Folk high school

Folk high schools (Danish: Folkehøjskole; Dutch: Volkshogeschool; Finnish: kansanopisto and työväenopisto or kansalaisopisto; German: Volkshochschule and (a few) Heimvolkshochschule; Norwegian: Folkehøgskole; Swedish: Folkhögskola; Hungarian: népfőiskola) are institutions for adult education that generally do not grant academic degrees, though certain courses might exist leading to that goal. They are most commonly found in Nordic countries and in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The concept originally came from the Danish writer, poet, philosopher, and pastor N. F. S. Grundtvig (1783–1872). Grundtvig was inspired by the Marquis de Condorcet's Report on the General Organization of Public Instruction which was written in 1792 during the French Revolution. The revolution had a direct influence on popular education in France. In the United States, a Danish folk school called Danebod was founded in Tyler, Minnesota.

Despite similar names and somewhat similar goals, the institutions in Germany and Sweden are quite different from those in Denmark and Norway. Folk high schools in Germany and Sweden are in fact much closer to the institutions known as folkeuniversitet in Norway and Denmark, which provide adult education. However, unlike the folkuniversitet, folk high schools in Sweden are not connected with a regular university. The Finnish adult education centers called työväenopisto and kansalaisopisto (Swedish: arbetarinstitut, literally workers' institute) are also part of the adult education tradition.

Other countries have also been inspired by Grundtvig's concept of popular education. In Nigeria, the United States, and India, a few schools have been built upon Grundtvig's principles for education.

Jämsän opisto
Christian Folk High School in Jämsä, Finland.


Grundtvig, regarded as the founder of the folk high school, received inspiration for the concept from the English boarding schools, but Grundtvig's focus was not on formal education but on popular education. The idea was to give the peasantry and other people from the lower echelons of society a higher educational level through personal development; what Grundtvig called "the living word". The language and history of the fatherland, its constitution and main industries (farming) along with folk songs should be the guiding principles for an education based on a Christian framework.[1]

The first folk high school was established in 1844 in Rødding, Denmark. The school in Rødding, however, was somewhat aristocratic as chiefly civil servants and rich farmers were enrolled.

Another pioneer for the folk high school was the teacher Christen Kold. His, for that time, highly unorthodox way of teaching gave the folk high schools a broader democratic basis in comparison to the initial religious focus. The teaching took place from November to March because students did farm work the rest of the year. Kold's goal was for students to return to the school regularly in the winter to continue their education. In the beginning only young men could attend the courses, but in 1861 young women also gained access to folk high schools when teaching began being offered from May to July. The men still only attended during winter.

The breakthrough for the idea was the Second War of Schleswig in 1864 when Denmark had to surrender a large part of its territory. This incident allowed the growth of a new Danish consciousness and nationalism based on enlightenment of the people. Denmark's loss of territory to Prussia hit the Danish national consciousness hard, but there was a group of young men determined to benefit from the disastrous war, which became a catalyst for a new Danish identity. They established folk high schools all around the country and by 1867 twenty-one folk high schools had opened. Almost everyone working at the folk high schools had been an apprentice of Grundtvig. In 1918 the number of folk high schools in Denmark had reached 68.

The modern folk high schools vary significantly. Some still have a religious focus but most of them are secular. The schools are still "Grundtvigian" folk high schools which means that their focus is on enlightenment, ethics, morality and democracy although they are not taught explicitly. The Grundtvigian philosophy is embedded in the teaching of various subjects, e.g. the arts, gymnastics, and journalism. Most of the schools have an area of expertise, for example sports, music, art or writing. Since no degree or diploma is awarded the teaching is freer and more informal than at ordinary educational institutions. Most Scandinavian folk high schools are boarding schools where the students live for 2–6 months.,[2] and some schools offer programs for an entire year.

The school and lifelong learning

Grundtvig fought for a school with popular education as the primary focus. The folk high school movement was an act against a conservative ideal of both education and culture. An act against an ideal of literacy and book-learning, a use of language unknown to common people and a learning ideal where the primary relation was between the individual and the book alone.

The movement therefore started as a row with the old school. Grundtvig fought for a public education as an alternative to the university elite. The folk high schools should be for those wanting to learn in general and to help people form part of human relations and society.

The folk high schools have changed naturally – some also radically – through time, but many of Grundtvig's core ideas about the folk high school are still to be found in the way they are run today. The folk high school of today is engaged in a complex modern reality and influenced both by national, international and global questions.

One of the main concepts still to be found at the folk high schools today is "lifelong learning". The schools should educate for life. They should shed light on basic questions surrounding life of people both as individuals and as members of society.

To Grundtvig the ideal was to give the students a sense of a common best and focusing on life as it really is. Therefore, Grundtvig never set down guidelines for the future schools or a detailed description of how they should be run. He declared that the folk high schools should be arranged and developed according to life as it is and the schools should not hold exams because the education and enlightenment was a sufficient reward.

The essential element was and is the life at the schools. A folk high school becomes what it is because of the individuals of which it is made. Learning happens across social positions and differences – the teacher learns from the student and vice versa in a living exchange and mutual teaching. For Grundtvig dialogue across differences was essential – the ideal was that people must learn to bear with the differences of each other before enlightenment can be realized.[3][4]


The character of folk high schools differ from country to country, but usually institutions have the following common features:

  • Large variety of subjects
  • No final exams
  • A focus on self-development
  • Pedagogical freedom
  • Courses last between a few months and one year, with per-course fees
  • No numerus clausus (entrance exams)

Especially in non-German speaking countries, the folk high schools may be boarding schools or may mainly offer courses for adults age 18–30.


In addition to the Nordic countries and Germany there are also folk high schools in Switzerland, Austria, and France.


The Grundtvig Folk High School (4815245143)
The Grundtvig Folk High School

The first folk high school was founded in Rødding, Denmark, in 1844. It began on the initiative of Christen Kold, who was a follower of Grundtvig. The school was inspired by the need to educate those not fortunate enough to have an education and the poor, or peasantry, who could not spare the time or the money to attend a university. Among the other old folk high schools in Denmark are Testrup Folk High School (founded 1866), Askov Højskole (founded 1865) and Ry Højskole (founded 1892) in Jutland; Vallekilde Folk High School in Zealand (founded 1865), and Rødkilde Højskole on Møn (founded 1866). The International People's College in Helsingør is unique among the Danish folk high schools in that it is the most international one in Denmark, with classes taught in English and teachers and students from countries all around the world attending.

There are around 70 folk high schools in Denmark. The principal subjects of instruction vary from the creative arts such as music, arts, design, writing, to intellectual courses such as religion, philosophy, literature and psychology. Some schools even have courses that specialize in sports. Tuition varies, but is typically around 1300 Danish kroner per week, including board and lodging.

In recent history, globalization has exercised an increasingly important influence on Danish schools. Many courses are open to foreigners as well as Danes, and many courses include travelling or voluntary stays in other countries as part of the curriculum.


In 1889, Sofia Hagman started the first folk high school in Finland in Kangasala.[5] Public, private, secular and religious folk high schools are common in Finland, and there are also worker's high schools, which are governed by the labor movement. There are 184 folk high schools in Finland, with an annual course attendance of 650,000, in 2 million hours of lessons, which are substantial numbers for a country of 5.5 million people.[6] Unlike in Finnish public education, there are tuition fees, per-course and per-lesson fees. The most common subjects are handicraft skills, music, languages, physical education, visual arts, theater and dance.[6]


In 1866, during the Second Empire, Jean Macé founded the Ligue de l'enseignement ("Teaching League"), which was devoted to popular instruction. Following the split between the Anarchists and the Marxists at the 1872 Hague Congress, popular education remained an important part of the workers' movement, especially in the anarcho-syndicalist movement which set up, with Fernand Pelloutier, various Bourses du travail centres, where workers gathered and discussed politics and sciences. The Jules Ferry laws that were passed in the 1880s established free, secular, mandatory public education as one of the founding principles of the Third Republic. In addition, many teachers were strong supporters of Alfred Dreyfus during the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s. Afterward, some teachers set up free educational lectures on humanist topics in order to struggle against the spread of anti-semitism in France.

Pdc université populaire amlr
List of lectures, Université populaire - town of Villeurbanne - 1936

In more recent times, following the 1981 presidential election Minister of Education Alain Savary supported Jean Lévi's initiative to create a public high school that would deliver the baccalauréat but would be organized on the principles of workers' self-management (or "autogestion"). This high school took the name Lycée autogéré de Paris (LAP).[7] The LAP was explicitly inspired by the secondary school Vitruve, which opened in 1962 in the 20th arrondissement of Paris (and is still active), Oslo Experimental High School, which opened in 1967 in Norway, and Saint-Nazaire Experimental High School, which opened six months before the LAP. Theoretical influences include the works of Célestin Freinet, Raymond Fonvieille, Fernand Oury, and other theoreticians of the institutional pedagogy, institutional analysis (René Lourau in particular), and institutional psychotherapeutic movements.

Germany, Switzerland and Austria

Deutscher Volkshochschul-Verband, VHS-Logo - Logo of the German adult education centre association
Logo of the association of the German folk high schools
Building of the Volkshochschule Düsseldorf and Stadtbibliothek Düsseldorf
Volkshochschule Düsseldorf 2016
Krems-Volkshochschule 7783
Volkshochschule Krems an der Donau

Folk high schools in Germany, Switzerland and Austria are usually funded on a local level and provide non-credit courses for adults in:

  • general education
  • vocational education
  • political education
  • German as a second language (especially for immigrants)
  • integration courses (especially for newly arrived refugees)
  • various foreign languages
  • various forms of art
  • information technology
  • health education
  • preparatory classes for school exams (especially for the Abitur or Matura)

This type of folk high school is currently most widespread in Germany. Because they offer preparatory classes for school exams, in Germany these schools also function as the equivalent of adult high schools in other countries. Germany also has folk high schools that are boarding schools, called Heimvolkshochschulen.


The first folk high school in Norway, Sagatun, was founded in 1864. As of 2012, there were 77 folk high schools spread across the country, thirty of which were Christian schools. Folk high schools provide opportunities in general education, primarily for young adults. These schools are different from lower secondary schools, upper secondary schools, and higher education. All students are eligible for normal financial aid. Some folk high schools are connected to some sort of organization, but a large number of them are owned by a foundation and some are owned by the county. Most courses last for one year, but a few schools give a second year course. Common course options include outdoor skills, land use skills, the arts such as photography or painting, music such as jazz or rock, Norwegian language & culture, and travel skills.


The first folk high schools in Sweden were established in 1868. The first school was open only to men, but already in 1870, the first folk high school for females was founded by Fredrique Paijkull.[8]

As of 2008, there are about 150 folk high schools throughout the country, most of which are situated in the countryside, often in remote areas. Tuition is free, and the students are eligible for normal financial aid for expenses such as accommodation and other school costs. After graduating, the students are eligible to study at a university.

Some schools, for example Södra Vätterbygdens Folkhögskola near Jönköping, cooperate with schools in other countries and have an exchange student program.


In 1998, the Grundtvig Movement of Nigeria led by Dr. Kachi Ozumba Snr. established Grundtvig International Secondary School, an independent co-educational secondary school built upon Grundtvig's principles for education.[9]

United States

Americans John C. Campbell and Olive Dame helped create a folk high school in rural Appalachia based on observations of European folk high schools.[10] The John C. Campbell Folk School opened in 1925 in Brasstown, North Carolina, and it is still offering classes today. Students can learn American traditional arts and crafts, including blacksmithing, ceramics, cooking, jewelry, dance and music.

Myles Horton, who co-founded the civil rights-focused Highlander Folk School in New Market, Tennessee in 1932,[11] was also inspired by the Danish folk high school movement, as can be read in his autobiography The Long Haul.

See also


  1. ^ "A brief history of the folk high school".
  2. ^ "The Danish Folk High School". Archived from the original on 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2009-06-24.
  3. ^ "A brief history of the folk high school -". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  4. ^ "Daily life at the folk high schools -". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  5. ^ kansallisbiografia Suomen kansallisbiografia (National Biography of Finland)
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ "Official website of the LAP". Archived from the original on 2007-03-14. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  8. ^ Paykull, släkt, urn:sbl:8076, Svenskt biografiskt lexikon (art av HG-m), hämtad 2014-01-17.
  9. ^ "Grundtvig International Secondary School -". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  10. ^ "John C. Campbell Folk School". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  11. ^

External links

Baptist Union of Norway

The Baptist Union of Norway (Norwegian: Det Norske Baptistsamfunn) is a national organization of Baptists in Norway. It is a union of 97 congregations with 10,283 adherents in total and 6,380 baptized members. As its members adhere to Congregationalism, the union is mostly occupied with integration, administrative tasks, international mission, and education. It owns Holtekilen Folk High School and half of the Norwegian School of Leadership and Theology. These and the administration are situated at Stabekk in Bærum.

The first Baptist congregation was founded in Skien in 1862. By 1879 there were fifteen congregations and the union was established. Originally funded by the Baptist Missionary Society, from the 1890s the organization instead align itself towards the United States. A seminary was founded in Oslo in 1910, five years after becoming a founding member of the Baptist World Alliance.

Deaconal University College, Aarhus

Deaconal University College (Danish: Diakonhoejskolen) is a folk high school and university college in Højbjerg; a southern district of Aarhus, Denmark.

Engelsholm Castle

Engelsholm Castle, overlooking Engelsholm Lake, is located 14 km west of Vejle in south-western Denmark. Originally a manor house which traces its history back to the 15th century, it now houses a folk high school.


Fosen is a traditional district in Trøndelag, consisting of the municipalities Osen, Roan, Åfjord, Bjugn, Ørland, Rissa, Agdenes, Snillfjord, Hemne, Hitra and Frøya. The district is dominated by forested valleys, lakes, coastal cliffs but also shallow areas, and in the interior mountains reaching up to 675 m elevation. The western coast has many skerries and some islands, such as Stokkøya in Åfjord. There are some good salmon rivers, and sea eagles and other sea birds are very common along the coast, notably on the shallow area near Ørland (Grandefjæra). The west coast has mild winters, and some locations (just west of the mountains) receive on average more than 2,000 mm of precipitation per year. Part of the Scandinavian coastal conifer forests (No: Kystgranskog) are located in the valleys of the peninsula, and smaller areas are classified as temperate rainforest with 67 nature reserves. The largest nature reserve is Øyenskavelen (5,316 hectare), with many nature types including undisturbed forest, some of it classified as rainforest.

Fosen also has a folkehøgskole (folk high school), Fosen Folkehøgskole. It teaches unusual subjects such as sailing and building traditional Norwegian boats (close to Viking ships), organic agriculture, traditional Norwegian arts and crafts, nature life, etc.


Haapavesi is a town and a municipality of Finland.

It is located in the North Ostrobothnia region. The town has a population of 6,895 (31 August 2018) and covers an area of 1,086.11 square kilometres (419.35 sq mi) of which 36.41 km2 (14.06 sq mi) is water. The population density is 6.57 inhabitants per square kilometre (17.0/sq mi). Neighbour municipalities are Haapajärvi, Kärsämäki, Nivala, Oulainen, Raahe, Siikalatva and Ylivieska.

The municipality is unilingually Finnish.

The town is known for the Haapavesi Folk Music Festival which gathers folkmusicians together.

At Haapavesi, there is a 327 metres (1,073 ft) tall guyed TV mast, which belongs to Finland's tallest man-made structures.

Hans Kristian Hogsnes

Hans Kristian Hogsnes (17 October 1954 – 30 December 2010) was a Norwegian journalist and politician for the Conservative Party.

He was born in Tønsberg, finished his secondary education here in 1973 before attending Rønningen Folk High School from 1973 to 1974. He worked in the newspaper Tønsbergs Blad from 1975 to 1981 and 1984 to 1995, and edited the Conservative Party official newspaper Høyres avis from 1981 to 1984.Hogsnes was a member of Sem municipal council from 1975 to 1987, serving as deputy mayor from 1985 to 1987. He also chaired the school board from 1983 to 1987. He then, from 1987 to 1991, became a member of the executive committee of Tønsberg city council, which succeeded Sem. From 1995 to 2001 he served as mayor of Tønsberg, and from 1999 to 2001 he chaired the county branch of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities. He chaired Vestfold Conservative Party from 1985 to 1991.He was elected to the Parliament of Norway from Vestfold in 2001, but was not re-elected in 2005. He was a member of the Standing Committee on Local Government. He had previously served as a deputy representative during the term 1985–1989.


Haslev, a town in Faxe municipality, lies in the southern part of Zealand, Denmark. About 60 km (37 mi) from Copenhagen, it has a population of 11,407 (1 January 2015).Haslev is popularly known as the school town with the green surroundings (skolebyen i det grønne). There are no less than six public schools, two boarding schools, a folk high school, and a technical school - as well as a college of education and a sixth-form college.

The estates and castles of Gisselfeld and Bregentved are close to Haslev.

Karl Vennberg

Karl Vennberg (11 April 1910 – 12 May 1995) was a Swedish poet, writer and translator. Born in Blädinge, Alvesta Municipality, Kronoberg County as the son of a farmer, Vennberg studied at Lund University and in Stockholm and worked as a teacher of Norwegian in a Stockholm folk high school. His first poem "Hymn och hunger" ("Hymn and Hunger") was published in 1937. During his career, he published 20 collections of poetry. His literary criticism had an important influence on the Swedish literary scene. He also translated literary works into Swedish, among others Franz Kafka's The Trial.

Generally considered a leading Swedish Modernist poet, several dissertations has been written about Vennberg's works. His poems are analytical but also often make use of irony. Vennberg is often said to be influenced by T. S. Eliot.


Krogerup Højskole (English: Krogerup Folk High School) is a folk high school located outside Humlebæk in Fredensborg-Humlebæk Municipality north of Copenhagen, Denmark. Founded in 1953, it is based in a former manor house built from 1772 to 1777.

Mullsjö Municipality

Mullsjö Municipality (Swedish: Mullsjö kommun) is a municipality in Jönköping County, southern Sweden. Its seat is in the locality of Mullsjö.

The municipality was formed in 1952 by the amalgamation of four former entities. In 1998 it was transferred from the dissolved Skaraborg County to Jönköping County.

The geography is known for its many lakes and canoeing waters. In the winter, one may enjoy winter sports activities such as cross-country and down-hill skiing.

There is also a folk high school in Mullsjö.

Rói Patursson

Rói Reynagarð Patursson (born 21 September 1947) is a Faroese writer and philosopher. He was also the director of the Folk High School of the Faroes.

He was born in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands. After attending the St. Frans School in Tórshavn and secondary school, Patursson went abroad from 1964 to 1965, afterwards taking various jobs in Tórshavn and Copenhagen. In 1968 he traveled across Europe, and afterwards he attended a Gymnasium until 1969.

From 1970 to 1985 he lived in Copenhagen, and in 1973 he married. He and his wife had a daughter in 1974, and a second daughter in 1981. In 1976 he began the study of philosophy at the University of Copenhagen, and received a Masters in 1985.

Having returned to the Faroes in 1985, he taught night school and at the University of the Faroe Islands, and made transmissions for Útvarp Føroya (Radio of the Faroes). In 1987 he received the post as docent at the Skrivekunst Akademiet in Bergen, Norway. Since 1988, he has led the Folk High School of the Faroes.

Rói Patursson's literary work includes prose and poetry. In 1986, he won The Nordic Council's Literature Prize for his poetry collection Líkasum (1985). This prize is awarded to only one author per year, and Paturrsson and William Heinesen are the only Faroese writers to win to date, Paturrsson in 1986 and Heinesen in 1965.

Rødkilde Højskole

Rødkilde Højskole is a folk high school just south of Stege on the Danish island of Møn. Founded in 1866, it is one of the older folk high schools in Denmark. Renamed Teaterhøjskolen Rødkilde (Theatre High School Rødkilde), it now offers both short (4 weeks) and longer (up to 22 weeks) courses for those wishing to learn more about the theatre, especially those aspiring to become actors. The main building by Ludvig Fenger, the student wing and the octagonal assembly building were listed on the Danish registry of protected buildings and places by the Danish Heritage Agency on 8 July 1982.

Sagatun Folk High School

Sagatun Folk High School (Norwegian: Sagatun folkehøyskole) was a folk high school in Hamar, Norway.

The first of its kind in Norway, it was founded by Herman Anker and Olaus Arvesen in 1864. The school building was erected around 1865, and drawn by architect Emil Victor Langlet. The school was disestablished in 1892, having been headed by Arvesen from 1873 to 1878 and 1880 to 1892.

Sagavoll Folk High School

Sagavoll folkehøgskole, Sagavoll Folk High School, is a Christian folk high school in Norway. It is situated in Gvarv, a small town in the municipality of Sauherad in the county of Telemark. The school was founded in 1893 in Notodden by Asbjørn Knutsen, but later moved to its current location in Gvarv.

It is an independent foundation, and is run by a board consisting of representatives from KRIK, Normisjon and KFUK-KFUM (the Norwegian YMCA/YWCA).


Seljord is a municipality in Telemark county, Norway. It is part of the traditional region of Vest-Telemark. The administrative centre of the municipality is the village of Seljord. The parish of Siljord was established as a municipality on 1 January 1838 (see formannskapsdistrikt).

Seljord is famous for its sea serpent, Selma, who allegedly lives in Lake Seljord (Seljordsvatnet).

The yearly Dyrsku'n market, held since 1866, attracts 60–80,000 visitors each year. The large fair started as a show of farm animals. Today it includes a huge market with vendors selling a variety of goods including base layer clothing, Bergans outdoors equipment, crafts, and food. Amusement rides are also featured.

Seljord Folkehøgskule is located in Seljord. The school offers a variety of courses including outdoor adventure, theater, music, and art.

Seljord Folk High School

Sverri Patursson

Sverri Patursson (1871–1960) was a Faroese writer, author, and journalist. He was also a translator, ornithologist and environmentalist.

Patursson was born in the village of Kirkjubøur on Streymoy, Faroe Islands. He attended Vallekilde Folk High School in Zealand in Denmark. Patursson worked as a journalist and his articles frequently featured Faroese wildlife with birds a principal focusr. He was devoted to make the Faroe Islands known, and his actions included writing tourist articles as a freelance journalist for the Scandinavian press. Patursson was also a translator and literary writer, and one of the first authors who wrote in Faroese.

Testrup Højskole

Testrup Højskole (or Testrup Folk High School) is a Danish Folk High School based on the philosophy of N. F. S. Grundtvig. It was founded in 1866 by theologist Jens Nørregård. The School is situated south of Aarhus in the small rural town of Testrup and offers five line subjects - music, drama, art, philosophy and creative writing. The headmaster since summer 2017 is Simon Axø.

Toneheim Folk High School

Toneheim Folk High School (Norwegian: Toneheim folkehøgskole) is a folk high school located in Hamar, Norway, which focuses on music.

During the 1994 Winter Olympics, it was part of the Hamar Olympic Subsite Village.

Vallekilde Folk High School

Vallekilde Folk High School (Danish: Vallekilde Højskole) is a Danish institution of adult education in the folk high school tradition. The school is located in the village of Vallekilde in Odsherred municipality on the island of Zealand.

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