The Dutch Education System and Corporatizing Education
Ever since I have been a WordPress blogger, I have been following Siobhan Curious’s blog Classroom as a Microcosm. Siobhan is a teacher at a CEGEP, which is a type of school at which students prepare to go to university or studying a profession or trade (she explains in more detail on her blog). In a recent blog post she provides arguments for a corporatization of education. This post made me realize, yet again, how many different education systems exist worldwide. Therefore, instead of jumping the gun and immediately give my own arguments against corporatizing education, I’ll endeavour to explain the Dutch education system first.
Although compulsory education starts from the age of five, most children start to attend primary school once they have turned four. Usually these children don’t attend school ‘full-time’ but start with an adjustment period. The first two years (group 1 and 2) of primary school – when the children are aged 4 through 6 – are also called kindergarten. After these two years, children continue on to group 3, where they start to learn to read and write and are taught arithmetic. The last group of primary school is group 8. Students in this group are mostly eleven to twelve years of age. In primary school students are in mixed abilities groups, and their achievements are closely monitored. In both group 7 and group 8 most school choose to let the students take tests to quantify their abilities.
Since the Dutch education system works with tracks in secondary education, students will receive an advice for a ‘track’ based on the monitored achievements throughout the years in primary school and the results of the tests taken in group 7 and 8. The tracks are as follows, from low to high achievers: vmbo bbl, vmbo kbl, vmbo gl, vmbo tl, havo, vwo. Vmbo can be seen as preparatory middle-level applied education and students the lower levels bbl and kbl (and to a certain extent gl) take fewer theoretical and more practical subjects. Even though vmbo tl is also a form of preparatory vocational training, students at this level solely take theoretical subjects and usually end up in higher forms of vocational training than the other vmbo students. Havo (higher general continued education) prepares students for higher vocational education, whereas at vwo (preparatory scientific education) students are prepared to attend university.
Vmbo takes the students four years to complete, so when vmbo students leave secondary school for vocational training, they’re usually about 16 years old. Havo takes five years (students are 17 when they leave) and vwo six (students are usually 18 years old when leaving for university). Both Dutch and English are compulsory for students at all levels of secondary education; government/social studies are also compulsory.
When a vmbo student graduates from secondary school they have to continue their education until they have at least earned a starting qualification (can be earned after two years of mbo). Mbo is middle-level applied education and is vocational training. In a lot of cases, students can choose to take either a working-learning route (working four days a week and attending school for one day a week) or a learning-working route (starting with four days of school and one day of interning). Since the vocational aspects is quite prominent at mbo, these schools often have close ties with companies that offer traineeships to their students so that the students are able to put what they have learned into practice immediately. Vmbo bbl students usually study at mbo for two years, vmbo kbl for three years and vmbo gl and tl for four years. After having completed a four year mbo course, students have the opportunity to continue to hbo.
Hbo is where most of the graduated havo students go to. Hbo can be viewed as a university of applied sciences. Hbo courses take four years, after which the students receive a Bachelor’s degree (which is not the same degree as a Bachelor’s degree from university!) in their subject of study (e.g. I obtained a Bachelor of Education or BEd). After getting a Bachelor’s from a hbo, students could do a hbo master’s or do a premaster course at university before continuing to a Master’s at university.
Most vwo students choose to go to university after their secondary school graduation. Most Bachelor courses take three years after which the students can opt to follow it up with a Master’s course. After earning their Bachelor’s degree, students receive either a BSc or a BA. Since I studied Applied Linguistics at university before I went off to do my BEd, I am also the proud owner of a BA and MA in Applied Linguistics.
As you might have noticed, the education system in the Netherlands is heavily tracked (or streamed or phased) from the start of secondary education onwards. A lot of secondary schools choose to combine certain tracks in the first two or three grades. I teach second and third grade havo/vwo classes, for example. Moreover, even when you are teaching a one-track group, the group is not homogenous! Even in the same track, students vary in their abilities in different subjects. This means that the Dutch secondary school teacher still has to work with ability grouping.
I won’t go into the advantages and disadvantages of this tracking system we employ, but I will give my two cents on corporatizing. In our system, this corporatizing is unnecessary and I’m glad for that. Although, as I already mentioned, vocational schools have close ties with companies and institutions, there is still a certain level of independence. Most companies and institutions strive for profits and will design their in-company training in such a way that it will render them the most advantages. Education will lose its objectivity and young people/adolescents will be moulded into what the companies would like them to be, (unnecessarily) complicating if not inhibiting transfers from one company to the other, consequently limiting the students’ options putting a serious hamper on their freedom. Why would a company put its money into the education of a student without securing the student for themselves? I can see why there is a certain penchant for trying to secure employment in these days of economic crisis and high unemployment rates, however the Dutch system already provides students the opportunity of doing traineeships and securing a position at a company or institution by successfully completing a traineeship while still keeping the independence and objectivity of education.
I would be the last person to deny that it is becoming increasingly difficult for recently graduated students to find a suitable job and even though it might sound slightly naive and nonchalant to state that education is not all about securing a good job, I’ll still say it. Education should also aim to provide students with the tools for personal development and self-efficacy. Having a (secure) job is extremely important, but it should not be the sole objective.
What do you think of the Dutch education system and of corporatizing education?
 In favour of clarity, I have left out special education in this exposition.
Posted on February 11, 2013, in Education and tagged corporatizing education, dutch education, education, education in the netherlands, education system, phasing, streaming, tracking, vocational training. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.