five-star hotels. They hitchhike through Europe, backpack in the Himalayas, raft on the Amazon, build latrines in China, start schools in Mozambique, fundraise in Austria. They go out to be with people of the world in their hard times and good times. And they learn how to learn as well as how to teach from the heart.

 The program is structured so that in the first year they make a school community with their team, learn Danish, begin teaching practices, study for three exams, work and fundraise. In the second year they prepare buses, prepare research projects, travel to Asia by bus, make some presentations in Europe, conduct teaching practices, take more exams, and oversee some fundraising.

The third year is a period of self-development structured as “do what you think is most right to do.” They prepare some long-range teaching practices, and they take exams in the pedagogic subjects and a major subject. Finally, in the fourth year they begin teaching at one of their sister colleges in southern Africa for 8 months, studying and taking a final group of exams.

 This is a picture of alternative education which creates many alternatives for people. It is what is called Education for a Better World.

Editor’s Note: For more information, you can contact DNS by email, telephone, fax, or post:

The Necessary Teacher College Tvind,

Skorkaevej 8

6990 Ulfborg, Denmark

Tel 45-9749-1849; Fax 9749-2209; Email tvinddns@inet.uni-c.dk

The author is an American who has been teaching for the past eight years in the United States, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Denmark.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #18, November-December