What went wrong for the boarding schools which had seen a 15 year row of steady increase in the number of students?
First and foremost they do not longer appeal to the general student population. They were quiet unique compared to foreign boarding schools. While many was specialized the general trend was that they were a place for emotional growth most like the therapeutic boarding schools in the United States but the difference was that the student population consisted almost 100 percent voluntary students.
Unlike the U.S. therapeutic boarding schools there was no escort firm transporting the students to the boarding schools in handcuffs. We were talking of motivated students seeking emotional growth.
Still the number of students dropped this year resulting in a huge number of schools closing. What was the reason for this dramatic turnaround?
The answer is simple. Like others the Danish students discovered that emotional growth has a price tag. You have to put a lot of effort into transforming yourself from the natural shy child mode into an adult person ready to address even larger groups of people. For many this transformation did cost them part of their personality and even some of the strength they should have relied upon later in life.
In a changing world opening you as a person does also mean that you expose yourself and become more vulnerable. Not every situation affords this. The 2010’s is not a decade allowing the students to take risks. They have to stay in business until they are almost 70 years of age before they are allowed to retire. Globalization means loss of jobs if you allow your talent or your knowledge to be shared. There are so many reasons to be a reserved and even be pre-intake about people you meet during life.
In an effort to address the trend of mainstream students choosing other alternatives some of the boarding schools made a huge mistake. They targeted minority groups.
The Danish youth culture is different than the one you see at the boarding schools. The finest tool of socializing is missing at the boarding schools. There is a ban on alcohol opposite the conditions the students can meet at every high school in Denmark where the Friday bar located on campus very fast becomes the center of communication among the students. Also in Danish firms sharing a beer or a glass of wine makes it out for 98 percent of human resource programs in the businesses. The association of Danish firms criticized the boarding schools for preparing the students for the business poorly. It was a message which hit the parents who finance the stay hard especially in a time where unemployment is high.
So while the strict environment with a ban on alcohol appealed to minority groups it didn’t appeal to families from the general population and not to the business sector.
Another mistake was the increased corporation with the Danish social services. The Danish parliament is working on real inspections of the children placed in group homes and foster families for the first time ever. This move has prompted a number of the group homes to re-categorize them as “Efterskoler” so they can avoid supervision and inspections because the boarding schools are only inspected for their academics – not by how they treat the students.
This move to avoid control by the authorities has not been unnoticed by various human rights organizations which have started a number of blogs and webpages set up to warn parents of future boarding school students.
The increased awareness did cost the boarding schools.
Social networks do also have an impact. For many of the students the emotional growth they experienced did only work while they were at the boarding school. Once they returned home without the support of their peers, they found themselves alone, isolated and in a position where they couldn’t return to the persons they were before they left the homes for the boarding schools.
Now the students can look groups of former students up and find out if the schools provided them with quality education or it was just empty air as result of the peer group dynamics only found at the schools. Schools like Holmstrup which cheated the students for a trip to Cuba couldn’t hide their failure for future students and had to close.
Last but not least some of the exercises used to put pressure on the students turned out to be outright dangerous and even life-threatening for the students. Some of the schools hired former soldiers suffering from various traumatic experiences while they were stationed abroad to direct these exercises. In the media several rescue missions where students had to be rescued was reported. For the students denial of participation in the exercises could be expulsion so the pressure was certainly on.
So there are a number of reasons for the sudden wave of schools closing for the last time. The question is whether the schools can regain their former strength.
The answer is no unless the Internet will be closed. Future students have access to all kind of information. They know in advance what they can expect and the product the boarding schools offer is not what the market – the families - want.
Sources (In Danish)
Efterskoler truet af færre elever (TV2 Nord)