Monthly Archives: February 2013

Ørestad Gymnasium: School without Classrooms (Part 2)_A case for ‘Educational Urbanism’

What makes Ørestad Gymnasium even more interesting is the larger rationale behind it. It has to be seen within the context of the socio-economic transformation that Denmark is undergoing and also within the urban context of Ørestad, a showpiece of Nordic urban innovation.  Education plays a central role on this urban arena.

The idea behind the new large-scale urban development in Copenhagen, is to catalyse the transformation of the Danish economy from industry-based to knowledge-based economy (will write later more about the so called “knowledge-based urban development”). It’s part of the bi-national economic zone created with Malmö in Sweden. The cities are  connected with the fabulous Øresund Bridge.

On a strip of 600m x 5 km, and an area of 310 ha, Ørestad will have three million indoor square metres; house 20 000 inhabit­ants; provide 60 000 jobs and offer education to 20,000 students. The strong presence of education in Ørestad is deliberate . The Ørestad Gymnasium, the IT-University, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation DBC, an beautiful student’s hostel, the University of Copenhagen, Apple and others work together in close cooperation in the development process (‘Triple Helix’).

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There is intense spatial closeness between the media industry, education and business organizations on the strip – not to forget cool housing! The awesome IT-University specializing in multimedia is just one stop away from the Ørestad Gymnasium (with the driverless sky-train). And hardly three walking minutes away from the IT-University is another awesome building – the Danish Broadcasting Corporation DBC  built by Jean Nouvel. The students of the IT-University get job offers at the DBC while still at school … also, some companies have their seats at the top floor of the university. This is where students can make their first encounter with the professional world, easing the school to employment transition.

The DBC building comprises four large buildings and a public concert house (build by Jean Nouvel), which houses a world-class recording studio in its basement. Together with the film-cluster mushrooming around the Danish film director Lars van Trier, Copenhagen is ambitiously positioning itself as a world ‘Media-City’ – much to the joy of the students.

All of this makes it a case for my argument on educational urbanism’ – urban development where educational planning converges with urban planning…

Lots of info on its official website:


Website of the IT University:

Ørestad Gymnasium: School without Classrooms (Part 1)

After walking through the Ørestad Gymnasium in Copenhagen, my old notion of how a school should look like crumbled and disappeared forever.

The school was built in 2005, right after the Danish school reform, by a young group of architects called 3xN (Three times Nielsens). It exemplified the broad pedagogic reorientation in Denmark.

The building is like a huge box with a large central void where a large staircase winds up spreading out to the areas which are ‘appropriated’ by the students for learning – or hanging around, or at least that’s what it looked like to me. For the 1000 students between 16 and 19, there are literally no traditional classrooms – except for those rooms that are solely used for delivery of new information. There is a gym and several multifunctional spaces, which are used as individual zones, group zones, plenary zones and meeting points.

The spaces allow a very high degree of flexibility. Students work individually or in groups in the various work and study areas. If the weather permits, they can also work on the roof or in the open public spaces around the school area – which has a nice waterfront.

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The school specializes in multi-media, communication and culture. The curriculum is oriented towards developing ‘modern knowledge’ which focuses on 1) qualifications, 2) competencies, 3) creativity and 4) culture. Teaching and learning refers strongly to a real-world setting, where students are seen as learners – investigating, collaborating, producing and expressing. And teachers are seen as facilitators and mentors working in small groups with students – doing a lot of project work. They are greatly encouraged to develop their own innovations in pedagogy.

The backbone of the school is the ‘Virtual Room’ where a lot of teaching, learning and communication takes place. Students write blogs, produce podcasts and uses different medias of expression through texts, images and sounds. The creative use of media and communications technology is part of the schools pedagogic model. Indeed, there are lots of computers around. Macs. Their stress on local and global connectedness, have led locals to nickname the school the ‘Virtual School’.

Learning in Ørestad Gymnasium is mostly self-organized. It is seen as a creative and collaborative experience. There are no fixed timetables. Only defined outcomes. Our guide told us, private companies often go to visit the school, to see how students create and manage their knowledge, and how they innovate in such an environment – things that the new creative sector is also interested in. As we know, workplaces and schools somewhat influence each other. Think of how the schools of 19th century looked like. How they resembled factories (‘Factory Schools’) and the conveyor belts of the industrial age. In fact, the bells at these schools were modeled on the shift-time sounds in factories (see Re-thinking Education, Part 1). Not much has changed for most schools around the world. But, thankfully, those social imaginaries are now shifting very quickly and along with them the power relations in schools. Ørestad Gymnasium is surely a beacon for the next generation of schools.

Watching those students lying around sunk in huge beanbags, or stooped over their laptops or engaged in heated discussions in small groups, made me feel like going back to school… and starting all over again…


Website of the school:

Here you’ll find a short but very well written account of the school, its pedagogy and curriculum:Ørestad_Gymnasium

…also the Innovation Unit has written something about it:

…and here is (not a very good presentation) by the director of the school Allan Kjær Andersen, but you’ll find some images.…/presentation%20oeg_rome.ppt

The architects website:

Rethinking education, Part 1: Why our school system is broken

“Learning a Living” – Valerie Hannon and Reza present WISE Book 2012

“Learning a Living” Book Presentation

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In November 2012, WISE presented its WISE Book 2012 “Learning a Living” in Doha, Qatar. The book looks into the relationship between education, innovation and the world of work. After surveying 100 programmes, it identified fifteen high-impact radical innovation projects addressing the issue learning for work. It’s not just a collection of best practices – it tells their compelling stories. The book will be available on Amazon from March 2013.

Watch the video of the presentation made by the lead author of the book, the brilliant Valerie Hannon, director of The Innovation Unit in Britain (I remember being impressed by Ms Hannon at the OECD conference at my university in Vienna back in 2011).

She does a great job here by presenting some of the key projects from the book, while putting them in the context of a general message, which she unfolds along her presentation on the background. You can also listen to Reza, a well known National Geography photographer, who shot the photos.

The projects come from a broad variety of countries (like the USA, Morocco, Brazil, Kuwait, Nicaragua and others) showing many types of innovations. Ms Hannon underlines, that even though it’s a beautiful book, it’s not for the ‘coffee table’. It puts forward an argument about ‘learning for work’ (not ‘training for work’), which the authors believe has major implications for ‘learning’ in general.

In their methodology, the researchers put three questions:

1) What’s happening to the world of work?

2) What’s happening to the workforces and their needs?

3) How should learning be organised to meet those needs?

The problem they saw was that:

a) the picture of the world of work ‘has changed beyond recognition’,

b) the needs of workforces (that is of all citizens) which have changed too;

c) but learning hasn’t changed in terms of its organisation or design to meet those needs.

With this book as a backdrop, the ambivalent position of educational planners between the ‘market needs’ approach and the ‘liberal education’ approach, especially on the background of radical economic changes, really needs special attention. I’ll make a posting on that soon…

Back to the book, from the innovative projects chosen, the book picks up lessons from their

a) pedagogy;

c) their approach to curriculum;

d) their approach to assessment;

e) what is ‘intrinsically fascinating about these practices and how can they be scaled up.

Doing the book had ‘a profound effect’ on Valerie Hannon and her team. In talking to learners worldwide, again and again, the message they were hearing was that …

“The education system for the most part is not a part of the solution, its part of the problem”

It was ‘a shocking finding’, she said.

I draw the rationale of the book from her comment: “…the whole piece how people are educated to learn a living has significant implications on how we organise learning in totality.”

They looked into projects that addressed people from age 4 to age 95 (!). However, someone asked Valerie: “Why stop at 95?”  : )) I wont tell you more…enjoy this wonderful presentation full of surprises and inspiring sparks !!!

If you want to read the first chapter, go to issuu:

“Learning Neighbourhoods” in Brazil (WISE session on Education and Community)

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Visit a session on ‘Education and Communiy’- Fostering local developmentat the last WISE conference in Doha in Nov 2012. There were representatives from Haiti, Qatar, Canada and Brazil.

I found it particularly interesting to listen to the experiences of the Brazilian participant, Ms. Natacha Costa, a psychologist and executive director of Apprendiz. She started working in a small community in 1997 in Vila Madalena in Sao Paulo and helped to develop an idea that led to the creation of a school model they call “Learning Neighborhoods”  (Bairro Escolas).

Their idea of  ‘connecting schools with the communities’  has spread now to some 32 000 (!) schools all over Brazil. It has become a powerful idea, radically transforming some of the old notions about learning and the role of schools.

Rod from British Columbia also said, there should be more ‘white space’ where teachers and students identify the needs of the community; also interesting for policy makers and implementation theorists, he spoke about the  ‘social license’, saying …instead of  ‘implementation models’, we ar talking about ‘affiliation models’: how to get people to affiliate to those larger ideas which transcend politics…THAT becomes a social license.”  This is to avoid getting ‘more of the same’…

But, here are some of Natacha’s  comments (It gets interesting after 29:00 minutes):

(29:00 min) “…communities can only be engaged with something that is meaningful for them…( takes cue from the ‘African saying’ “it takes a village to raise a child”.

…We do not need more of the same…”schools do not have the monopoly of knowledge any more…they are more facilitators of development process…they have to be connected to the issues that are meaningful to the communities that they are based on…systematize what the people are discussing and what children are interested about…that’s the new role of schools…we have to learn how to build knowledge, how to learn and not just get information…32 000 schools have embarked upon creating neighbourhood school …each community with a different ideas and different ways of doing it … there is no prescription…only guidelines, themes & project that make sense to them … they have to be developed by themselves …”

(36.40 min) Then she makes a pretty powerful statement: Education is not about preparation for life…we usually work with that …most countries work with that…preparing kids for life… we hear that all the time in Brazil … what we notice in the community based approach is that, they are already living … they are alive…they have ideas, they have a background, they have social networks, they have interests, they have knowledge … kids have knowledge, they are competent, they can do thing … Working with the idea of preparing for life is like working with them like they were rats in a lab.”

She then speaks about how teachers become a part of the learning process: “…Sometimes what happens in Brazil is that teachers often have no idea about the lives of the kids, what is going on in the community, so they cannot connect to those kids … (…”There is a programme in Brazil where the teachers go to the kids’ homes, and many, many, many of them come back and say ‘I had no idea how they lived…I  often told them ‘you haven’t learned’…but then they see that they had no space to learn… for example because is there is a TV always running in the same room”…)… so by this idea of getting connected, by knowing them…knowing who are these kids, teachers become part of the learning process…”

(50:00 min) “Education is not like cookingyou cannot put the ingredients together…put it in the oven and it is finished…it is a complex issue… so we try understand and explain what we can get in 1 year… in 4 years…10 yrs … and to see it as a process. In our experimentation we try to organize that…what are the goals and what can we get in these periods, so people can see what is happening in a process that takes time, so that they can see things are advancing…it is very important to bring to the community some visual marks … communication is an important process … and it is politically very important as well … they did such visualizations in public space … so that they can see what’s going on, because this social capital process can be very silent … sometime u don’t see it happening … Once a visitor went to Apprendiz… and said “what is learning neighbourhood? I thought there is something going on here?!”

“There are relationships here … you cannot see the network” … “…these are some of the strategies we have been developing.” (transcribed from the online video by the author, slight language changes were made):


This video

Biography of Natascha Costa:

UN-Habitat Best Practices Database:

An introduction to Aprendiz: Bairro Escola – with basic ideas and some slides to