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Back to school in the Netherlands

If you’ve visited the Netherlands in late August, you’ll no doubt have noticed the countless posters and banners proclaiming: ‘De scholen zijn weer begonnen’ (which roughly translates as ‘Back to School’ in English). But why is the traffic alerted to Dutch children returning to school in such an insistent manner? And what does the contemporary Dutch education system look like? Let’s find out!

Back to school

Dutch education sytstem

Children must be able to travel to school safely, is the thought behind the ‘De scholen zijn weer begonnen’ campaign, which is conducted annually by the ‘Veilig Verkeer Nederland’ (VVN) (Traffic Safety Netherlands). The initiative places banners and posters along the roadside in order to remind motorists and other road users to be vigilant for children returning to school after the summer holidays, which depending on the region, takes place in August or early September. This is because, on average, more traffic accidents involving schoolchildren occur during the first few weeks of the new school year – possibly due to the fact that children are unfamiliar with the route to their new school, or their excitement and enthusiasm makes them less careful. In addition, motorists have become unaccustomed to school traffic during the long summer break, making it an optimal moment to remind all road users that the kids are back! 

The modern Dutch education system

The Dutch educational system has changed demonstrably during the last few decades. In 1985 the so-called ‘lagere school’ (elementary school) was officially replaced with the ‘basisschool’. Unlike the lagere school, which was comprised of six classes, the basisschool consists of eight groups, in which the third group is essentially the first class of the former lagere school. Dutch children reach school age upon their fifth birthday, however, these days most enrol in group 1 at the tender age four.

Dutch secondary education has also undergone a transformation in recent decades. In 1999 the MAVO (Middelbaar Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs) was replaced by the VMBO (Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs), which incorporates both the former Huishoudschool (Domestic Science School) and the Lagere Technische School (Technical School). The VMBO consists of four types of learning pathways, namely the ‘Basisberoepsgerichte leerweg’ or basic vocational learning pathway (VMBO-Basis), the ‘Kaderberoepsgerichte leerweg’ or vocational learning pathway (VMBO-Kader), the ‘Gemengde leerweg’ or mixed learning pathway (VMBO-GL), and the ‘Theoretische leerweg’ or theoretical learning pathway (VMBO-T). Pupils who achieve a VMBO diploma can attend an MBO (which is geared towards vocational training), whilst students with a VMBO-GL or VMBO-T diploma can proceed to a HAVO school (higher general education). Since 2001 those studying at a VWO (Atheneum and Gymnasium) can choose two out of four possible streams during their last three years: ‘Cultuur & maatschappij’ (Culture & Society), ‘Economie & Maatschappij’ (Economy and Society), ‘Natuur & Gezondheid’ (Science & Health) and ‘Natuur & Techniek’ (Science & Technology). However, discussions are currently underway to change this system by aligning compulsory examinations to individual subjects, as they do in the UK for example.

Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants.

4 comments on “Back to school in the Netherlands

  1. siss294

    Hello, I need to ask you something. If I would want to go to the Dutch gymnasium after nine years in basic school in Slovakia at the age of 15: Would it be possible? Would they accept a foreigner from another country if I would have changed my citizenship weeks before going to school and talk in Dutch? Are basic Dutch gymnasiums paid? What is the system of entrance examinations? And one more thing: Could I please contact you, if I would have any more questions about schools in Netherlands? I would really appreciate it, because I desperately need answers to these (and some more) questions and I dont know anyone who whould know answers to them. Thank you very much. Best regards, Simona.

  2. Maria Smith

    Great post as always!

  3. Catherine

    That was both timely and very interesting! Thanks for a great read!

  4. Pingback: Hi, everyone. It’s Friday afternoon,… | Blogging 101: Alumni

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