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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.7 “Learning to participate” through formal, non-formal and informal learning

Last update: 28 November 2023
On this page
  1. Policy Framework
  2. Formal learning
  3. Non-formal and informal learning
  4. Quality assurance/quality guidelines for non-formal learning
  5. Educators' support

Policy Framework

In 2003 the Onderwijsraad (Education Council) (only in Dutch) proposed to implement citizenship in a legal framework. This advice was conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The Onderwijsinspectie (Inspectorate of Education) has a monitoring function in this field. There is a policy framework regarding social and civic competences, but the educational institutions are free to work out these subjects at their own preference.

An examination of the Inspectorate of Education (only in Dutch) led to a few important conclusions that should be mentioned here. Firstly, generally the schools score positive in the field of  social and civic competences. But, secondly, there are schools that do not work very purposefully towards achieving  social and civic competences.

Because of this the State Secretary answers in the Kamerbrief 2016 (only in Dutch) (Letter of the House of Representatives) that he will investigate this and will ask for advice. This all has resulted in a Platform called #Onderwijs2032 (only in Dutch) (#Education2032).

More information on this Platform  can be found on their website:

This advice (only in Dutch) in #Onderwijs2032 (#Education2032) is based on societal dialogue, the current Dutch Education field, international examples and scientific insights. At the request of the Platform, the OECD has also written papers on four themes:

  • Knowledge and skills for learning and working
  • Social tools
  • Personal development
  • Principles for designing a curriculum

What framework of reference for social and civic competences is used and which target groups are defined

In 2003 the Onderwijsraad (Education Council) suggested to legally establish citizenship. The advice Onderwijs en Burgerschap (Education and citizenship) was implemented in 2003. In 2004 the Education Council aimed to bring European Citizenship to the attention of the general public.
In secondary education knowledge of Europe is a key subject. After having implemented the law, the minister of Education, Culture and Science asked for an evaluation. In 2011 the Education Council examined in which ways schools can be supported in their civics education  tasks. With the report of the Inspectorate of Education, these conclusions resulted in the Platform #Education2032.
Please see previous section for information on this platform.

No specific target groups have been defined. The publication of the Onderwijs Inspectie (Inspectorate of Education) (only in Dutch) focuses on all pupils. However, they do mention that increasing these competences will help a specific group such as non-Dutch children to overcome some disadvantages they have.


Formal learning

The Inspectorate of Education (Inspectie van het Onderwijs) in its report ‘The State of Education in the Netherlands 2013/2014’ (De Staat van het Onderwijs: Onderwijsverslag 2013/2014) reports that most schools meet the minimum requirements for civics education. But there is little development in civics education. Schools have the freedom to fill in their own curriculum with regard to civics. There is hardly any information in laws and regulations about the content of civics education. Teachers and school directors indicate that there is  little to support civics in the formal education curriculum. In 2015 the Inspectorate of Education (Inspectie van het Onderwijs) reported that the way in which schools interpret civics education meets the minimum legal requirements in most schools. However in the upper secondary education most schools have insufficient knowledge of pupils’ progress, if any, on the subject and do not know enough about where pupils stand and how they develop concerning this subject.

With regard to this, the State Secretary responded to the Letter of the House of Representatives (Kamerbrief) (only Dutch) number 2015Z07022 as follows: “This issue is sent to Platform #Education2032.” (#Onderwijs2032) (only in Dutch).

It is difficult to say whether citizenship is a separate subject or integrated in curricula. As mentioned earlier, schools have the freedom to give substance to this themselves, but citizenship has to follow the legal frameworks.

According to a news item of the Inspectorate of Education of April 2015 (Nieuwsbericht | 10-04-2015 | 00:00) (only in Dutch) there is a focus on children’s social development. It is acknowledged that social and societal competences prevent school dropout, stimulate learning and lead to more job opportunities. These competences are important for good coping strategies in society, and are crucial for a democratic society.

Other main learning objectives are to developing knowledge of topics such as political and societal citizenship. There is also a focus on subjects that concern citizenship, such as solving conflicts and using arguments to debate issues.


Non-formal and informal learning

There is no national law or regulation on non-formal or informal learning. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science focuses on topics related to formal learning, such as the quality of education. Municipalities, however, can support organizations providing activities that stimulate non-formal or informal learning.

However, top-level policy regulations or guidelines exist requiring or encouraging pupils’ and students’ participation in decision-making in their educational institutions. This is also the only formal regulation in the field of youth participation. 

  • In higher education and universities, participation in decision-making is required by law. These rules can be found in de Wet op Hoger Onderwijs en Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (WHW) (the Law on Higher Education and Research) (only in Dutch).  Artikel 9.37. lid 1 (only in Dutch) of this law states the following rule: If a university has more than one faculty, every faculty has to have a faculty council in which students participate.
  • In secondary education a pupil’s council is not required by law. Pupils over 13 years can join the representative advisory council.
  • In secondary vocational education a students' council is required by law since 2010. In 2010 the Wet educatie en beroepsonderwijs (Law on education and vocational education) (only in Dutch) was modified and accepted this new framework.

The Landelijk Aktie Komitee Scholieren (LAKS) (National Action Committee Pupils) (only in Dutch) made a manual for schools. This manual is a roadmap with information on how to set up a student’s council. LAKS gives also trainings to student’s councils on how to plan and hold meetings.


Measures to encourage student participation in the local community and wider society

In chapter 2 you can find information about the provisions that form a part of national curricula to take part in activities serving the community outside school. This information in chapter 2 is about the maatschappelijke stage. Since August, 1 2014 this is no longer mandatory in secondary education.

Since 2018 the government is developing a so called social service (Maatschappelijke diensttijd). The social service offers time and space in which young people work for someone else and discover and develop their own talents. It is also an opportunity to gain experience and perhaps get a clearer picture of future perspectives. Social service also offers the opportunity to bring people from different backgrounds and ages closer together.

Recent national or large-scale policy initiatives and programmes giving pupils/students the opportunity to participate in citizenship-related activities/projects outside school.

The projects of Erasmus+ give pupils and students opportunities to participate in citizenship-related projects outside of school. Other examples of citizenship-related activities are organised locally or regionally. For example in the municipality of Amsterdam there is a participation project named VoorUit (Forward) (only in Dutch). In exchange for housing students provide social work for 10 hours per week in the neighbourhood in which they live. The purpose of VoorUit is to contribute to strengthening social cohesion of the neighbourhood by involving residents.

The director of the National Youth Council suggested that abolishing the basic grant for students will lead to discouraging participation in projects outside school such as volunteer work. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has an arrangement for a student scholarship that is related to educational activities. Students at universities can join the board of their students association. These students get an administrative grant (bestuursbeurs). Because only a small group of students can claim a position in these boards, other students are excluded from participating in these activities.


Partnerships between formal education providers, youth organizations and youth work providers  

On the national level the focus is on cooperation with partners, such as for instance the RAAK-regulation (only in Dutch). Colleges, businesses and professionals can reinforce each other by working together on innovation issues. The aim of the programme is to encourage research leading to strengthening of knowledge and use of knowledge in universities and the public sector.

For the RAAK-regulation there is financial support. Per RAAK-project organizations can request an amount of € 700.000,-


National/top-level programmes establishing, encouraging or supporting education projects related to the promotion of civic and social competences;

As mentioned earlier the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science does not have a national programme for initiatives related to non-formal learning. It focuses exclusively on formal education.

However, on 23 August 2016 a focus group took place on the topic of ’21st skills’. The European Commission works with EU countries to strengthen 'key competences' – knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will help learners find personal fulfilment and, later in life, find work and take part in society. To explore these skills in the Netherlands, the National Youth Council invited different organizations such as the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and the municipality of Amsterdam. The topics discussed were concerned which life skills young people need in this dynamic society. So there is a focus on initiatives concerning social and civic competences.


Specific target groups whose participation in civic education projects is especially encouraged (e.g. young people with a migrant background);

There are specific target groups whose participation in civic education projects is encouraged. The projects of Erasmus+ Youth focus on youth in NEET (Not in education, employment or training). Also young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods are a target group in several municipalities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, The Hague etc.).

Amother example on how specific groups can be reached is the Weekendschool. The central objective of the Foundation Weekendschool  (in English) is to inform and motivate young people. They have three objectives:

  • Broaden Perspectives
  • Increase Confidence
  • Strengthen ties with Dutch society

Young people of disadvantaged neighbourhoods voluntarily participate in the curriculum. The young people become acquainted with different disciplines of culture, science and society.


Sources of public funding available for the development of such projects/youth work initiatives.

  • European:

Erasmus+ (in English)

  • National:

Jeugdcultuurfonds (Youth Culture Foundation) (only in Dutch). This is partly public and partly private funding. E.g. theatre classes and creative courses

Oranje Fonds (Orange Foundation) (in English)

Fonds voor Cultuurparticipatie (Foundation for Culture participation) (in English)


Quality assurance/quality guidelines for non-formal learning

As stated above the Inspectorate of Education oversees the quality of formal learning. In short, there is no quality assurance for non-formal learning. However, there is an organization that can authenticate the experiences made in non-formal or informal learning. This is called the Erkenning van verworven competenties (EVC) (Acknowledgment of prior learning) (in English). The Youth pass and Europass also provide a quality assurance for non-formal learning.


Educators' support

Specific websites, guidelines, handbooks and other pedagogical material and tools supporting educators;

Het Nederlands Jeugdinstituut (The Netherlands Youth Institute) (in English) is the Dutch national institute for compiling, verifying and disseminating knowledge on children and youth matters, such as child abuse, youth work, youth care and parenting support in the Netherlands. The Netherlands Youth Institute has, for example, developed pedagogical materials and tools to support educators and youth workers.


Networks or events organized to support citizenship education and the development of social and civic competences.

A programme has been developed for primary schools to promote social competence and democratic citizenship. This programme is called the Vreedzame School (Peaceful School) (only in Dutch). It considers the classroom and the school as a community, in which children are heard and feel noticed, given a voice, and in which children learn to take decisions together and resolve conflicts. Children feel responsible for each other and for the community, and are open to the differences between people. The Netherlands Youth Institute has published a detailed report of the Vreedzame School.

The Vreedzame Wijk (Peaceful District) evolved from the Vreedzame School. A lot of districts in the Netherlands are working with this programme, which is a pedagogical approach, and offers citizenship skills to children. Thanks to this programme they get a voice and learn to consider different topics. They also learn how to interact positively with each other.