Folk Schools: Adult Education

Background & History

Folk schools offer a variety of subjects and their common theme is the delivery of educational programs where the learner focuses on their own interests, abilities and personal growth. True learning occurs as the learners engage in subjects that really interest and motivate them. The aim of folk school is to challenge the whole person.

The concept of Folk school originally came from the Danish writer, poet, philosopher and pastor N. F. S. Grundtvig (1783–1872).

“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” (Wikipedia, 2016).

What is a Folk School?

Educational Aims

The Folk School Alliance (2016) brief history on Folk Schools explain that: “Steven Borish, a Grundtvig scholar, proposes four lessons that folk schools have to offer:

  1.  Real education begins with the communication of a sense of personal mission and purpose, and the belief that everyone has the ability to acquire the skills and knowledge to accomplish that mission.
  2. The principle of folkelighed, offers an alternative to nationalism. It is a form of patriotism that values culture and identity while emphasizing that other nations and cultures are equally as valued.
  3. Education should be for all aspects of life and lifelong.
  4. The movement that gave rise to folk schools was local, decentralized, and grassroots.”

Location of Folk Schools

  • Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden)
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Austria
  • USA

Traits of Folk Schools

  • for adults.
  • free.
  • no exams, marks or grades.
  • variety of subjects to choose.
  • face to face.
  • boarding school concept: a community.
  • personal growth.
  • teaching: same level dialogue.
  • students bring their experience.
  • non-formal education approach.

1800’s Theory: Relevancy In Today’s World?

  • Fits in with lifelong learning.
  • Fits in with personal learning networks
  • Fits in with Wenger’s (social learning theory)
  • “Schools for Life” theory by Grundtvig.
  • Free: cost effective approach to education for learners.


Borish, S. (1991). Land of the living: Danish folk high schools and Denmark’s nonviolent path to modernization. Nevada City, CA: Blue Dolphin.

Smith, M. K. (1996). ‘The development of folk high schools’, the encyclopaedia of informal education.

The Folk School Alliance (2016) A Brief History of Folk Schools.

Wikipedia (2016) Folk High School.