Education in Greenland
Director of Inerisaavik
Greenland is the world's largest island, 2,175,600 square
kilometres in area, of which 1,833,900 sq km is locked into the
glacial icecap. The land is characterized by deeply indented fjords
and high mountains. The length of the longest fjord is fully 400
kilometres, and the highest mountain rises 3,733 metres. Some of the
fjords have active glaciers which produce the largest icebergs in the
northern hemisphere. The coastal waters and the non-glaciated land
support a variety of fish, sea mammals, birds and mammals.
Greenland's present population is believed to have originated with
the Inuit of Northern Alaska, who migrated to Greenland approximately
1,000 years ago. The land had previously been populated by various
North American cultures and by Vikings from Iceland but, presumably
owing to climatic changes, it has been the present Inuit population
who have survived. There are also approximately 10,000 Danish
residents in the country.
The population is now about 56,000 of which 14,000 reside in the
capital city, Nuuk. The principal occupations are fishing and the
hunting of birds and sea mammals. In South Greenland there is a
modest amount of farming concentrating on the raising of sheep
supplemented by some fishing. New occupational activities centre
around tourism, which is gaining a foothold in some places.
The country's official language is Greenlandic, an Inuit language
which is related to the Inuit languages of North America but, owing
to the influx of Danes, the Danish language predominates in
administration, the media and education.
Greenland, which became an autonomous province of the Danish
Commonwealth in 1979, is governed by a Legislative Assembly with 27
members. The eighteen individual municipalities are administered by
locally elected officials. The Legislative Assembly sets the
framework within which all local laws are enacted, but foreign policy
and the justice system are administered in cooperation with the
Danish authorities. As a member of the Danish Commonwealth, Greenland
has in addition two Seats in the Danish Parliament.
A Historical Overview of Education in
Danish colonization of Greenland began in 1721 with the
establishment of a Danish mission and the conversion and baptism of
the population. The Lutheran Protestant missionaries were greatly
concerned that the Christian population be able to read the Bible and
other religious works, and so schools were established. In 1724, two
Greenlanders were sent to Denmark to learn the language and customs
of the country.
In the early period of the colonization some school teachers were
Danish catechists and missionaries who, because of inadequate
education and linguistic abilities, were not successful in serving
the needs of the population. Therefore, in 1845 a teachers' college,
Ilinniarfissuaq, was established to educate Greenlanders to this
In his diary of 1844-49 Janssen, a missionary who tutored
Greenlandic catechists, wrote, "The catechist asked for permission to
dismiss the school in order to go out in his kayak to collect birds'
eggs. He is 54 years old, a competent teacher and a capable choir
leader" (Peter Berliner, 1987). On June second, 1844, in Maniitsoq,
Janssen observed students in class and wrote, "The weather was rather
mild, and we sat during the midday hours with the windows open. We
were four hours at lessons, and the children's proficiency was rather
according to expectations; they all learned to read, write and do
arithmetic as well as learning the textbook, the Bible story book,
and the catechism by heart. Some of the older students were able to
read fluently - better than the young carpenter on the ship" (ibid.).
In 1905 a School Act was promulgated, the teachers' college
greatly enlarged, and some young Greenlanders sent for further
education to Denmark.
Concerning the 1920's, Christian Berthelsen, the first Greenlander
to become a School Director, related, "About the textbooks we had, I
can remember a Greenlandic reader, a book of Bible stories, the
catechism, hymn book and a history of Denmark. I was promoted to the
class for older students in the middle of the school year. Evidently
I was all of a sudden mature enough for that. I can clearly remember
my first history lesson. It was concerning Christopher the second,
and I learnt it all by heart, and I knew the piece by heart many
years later" (ibid.).
"Our teacher didn't neglect geography, and in Danish history we
learnt the succession of Danish kings. World history with the
migration of ethnic groups and the first World War were also among
the subjects. On the other hand we didn't hear so much concerning the
history of Greenland. We learned little in mathematics over and above
the four arithmetical skills" (ibid.).
In 1928 the Danish language was introduced as a school subject in
Greenland. Concerning the teaching of Danish Berthelsen wrote, "I was
among those who experienced the beginning of Danish instruction in
the public school. It was two years before I left the public school
when Bugge's Danish textbook with Hans Lynge's illustrations was
published. It was a school book that really made a hit because it
opened a new world for us, and because it was illustrated with
In the 1930's prominent Greenlanders began to work toward the
ending of Greenland's colonial status. The few Greenlanders who had
received permission to travel To Denmark also criticised the schools
for being too antiquated to rise to the challenges facing Greenland
in conjunction with the transition from traditional hunting activity
to the fishing industry. There was the desire for more and better
instruction in the Danish language and for increased academic
performance in the educational system. However the criticism that was
directed against the schools of the period did not result in
substantial changes for either the schools or for the training of
The Second World War and the United Nation's policy concerning the
phasing out of colonial possessions had consequences for the
political administrators of Greenland. With the changes to the Danish
Constitution in 1953 Greenland became an equal part - a county - of
Denmark. The end of the colonial period and the transition to a free
democratic society brought about the need for substantial changes in
the institutions of the society. The content of schools and education
was gradually brought in line with Danish standards. In order to
implement the changes teachers and administrators from Denmark were
hired. As far as the public schools were concerned the Greenlandic
School Act of 1967 was almost identical to the Danish public school
law, and the Danish law concerning teacher education was applied to
Ilinniarfissuaq in 1964, though with a few adjustments to the needs
of Greenlandic society. In order to accommodate the public schools'
need to train Greenlandic teachers, a temporary two year teacher
training program was begun in 1973. This arrangement continued with
legal status until the end of the '70's. In the vocational education
field Danish derived training was gradually introduced in Greenland
with cooperation between Greenlandic and Danish authorities.
The first political action after the establishment of Home Rule in
1979 was the enactment of a new school statute, in which it was
stipulated that the language of instruction should be Greenlandic.
There was also the stipulation that the contents of the school
subjects should to a greater extent be adjusted to the needs of
Greenlandic society. An obligatory nine year elementary and middle
school were established, upon completion of which students could
choose to attend a two year "Continuation School", completion of
which would confer a public school diploma. If students had the need
for further qualifications, they could choose to continue in a
"Course School" and receive instruction that met their needs.
The gradual improvement in instruction in the public school
resulted in the need for the introduction of high school/college
training in Greenland. A two year Danish "Adult Education" course,
with substantial accommodations to Greenlandic culture was introduced
at Ilinniarfissuaq in Nuuk in 1977. A few years later high
school/college training courses in Aasiaat and Qaqortoq were also
In 1981 the Legislative Assembly adopted a new executive order on
teacher training at Ilinniarfissuaq. The revised course was a four
year arrangement, in which was included a one year practicum at a
school in Greenland. In order to increase the number of Greenlandic
speaking teachers during the '80's various gradual alterations to the
standard training program were initiated. Specific arrangements for
teaching assistants and kindergarten teachers who had attended to
educational tasks in the public schools for a number of years were
The Current Situation of Education in
With the advent of Home Rule in 1979 there had been appointed a
minister for culture and education. At the present time the
minister's responsibilities have been expanded to include culture,
education and research. A deputy minister manages the daily operation
and administration of the directorate, which is divided into two
units run by deputy directors, the one looking after the management
of vocational education, and the other looking after the public
school, high school/college, Ilinniarfissuaq, Ilisimatusarfik,
Inerisaavik /Pilersuiffik and research.
The Public School
Following a comprehensive commission investigation in which
parents, members of school boards and local politicians got the
opportunity to express themselves, a new School Act was adopted in
1990. The intention behind the preparation of the School Act was that
the quality of public school instruction and the benefit to the
students should steadily develop. The Act also stipulates that Danish
speaking students shall be integrated into Greenlandic speaking
classes, beginning with Grade 1 in the school year 1994/95.
The public school in Greenland is operated as a municipal school.
The Legislative Assembly provides the legal standards and operating
rules for the school and its administrators. The individual municipal
authorities guide the students' daily work, and for each school is
provided a school board, which ensures the influence of parents in
the daily activities of the school, as its electorate is composed
solely of parents. Economic support for the schools is provided to
the municipalities by way of grants from the Legislative Assembly.
The administrative and pedagogic management of the schools is
handled by a municipal school principal. The remaining town schools
or settlement schools are directed by a principal if the school is
large enough. Smaller schools are directed by a head teacher.
There were in all 9,785 students in 753 classes in the school year
1992/93. The students were distributed among 24 town schools, 62
settlement schools and one school for the specially handicapped. In
addition there is provision for home instruction for children living
on isolated sheep farms and in hunting areas.
Students who find it difficult to live at home while attending
school may live in student residences which house students from
within the settlements of the municipality.
In the school year 1992/93 was assembled an instructional force of
835 persons, although there were employed 219 hourly teaching
assistants who attended to instruction corresponding to 139 full time
The composition of teaching personnel for the school
Greenlandic hourly instructors teaching a total of 3040
Danish hourly instructors teaching a total of 713 hours
School administrators for 1992/93:
Source: Den Grønlandske Folkeskole,
The number of Greenlandic teachers will increase within the next
few years and the number of hourly instructional assistants will
decrease correspondingly. The steadily improving public school
instruction ensures a growing number of students at the high
school/college level, and this development has resulted in an
increased number of recruitment possibilities for teacher education
During the '80's vocational education was decentralised with the
establishment of local vocational schools in individual towns. The
intention was to ensure a more local orientation in vocational
education, create more educational centres and create possibilities
for the rapidly increasing number of members of the society seeking
education, to establish better cooperation among school
administrators and more training sites, and to ensure a continuity in
the career development of the country's youth. The local vocational
schools have proven successful in many areas, giving young people
basic technical knowledge, skills and positive attitudes within the
area of training they have chosen. A two year educational residence
at a local vocational school gives youths the qualifications to be
"trainee" workers in their field and also gives them the possibility
of completing their education at a two year "trainee" school with the
writing of a journeyman's exam.
Greenlandic Language Instructional
As the Greenlandic language is spoken by only approximately 50,000
people, there is a strong tradition among teachers in Greenland for
the individual development of instructional materials, but
instructional materials in the Greenlandic language have published,
since the beginning of formal education in the previous century. In
the lower classes there is a supply of good instructional materials
in Greenlandic in all subjects, but the higher classes to a greater
extent must make use of Danish language materials. At this time
various educational materials are published in Greenlandic and Danish
by the Greenlandic publishing house, Attuakkiorfik.
Pilersuiffik, Greenland's centre for the distribution of
educational materials, produces and distributes video and sound
media, as well as school radio and television materials for
Greenlandic children. Teachers can also request information and
materials, literature and specific materials for the solution of
particular instructional problems.
Inerisaavik: Centre for Pedagogical
Development and In-service Teacher Training
The establishment of Inerisaavik is linked with the adoption of
the School Act of October 25, 1990. Inerisaavik's main objectives are
to contribute to the fulfillment of the act's educational goals and
to insure that teaching methods and practices will continue to
develop in accordance with the development of society.
In order to determine Inerisaavik's direction, administration,
organization and function the following goals were determined for
Inerisaavik (Karl Kristian Olsen, 1991):
- the development of educational methods to benefit the
individual teacher and student
- the implementation of developmental projects in the individual
- the development and testing of new educational material;
- the development of curricula
- preparation of educational guides for the various public
- the coordination, planning, implementation and evaluation of
in-service courses and further training for all educators and
administrators in the public school system.
For the management of Inerisaavik, a steering group has been
designated with the following composition: the head of the
Directorate of Culture, Education and Research (chairman), the head
of the Directorate's public school section, the rector of
Ilinniarfissuaq and the director of Inerisaavik.
Teacher Training- Ilinniarfissuaq
Teacher training in Greenland has a proud 150 year history. The
present teacher training law was enacted in 1989. Teacher training at
Ilinniarfissuaq can progress through a three year campus based
program or a four year field-based program of which the last year is
completed on campus at Ilinniarfissuaq.
In the last four decades Greenland has had a continuing lack of
Greenlandic speaking teachers. However, the steadily improving level
of instruction in the society has brought about an increase in
recruitment possibilities for teacher training.
In-service and Post-employment Training of
Through cooperation among the Directorate of Culture, Education
and Research, Ilinniarfissuaq, Inerisaavik, Pilersuiffik and the
teachers' professional organisations a yearly catalogue of courses is
produced, giving the various possibilities for education. The
content, form, extent and target group of the courses vary greatly.
There are distance education courses, internal courses, local courses
and various forms for study groups, etc. Besides courses in
Greenland, students can also apply for one-year courses at the Royal
School of Education in Denmark. At the Royal School of Education
teachers can perfect their abilities in praxis related courses, but
they can also study for B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. A new course
offering at Ilinniarfissuaq will be a one-year course in native
language education for the 1994/95 school year.
Ilisimatusarfik - Greenland's
Ilisimatusarfik, Greenland's university, began as the Inuit
Institute in 1983, offering two year studies in Greenlandic grammar,
Greenlandic literature, Greenlandic history, and in political science
within a Greenlandic framework. The examination was at the B.A.
In 1989 the Inuit Institute Act was replaced by an act setting up
Ilisimatusarfik. Greenland's university is divided into three
departments, of Greenlandic Language and Literature, of Culture and
Society and of Administration. All departments offer studies leading
to examinations at the B.A. and M.A. levels. Before the students
begin their study in a particular department they must pass an
introductory year. Only Greenlandic speaking students who have
graduated from High School are accepted as students. 13 to 18
students have enrolled in Ilisimatusarfik each year since its
founding, to a total of 60 students in 1992.
Greenlandic Students at Danish
In the last decade the number of Greenlandic students at Danish
universities has increased, owing to the fact that the Home Rule
government provides good support for all who seek education. Youth
receive stipends as long as they continue their education; moreover
they receive support for housing and book expenses, and the cost of
one holiday trip to their home town per year.
The Greenlandic students at Danish universities were divided up as
follows in 1992:
Technical and scientific studies:
Administrative data processing
Medical and scientific studies:
Source: Karsten Rosendahl, Koordinationsgruppen vedr. de
videregaende uddannelser, Direktoratet for Uddannelse, Kultur og
The Home Rule Government has also prepared the way for students,
should they so choose, to go to North American colleges and
universities. In 1992 there were a total of 17 students in North
America. Ilisimatusarfik has in recent years entered into cooperation
with universities in Scandinavia and North America, which has had the
result that students who have been at Ilisimatusarfik for some
semesters can study in Scandinavian and North American universities.
The political goal of the creation of an autonomous Greenlandic
educational system with culturally negotiated institutions is
undergoing a process of evolutionary change in these years. In the
ten years since the achievement of home rule the politicians,
administrators, parents and students have, through their
participation in the local political process, acquired the tools for
reconciling the external needs of the ever changing complex world and
the cultural and educational needs of the modern autonomous
The post-colonial evolution of political reality has given rise to
a pattern of pedagogical development concerning instruction in the
public schools in which teachers, students and parents have obtained
extended ownership of the institution through participation in the
planning, implementation and evaluating of the learning process.
Peter Berliner, Afha ngighed og Udfordring,
Peter Berliner, Skole og Samfund, DLH, 1986
Christian Berthelsen, Træk fra den grønlandske
skoles udvikling, Selskabet for dansk skolehistorie, DLH, 1979.
Den Grønlandske Folkeskole, Direktoratet for Kultur,
uddannelse og Arbejdsmarked, Pilersuiffik 1993.
Mikael Gam, Kalaallit Nunaanni Atuarfik, Bianco Lunos
Mads Lidegaard, Kristendommen og den eskimoiske kultur,
Tidsskriftet Grønland, 1991.
Karl Kristian Olsen, Inerisaavik - en ny institution, Nyt fra
PI nr. 3, Inerisaavik/Pilersuiffik 1991.
Karl Kristian Olsen, The Field-based Teacher Education Program
in Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), Proceedings of the Circumpolar
Conference on Literacy, Department of Education, NWT, 1992.
Karsten Rosendahl, Koordinationsgruppen vedr. de videregaende
uddannenser, Direktoratet for Uddannelse, Kultur og