6.10 Current debates and reforms
Forthcoming policy developments
New school curricula
Government (Rijksoverheid) is working on updating the school curricula for (special) primary and secondary education, together with teachers, school leaders, scientists and other experts. The curricula are described in educational objectives that consist of core objectives (kerndoelen) for primary education, special (primary) education, and the junior phase of secondary (special) education and attainment targets (eindtermen) for the senior phase of secondary (special) education. Government states that the curricula currently used by schools no longer adequately match developments in society and education and too little coherence between the various educational objectives exist. Government bases its statement on the proposal ‘Building blocks for a revised curriculum’ (Bouwstenen voor een nieuw curriculum) of teachers and school leaders united in Curriculum.nu which was followed by four advice reports (only in Dutch) of the scientific Curriculum Committee (CurriculumCommissie). The new curricula must better prepare pupils for the future.
The draft core objectives will be tested during a pilot in the school years 2022/2023 and 2023/2024 at a number of schools. After a final advice of the scientific committee, the definitive core objectives for primary education and the junior grades of secondary education will be submitted to the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) in a bill in 2024. Gradually all subjects and related exam programmes for the senior phase of secondary (special) education will be adjusted, to start with the subjects that need updating most urgently: Dutch, modern foreign languages, mathematics, social studies and beta subjects. These subject renewals will start in early 2022. During a pilot project the new exam programmes will be tested at a number of schools.
More information about the new school curricula can be found on the website of the Dutch government: Curricula for the future (Curriculum voor de toekomst).
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education
On 16th March 2020, Dutch schools closed for several months in a response from Cabinet to the rising infections with the new corona virus. Most pupils and students had to rely on distance learning. This first school closure was the start of periods of lockdowns and online education, alternated by periods in which schools were opened with or without additional measures such as part-time online education, adapted group sizes, wearing face masks in the hallway and quarantines for infected persons or whole classes. Additionally, final exam requirements in secondary education were loosened in 2020 and 2021. School closures in secondary vocational education and in higher education lasted longer than in other types of education.
Despite all efforts made by school leaders, teachers and parents to offer appropriate education in times of a severe health crisis, the Inspectorate of Education (Inspectie van het Onderwijs) had concerns about the quality and continuity of education. It stated in its report The State of Education 2021 (De Staat van het Onderwijs 2021) that pupils and students were not able to learn and develop themselves optimally. Existing problems in education were enlarged. Also, many students experienced studying at home as difficult, worried about their study progress and said to be more distressed and to show more symptoms of a depression, concluded the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (Minister van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap) in a letter to parliament about the consequences of COVID-19 on secondary vocational education and higher education (Kamerbrief over gevolgen COVID-19 in mbo en ho).
As mentioned in paragraph 6.3, the National Programme Education (Nationaal Programma Onderwijs) was launched on 17th February 2021. This €8.5 billion support programme for primary, secondary, secondary vocational and higher education is aimed at the recovery and development of education, catching up on study delays and the support of pupils and students. The programme targets the cognitive, executive as well as the social-emotional development of youth. Study progress and mental health will be monitored by the Dutch government as the COVID-19 pandemic still unfolds.
There are teacher shortages in primary, secondary and vocational education, with the highest shortages in the Randstad (a conurbation in the central-western Netherlands consisting primarily of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht and their surrounding areas). According to Government, there specifically is a lack of secondary education teachers in subjects like German, mathematics and computer science and a lack of secondary vocational education teachers in care and engineering subjects. Many older teachers retire and the intake of new teachers is too low. Yet there is no national insight into the actual size and regional spread of teacher shortages, wrote the Inspectorate of Education (Inspectie van het Onderwijs) in its report The State of Education 2021 (De Staat van het Onderwijs 2021).
Government has taken measures to increase the inflow of new teachers (eg. study grants and discounts on tuition fees), to maintain current teachers (eg. 50 hours of coaching and study time for teachers) and to organise education differently (eg. subsidies for developing innovative types of education and adjusting teacher training). The newly installed Government (January 2022) announced in its coalition agreement (coalitieakkoord) that the expansion of labour contracts of part-time teachers will be stimulated. Additional measures will be taken to make working in education more appealing, for example by lowering the work pressure.
Read more about teacher shortages in secondary education and secondary vocational education (lerarentekort in het voortgezet onderwijs en middelbaar beroepsonderwijs) on the website of the Dutch government.