The Danish Folk High School movement and similar institutions abroad have repeatedly shown how this form of education can serve as a powerhouse for engagement, agency, and democratic formation.
These qualities are highly sought-after in the context of the green transition of our society, both locally and globally.
So, how does the movement respond to the responsibility that comes with this ability?
"The work on sustainability has been budding at individual folk high schools for a long time. What we have done with the People's Future Lab - and several other new initiatives - is to structure and invest more energy into strengthening it so that we can have an even greater impact on the future. We have allowed it to grow from the grassroots, as folk high schools have always done," says Lisbeth Trinskjær, Chairperson of the Association of Folk High Schools, as we meet her on the premises.
In the festival's educational tent, alongside the interactive workshops, pedagogical debates and presentations by researchers and practitioners engaged in topics related to the practice and sustainable education of folk high schools can be observed.
Among the speakers is Marie Holt Richter, one of the authors of the upcoming publication "On Shaky Ground" - a book on sustainable education based on empirical evidence from danish folk high schools:
"The role of folk high schools, has from the beginning been about preparing Danes to be in the present that is unfolding. That was the motivation. Now we have a new situation in the world, and the folk high school provides many of the competencies needed: democratic education, solidarity, the ability to reflect on others' and one's own perspectives, visualize alternative futures, and think outside the box in terms of living one's life," she explains and continues:
"Living in community at a folk high school plays a crucial role: You cannot hide. You cannot give passionate speeches about reducing meat consumption and then go to the cafeteria and eat a large steak. You learn to be a part of the community and be responsible to the community, but also that the community has your back if you fail or feel insecure. Many sustainability students say that here they have a community to share their concerns without being a killjoy. So, there are many things that make the folk high school an ideal framework for sustainable education," she concludes.
We must learn to change
While the principle of 'living together' is theorized in the tent, it is happening in real-time at the festival site where students play music, chat, and share a cotton candy in the sun.
Linking the potential of folk high schools to community living and the free, playful approach to learning that is unique to this educational form is not an opinion held solely by Marie Holt Richter:
"It is crucial that we learn to change ourselves and learn how to transform our social practices, local communities, and society as a whole. Sustainable transformation is not easy. Many efforts fail because people do not know how to navigate in it. That's where education needs to help us become more skilled. But for that to happen, educational institutions themselves need to adapt. This is where folk high schools can play a special role because their free learning methods allow for experimentation," emphasized Jeppe Læssøe, Professor Emeritus from Aarhus University, during his speech at the opening of the festival earlier in the day.
And Peoples' Future Lab is a prime example of experimenting with the form. Over a two-year period, the project has worked to strengthen the pedagogical practices and global networks of folk high schools by connecting 10 Danish folk high schools with 10 similar institutions from around the world.
The schools have visited each other with their students, and the teachers have simultaneously participated in a teacher training course aimed at gathering experiences, inspiration, and insights across the educational form globally.
Mette Skamris is a teacher at the International People's College (IPC) in Helsingør and, together with her students, she has teamed up with Fircroft College of Adult Education located in Birmingham, England.
Throughout the process leading up to the camp days and the festival, the schools have specifically been able to exchange experiences regarding school gardens and have also had an overall focus on creating connections with nature:
"Many of both their students and ours haven't spent much time in nature, so it is somewhat unfamiliar yet absolutely necessary to see oneself as part of the sustainable transformation and as a change agent who cares about these matters," she explains.