A collection of my ideas and experiences while studying at the University of Groningen and observing local foreign language classes. This amazing opportunity is provided by the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program.
The Dutch School System
During my first week in the Netherlands, I discovered that it was going to take some time for me to get a handle on the way the education system works. At this point, after almost four months, I feel more or less ready to write this post. Dutch readers, feel free to correct me if I still haven’t got it right!
Private schools are very rare in the Netherlands. When I have told classes here that I teach in a private school, I usually have to explain what that means. When I mention that I teach only boys, general confusion and dismay ensues. However, the state school system does allow for a much wider variety of school types than the US system does. It seems that a school can decide on the method that it would like to use (e.g. Montessori) and also whether it wants to have a specific religious context. As long as certain educational objectives are met, all schools receive government funding.
Dutch children have to start school at the age of 5, although many little ones begin when they are 4 years old. I have visited a few elementary schools during my time here and have been struck by the amount of time for play that children have, especially in the first few years of school. Elementary school students start learning English around the age of 10, although some start much earlier. I had the pleasure of visiting a class of 5 year olds who were starting to learn English. They were so excited to practice on me!
At the age of 12, when students leave the elementary school, they generally take a test. This test, along with teacher and parental feedback, establishes which of the streams of secondary education they should enter. There are three streams: VWO, HAVO, and VMBO.
VWO, voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs, is the pre-university stream. Students who graduate from this 6 year stream with passing grades are eligible for admission into the Dutch university system. Within VWO there are three different tiers: regular, gymnasium and bilingual education. At the gymnasium schools, students are required to study both Latin and Greek. The bilingual schools are really cool. They are required to teach 50% of their subject area classes in English. During the first 3 years, students take a core set of classes. During the last 3 years, students select a particular “profile” of classes although there are some requirement for all students. They have 4 profiles to choose from:
1) Culture and Society – emphasis is on the arts and languages
2) Economy and Society – emphasis on social sciences, history, and economics
3) Nature and Health – emphasis on biology and other natural sciences
4) Nature and Technology – emphasis on natural and physical sciences
HAVO, hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs, is the general secondary education stream Students attend HAVO for 5 years, until they are 17 and are then eligible to go to a university of applied science.
VMBO, voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs, is the pre-vocational stream. This stream last 4 years, and, as you may have come to expect, has some different routes to completion. These routes differ in the ratio of theoretical training to practical vocational training. Students who complete this stream are eligible to go directly into the work force or to a specialized vocational school.
So, there you have it… in a nutshell. I’d love to hear what you think about this system that differs quite a bit from the system in the United States.