Social-cultural education of adults in Denmark


Denmark is the smallest of the Scandinavian countries and is historically comprised of a mostly culturally-homogeneous population with 91.6% of the Danish population being native to Denmark. The Danes have a strong desire to maintain their independence as a small nation with shared values. Immigration especially with regard to the integration of immigrant groups coming with  established social, cultural and religious norms that are at variance with those of the host society have stretched the traditional Danish values of openness and tolerance more than many Danes could have envisaged 20 years ago.

Background/ status:

The past three decades have been witness to an on-going arrival of non-European immigrants, mostly in the form of refugees and, most recently large numbers of so called “East-workers”, largely from Poland, as well as German and other East European migrant workers. A large number of people arrive every year for family reunification and as a result of marriage between Danes and foreigners.  

When in the late 1960s guest workers began to arrive from Turkey it was commonly believed, both by Danes and immigrants alike, that they would return to their home country eventually. Thus no government intervention was felt necessary either in terms of language teaching or other forms of voluntary or compulsory integration based activities.

This laissez-faire approach has resulted in Denmark facing a number of integration challenges. While in general terms high-status European or American type immigrants, those on short term contracts or married people with a built in Danish “network” experience relatively few problems “fitting in”, there is a large gap between the labour market position of non-European immigrants and native Danes, and the children of these immigrants perform less well than other young people in terms of education and employment.

The Integration Act:

In 1999, Denmark was the first country in the world to introduce an Integration Act. The Act is intended to ensure that newly-arrived refugees and immigrants can make the most of their capacities on an equal footing with other citizens of Denmark.

Integration has therefore become a key issue on the Danish Government’s agenda, and there is a developed integration programme for newly arrived immigrants.  


Language Centres – their role in the integration process:

The object of offering Danish as a second language (Danish tuition) is to assist in ensuring that, based on their individual abilities and integration goals, adult foreigners acquire the skills in Danish language and knowledge of Danish culture and society which are necessary to turn them into involved and contributing citizens who are on an equal footing with other citizens of society

(§ 1 The Act on Danish Tuition for Adult Foreigners)
The basic programme:

All refugees and immigrants are therefore offered free teaching of Danish for three years. Within one month after having taken over responsibility for a foreigner, the local council is required to offer the person in question a Danish course. This offer starts immediately they are granted their first residents permit, and though participation is voluntary failure to take part will have a negative effect on subsequent permit renewal applications.

Language tuition:
Danish courses are offered at three levels:

Level 1 is targeted at course participants with no or poor schooling that has not learned to read and writes in their mother tongue. Conclusion of the Danish 1 test.

Level 2 is targeted at course participants with a brief educational background from their native country, who should be expected to be relatively slow learners of Danish as a second language. Conclusion of the Danish 2 test.

Level 3 is targeted at course participants who have completed a medium-term or long education in their native country, and who should be expected to be relatively fast learners of Danish as a second language. Conclusion of the Danish 3 test or Studieprøven (study qualifying test).

Municipal provision:

Vejle Kommune (The Municipality of Vejle), like many but not all municipalities, provides language tuition to all adult non-Danish residents over 18 years of age with a CPR number free of charge. Sprogcenter Vejle (Vejle Municipality Language School) is an example of one such institution that provides this training. Participants must attend regularly as is required through their integration program. Forms are submitted as proof of attendance and must be turned in at the end of each week.

Refugees and immigrants are also routinely offered employment-promoting options such as qualification improvement and work experience. These integration options are tailored to the needs of the individual refugee or immigrant via the local authority Job Centre.


Socio-cultural education provision:

In parallel with language tuition, immigrants who have an Integration Contract as stipulated in the Integration Act are also given an integration program which will focus on socio-cultural education. Every municipality is required to provide socio-cultural education and once the new resident is registered in his or her municipality, the option of attending integration instruction can begin. Day and evening courses teach the fundamentals of Danish culture, society and history through tasks dealing with government, culture, history and other aspects of Danish life. Examples of such topics included the educational system, the housing marked, the health care programme, democracy in Denmark, freedom of speech, current event topics and other relevant aspects of Danish society.

The actual plenum requirements for these courses are laid down under the terms of “Order nr. 737 af 28. June 2006” which designates a comprehensive module-based plan for the authorised socio-cultural education. The Ministry for Integration has developed a 154 page booklet “Medborger i Danmark” / “Citizen in Denmark-Information for new citizens about Danish society” (see links).

The booklet is divided into 12 module-chapters. For each of the 12 models there is a prescribed theme chosen from one of the main “information domains”  such as ”work”, ”education”, ”everyday life” or “citizenship”. This booklet, which is also available on line and free of charge forms the basis for what is taught in socio-cultural education classes and is (at the point of writing) also available in 16 languages

The Ministry has also developed a subject-based catalogue of suggested supplementary socio-cultural teaching materials (This catalogue is only available in Danish).

The actual amount of socio-cultural lessons provided can vary from municipality to municipality but the base-line provision will normally be in the range of 45 -50 45 minute group lessons, usually 3-4 lessons per session with an average class size of 10 – 12 students. The courses provided are either provided free of charge, or only charge a nominal registration fee.

Various types of “out-reach” provision have been tried including onsite teaching in residential areas with a high concentration of immigrants such as municipal housing estates etc.

Other projects include “workshop” type arrangements and “drop-in cafés” set up in local libraries.

The main thrust of the program has always been the provision of information to those most in need of it, so flexibility in provision has often been necessary if the target group is to be reached. Teaching, which often takes the form of assisted reading aims to ensure that the students, who each work individually in their groups have both completed the 12 modules, while at the same time ensuring that they have understood the material with which they are working. Teaching is as far as possible tailored to the individual student and the teacher introduces supplementary material where necessary.

Numerous test materials have also been developed locally by the various providers. Most of these are multiple choice type question sheets which combine with group question and answer activities as well as individual project-based activities, where a student chooses to work more in depth with a particular subject. This is very much interest based so that parents for example are inclined to spend more time understanding the day-care and school system than young single people.

On completion of the socio-cultural education programme the student is awarded a “diploma” stating that he or she has satisfactorily completed each of the 12 modules. Production of this “diploma” is in many cases a legal requirement when renewing a resident’s permit.

Student’s reaction:

Though it might at first glance seem that the situation, whereby the student is “forced” to take part in socio-cultural education might produce a negative response in terms of the students´ attitude to either the school/teacher or the material provided, in fact the majority of the students involved have a positive attitude to both.

This reaction is general for both “European” and “Non-European” students.

Student A/ (Pauline) – East-European married to a Dane:

“I think the information given is very useful. When you move to another country you need to know how things are done – how the system works. I‘ve even learnt a few things that my husband couldn’t answer”.

Student B/ (Rani) – Punjabi, moved to Denmark to join her husband also Punjabi.

“It is good that Denmark will tell us these things, so we know what is right and wrong here. It was a problem for me reading the book because they don’t have it in my language so I had to use English but in the group work I could discuss the questions with the others”

Student C/ (Rafea) – Iraker, refugee

“I found it very hard to understand the Danish book but I could read it in Arabic, so that was all right. You really see what is good here when you read about the political system.”

New perspectives:
More than one way to Integrate:

Immigrants to Denmark have in the long run to learn how to function in a wide range of social situations. Though government figures show a rise in the number of immigrants with Danish friends there is still a strong latent tendency to mutual exclusivity. Contact is quite often limited to fellow workers during the hours of work and not much more. They want to meet people. They hear and see so much about Danish people, but often do not meet them in a social context.

As in any country it is often observing the unspoken “rules” that count for more than the official “regulations”. A German engineer has recently published a guide to Denmark for highly qualified workers thinking of moving to Denmark “The Worktrotter Guide to Denmark” in which she emphasises that one “absolutely needs to know and comply with the unspoken rules if you want to be accepted in Denmark”.

These rules, which exist in every country are not always easy to spot or explain to foreigners, they are quite often outside of the scope of the teaching situation and need to be demonstrated in some form of social interaction. This realization has in recent years given rise to various activity based socio-cultural integration projects similar to the one described below

In the summer of 2005 a Red Cross volunteer Denmark decided that, if you want to live in Denmark, you have to do what the Danes do – for example ride bikes. Classes to teach newcomers how to cycle have proven popular with immigrants in Denmark The mandated socio-cultural checklist includes learning Danish, understanding the "fundamental norms and values of Danish society," and making an effort to participate in the community. One vital aspect of participating in the Danish community is riding a bicycle.

For three years now, the Danish Red Cross has been offering free cycling classes for immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. The program is offered in 10 branches of the Red Cross spread around the country. Students are provided with bikes and protective gear during the course. Teaching immigrant women to ride bikes for example is one more way to help them integrate themselves into society and function in it more smoothly and effectively.

Students come to learn to ride a bike not only for convenience, but also to help them get jobs.

For example, the Danish Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs has a program in place that encourages and subsidizes immigrants and refugees who would like to become social health workers, and work in places such as elderly homes. One recent change in the government’s program is a requirement that the job applicant has a certificate saying that he or she can ride a bike.

Why the women really come, though, might be less obvious. One reason according to the Red Cross seems to be to improve their language skills by speaking Danish with the cycling instructors and other learners.


’New to Denmark’ is the official internet portal for foreigners and integration. In the pages about the portal, it’s possible to read more about the portal’s aims and who is responsible for it


OECD report on ‘The labour market integration of immigrants in Denmark’


The Act on Danish Tuition for Adult Foreigners (Danish version)


Citizen in Denmark-Information for new citizens about Danish society (online resource)

Consolidation Act No. 839 of 5 September 2005 of the Danish Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs (English translation)


Executive Order on Residence in Denmark for Aliens comprised by the rules of the European Union or by the Agreement on the European Economic Area (the EU/EEA Order) (English translation)


Bill amending the Aliens Act, the Marriage Act and other Acts (Abolishment of the de facto refugee concept, streamlining of asylum proceedings, more stringent conditions for the issue of permanent residence permits and tightening of the conditions for family reunification, etc.) (English translation)


Coordinator and author of project idea is

Persona Optima Iceland EFH.
This company as an organization is a new in international project arena. This project is perfect opportunity to share our findings with partners and related units of the project; we are establishing relationships with partners from other countries, expanding our knowledge and sharing our own findings with others. Read more...

Reached results, findings

Experience sharing report

Socio - cultural environment report
Denmark • Latvia • Lithuania • Iceland • NorwaySweden
Focus group research
Latvia 1
Latvia 2 Latvia 3 Iceland Lithuania
Norway Denmark

Partner meetings

Partner meeting in Iceland

Partners of the project



WISE wide incorporation of socio-cultural education of adults from Nordic-Baltic peripheral areas. Creation of methodology.
This project is partially funded by the program of funds.
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