Empty classrooms are not an unusual sight at Ørestad Gymnasium, a pioneering high school in Copenhagen. Instead, pupils can be found in “open learning” spaces; flexible structures with moveable walls, which enable students to be aware of each other at all times, aiding a progressive education.

Teachers at Ørestad act not as pedagogues but as coaches, with students given feedback rather than more formal instruction. “It’s about students not just consuming knowledge but also being producers of knowledge,” explains Allan Kjaer Andersen, Rector. “On a normal day, half of the lessons will be in a traditional classroom and the other half in open learning. The pupils could be in groups making a movie about the subject they’re learning, for example. Instead of listening to a teacher standing up and dictating, the students learn on their own terms.”


Learning through technology

Central to this vision is an emphasis on technology. Opened in 2005, the school was one of the first in the world to go entirely digital. All learning materials are now on the internet so any of its 1,100 pupils, who are aged 16 to 19, can access them at any time. Lessons are often organised on the Google Sites service, as are all activities at Ørestad.

In addition to achieving excellent examination grades, Ørestad pupils are also encouraged to develop as individuals who can make a contribution to the outside world. On a recent study trip, for example, one class learning about media visited a small Irish village and carried out interviews with the residents. The results were videoed by the teenagers to create mini-documentaries.

“They weren’t just there as tourists – they were engaging local people,” says Andersen. “Our vision is for our students to become global citizens, to transform knowledge into action and change the world. We want our young people to feel self-assured enough to do this, to collaborate with others and solve problems in their own communities.”


Future leaders

This dedication to preparing students for the future and to be active citizens has led to global recognition for Ørestad. In 2016, it was chosen by a special committee to become a member of the Ashoka, an organisation founded by US entrepreneur Bill Drayton to achieve social change.

Ashoka’s “changemaker” programme, which helps foster empathy, creativity, leadership and teamwork, is now key to the school’s approach. As part of this, students are educated to become future leaders. Each class has three representatives – one to sit on the student council, another to focus on learning results and a third to ensure students thrive in class. Training is provided to help these young people make a difference to life and learning at Ørestad.

“We want to create an atmosphere where students can shape the school, not wait for grown-ups to design everything,” says Andersen. “It can be tough. They may encounter a teacher who isn’t doing a great job in some way and have to let them know this without alienating them. But it teaches young people responsibility, how to cope with real-life situations and problems. And that’s priceless.”

It is not just the teachers at Ørestad who are helping to stimulate new ways of thinking. The students are too. Which is why this forward-thinking institution truly does break down barriers – or walls – to learning.