DKK 200 million awarded for new natural science collaboration in Denmark

A new ambitious initiative involving university colleges, universities and schools in Denmark will contribute to raising the standard of natural science education for children and young people. The Novo Nordisk Foundation and VILLUM FONDEN are donating DKK 200 million to the project, which will boost the education of natural science teachers across the whole educational chain.

About NAFA

The Novo Nordisk Foundation and VILLUM FONDEN have awarded DKK 200 million for NAFA. The programme duration is 2021–2028.

NAFA’s purpose is to encourage motivational and rewarding natural science teaching in primary and lower-secondary schools by strengthening the education of natural science teachers.

NAFA comprises three core initiatives: developing models for building competencies in primary and lower-secondary schools; capacity-building in teacher education; and research on the didactics of natural science.

The NAFA consortium covers all of Denmark and includes 11 partners: six university colleges, four universities and ASTRA – Denmark’s national Centre for Science Education.

NAFA will collaborate with 200 primary and lower-secondary schools in 30 of Denmark’s municipalities for the duration of the programme.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation and VILLUM FONDEN have just awarded DKK 200 million to Science Academy NAFA (Naturfagsakademiet NAFA).

NAFA is a new programme in Denmark that will encourage motivational and rewarding natural science teaching in primary and lower-secondary schools by strengthening the education of current and future natural science teachers.

In a formal collaboration, the programme includes all of Denmark’s university colleges, four universities, ASTRA – Denmark’s national Centre for Science Education and more than 200 schools in 30 municipalities.

“For me, the unique feature of NAFA is that we strengthen the common thread between all levels from school to teacher education and research. With NAFA, we are creating long-term and sustainable capacity-building in all the aspects that will make a difference to natural science teaching in Denmark for many years to come,” says Stefan Hermann, President of University Colleges Denmark and Vice-Chancellor, University College Copenhagen.

The background for NAFA includes the educational communities experiencing that children and young people’s interest in natural science declines during their formal schooling. In 2018, a study showed that average interest in science falls by one quarter between grades 4–6 and grades 7–9, especially among girls. By comparison, young people’s interest in other subject areas only falls by about 10%  (Think Tank DEA, 2018: Report, in Danish). 

Natural science teachers in focus

NAFA intends to fulfil its ambitious goal of encouraging motivational and rewarding natural science teaching through three major initiatives.

  • Science teaching in primary and lower-secondary schools will be strengthened by developing sustainable models for the continuing and further education of science teachers in collaboration with the municipalities in Denmark.
  • The education of science teachers will be strengthened by developing the competencies of teacher training educators at university colleges and through offers targeting students in teacher education.
  • Research-based knowledge about natural science teaching and natural science didactics will be strengthened by establishing the Center of Excellence in Science Education (CESE), which will link research at universities and the didactic practice of the educators in teacher education and in the classroom.

“Natural science teaching needs a robust boost, especially given the fundamental importance and urgent topicality of the green transition,” says Stefan Hermann, who welcomes the interest and support provided by the two foundations.

Berith Bjørnholm, Head of the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s grants within education and outreach, says: “The Novo Nordisk Foundation wants to strengthen children’s and young people’s motivation for science and technology. Teachers play a crucial role in this. By supporting NAFA, we will contribute to the long-term strengthening of both education and in-service training of science teachers at teacher training colleges and in primary and lower-secondary schools. We are excited that this initiative is based on ambitious collaboration across the education chain.”

VILLUM FONDEN also praises the project and has high expectations. “It is great that all university colleges in Denmark have joined forces to strengthen the natural science teacher training communities at a cross-disciplinary level and to create good models for in-service training of teachers in schools. The collaboration with the universities will also sow the seeds for creating very exciting research and development projects. VILLUM FONDEN is delighted to be supporting the initiative, which will certainly provide a good foundation for children and young people in Denmark when they seek to solve the great challenges in the society of the future,” says Agi Csonka, who leads VILLUM FONDEN’s grant area focusing on children, young people and natural science.

NAFA is expected to launch on 1 August 2021 and will run until summer 2028.

What do NAFA’s partners and participants say?

Jon Lissner, Principal of Trekronerskolen in Roskilde and former natural science teacher and coordinator:
“NAFA is a gift for natural science teaching. The collaboration between university colleges and universities will create real professionalism right down to the classroom. At our school and generally in Roskilde, we actively develop strategic capacity to boost the academic competencies of both teachers and students – beginning with teaching of the natural sciences and technology. NAFA can play a crucial role in achieving this.”

Mikkel Bohm, Director of ASTRA – Denmark’s national Centre for Science Education:
“At ASTRA, we are very excited about the strong and long-term collaboration that has now been created in NAFA. The most important single factor in boosting students’ science education is well-trained teachers – and this is exactly where NAFA fits in for both current and future teachers. This is a big day for natural science in Denmark.”

Martin Sillasen, Docent in Natural Science and Senior Associate Professor in Teacher Training, VIA University College Aarhus:
“I look forward to participating in NAFA, both as an educator of teachers and as a researcher at a university college. To me, the unique thing about NAFA is that the science communities throughout Denmark will collaborate on a common agenda – so that together we can contribute to the best research being available and translated into the practice of teaching natural science. Especially in teacher education, I believe that a systematic approach to developing competencies across Denmark can really make a difference.”

Jan Alexis, Head, Department of Science Education, University of Copenhagen:
“I think that NAFA has great potential for strengthening and linking the science education communities at the universities and university colleges even closer together. This will enable research to be based on the current needs in primary and lower-secondary schools. More importantly, this ensures that the knowledge produced in and outside NAFA will be translated more often into practice in primary and lower-secondary schools and in the education of teachers to benefit both future teachers and experienced teachers in the schools. In addition, NAFA will boost research on natural science education to an even more prominent international position.”

Gitte Sommer Harrits, Vice-Chancellor, VIA University College Aarhus and future Chair of the NAFA steering committee:
“The unique aspect of NAFA is that we are investing in such an ambitious project for transferring knowledge across disciplines and across the university colleges and universities. We will learn a lot from this, and we can then take this experience with us for educating teachers in language subjects and the teaching of Danish and mathematics. This experience may even benefit other educational programmes provided by the university colleges, such as those for early childhood educators and nurses.”

Jakob Harder, Dean, Faculty of Teacher Education, University College Copenhagen (the host institution for NAFA):
“We have had an exemplary dialogue with the foundations, and they supported the idea of a project with long-term ambitions right from the start. The foundations have provided important input and constructive criticism throughout the process, and we hope that they will continue to do so throughout the programme’s duration. But we have also had a clear sense of them being at arm’s length and respecting our professionalism and freedom to formulate NAFA’s goals and content.”

Press contacts
  • Jakob Harder, Dean, Faculty of Teacher Education, University College Copenhagen, +45 2173 1819, jhar@kp.dk
  • Gitte Sommer Harrits, Vice-Chancellor, VIA University College Aarhus, +45 8755 1876, gish@via.dk
  • Jan Alexis, Head, Department of Science Education, University of Copenhagen, +45 3137 1936, janielsen@ind.ku.dk
  • Martin Sillasen, Docent in Natural Science and Senior Associate Professor in Teacher Training, VIA University College, +45 6118 9118, msil@via.dk
  • Mikkel Bohm, Director, ASTRA – Denmark’s national Centre for Science Education, +45 2022 4633, mb@astra.dk
  • Niels Halfdan Hansen, Communication Specialist, University College Copenhagen, +45 4189 7467, nhha@kp.dk
  • Christian Mostrup, Senior Programme Lead, Novo Nordisk Foundation, +45 3067 4805, cims@novo.dk
  • Anna Høxbro Bak, Communications Adviser, VILLUM FONDEN, +45 2264 0355, aba@veluxfoundations.dk