Education System of Netherlands: An Overview

Although the Netherlands has no formal pre-primary education, it has very  well organized systems of primary, secondary and higher education. Higher education is divided into further categories such as professional higher education and academic higher education.

Pre-Primary Education in The Netherlands

There is no system of formal pre-primary education in the Netherlands. While the mandatory age for entrance into school is 5, many children (about 98% as estimated by the report) enter school much before that. There are many organized child care facilities available for children between the ages of 2 and 4 which are discussed below:

  • Playgroups are those which are open to children aged between 2 to 4 years and they are the most popular pre-school option in the Netherlands. Children attend the playgroups twice a week Many of the playgroups are subsidised.
  • Pre-schools: these are intended for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and they are development oriented programmes which inculcate skills in their students.
  • Day nurseries are for children between 6 weeks to 4 years.

Primary Education in the Netherlands

Primary education involves mainstream primary education (BAO), special primary education(SBAO) and (Secondary) special education (V(SO). Block grant funding was introduced for primary education in 2006. Primary education is for children from the ages of 4 to 11 in the Netherlands. 

Special primary education: This is meant for those students who have been found in need of special remedial education following tests.

Secondary Education

Following the completion of primary education, students pursue secondary education in the Netherlands, which lasts from 12 to 16 years and it is offered at different forms and levels. VMBO programmes are of 4 years and they combine general and vocational education. Students can then go on to senior secondary vocational education or training which is called MBO. This lasts from 1 to 4 years. 

General Education: Two types of general education are present following which students access higher education:
  • Havo is for 5 years
  • VWO for 6 years
The students are enrolled as per the capability they possess. The final two years oa havo and three years of VWO are referred to as tweede fase or the second phase. This constitutes upper secondary education. At this point in time, students focus on 1 of 4 subject clusters or profielen which emphasize particular fields of study. The clusters are designed to equip students for higher education.

Subject clusters: Students can choose from the following clusters at Havo or VWO:
  • Natuur en Techniek/ Science and Technology
  • Natuur en Gezondheid/ Science and Health
  • Economie en Maatschappij/Economics and Society
  • Cultuur en Maatschappij/Culture and Society
There is a particular VWO diploma that grants access to Bachelor's programmes in research universities while universities of applied sciences grant access to havo and highest level of mbo holders.

Higher Education in the Netherlands

The Dutch higher education follow Binary System which provides students to choose from the two systems of education. These  two types of institutions for higher education in the Netherlands are:
  • Research Universities: offer research oriented education. Research universities further include general universities as well as universities which specialise in engineering and agriculture. Research universities also include Open Universities.
  • Universities of Applied Sciences: offer higher professional education. Universities of applied sciences include general institutions as well as those specifically pertaining to certain fields such as teacher training, agriculture or fine and performing arts.
Research universities impact academic higher education whereas universities of applied sciences offer programmes equipping students in professional higher education. The latter have a more practical component as compared to research universities.

Binary cycles: A binary and 3 cycle system of education is followed where students study Bachelor's, Master's and PhD programmes.

Short cycle higher educations to associate degrees which are studied at universities of applied sciences.

Degree programmes and study periods have been quantified in terms of the ECTS credit system in the education system followed in the Netherlands.

Focus of degree programmes: This determines credits required for programme completion and the degree which is awarded following this. Here is the division of programmes on the basis of their focus:

Bachelor's programmes: Research oriented bachelor's degree programme is completed in 3 years and equals 180 credits. Graduates receuve either the Bachelor of Arts or Science depending upon which subject is taken.
  • Bachelor's degree for applied arts and sciences requires around 240 credits and takes 4 years to complete. This includes Bachelor of Engineering or Nursing
  • Associate degree in applied arts and sciences takes 2 years to complete and requires 120 credits. Students who complete this programme continue to study for bachelor's degree in applied arts and sciences.
Master's programmes: For the Master's programme, the followning types are present in the Dutch education system:
  • Research oriented master's programme needs completion of around 60/90/120 credits for one, one and half and two years respectively. 120 credits are needed in engineering, agriculture, maths and the natural sciences. Graduates get the Master of Arts or Science
  • Master's degree in applied arts and sciences is following completion of credits totalling 60 to 120 and they obtain a degree such as Master of Architecture indicating field of study.
Ph.D programmes: The third and final cycle of education is the doctoral programme or PhD which is only provided by research universities. This requires the student to conduct original research and prepare a dissertation on its basis which is publicly defended. Research universities award the Ph.D while three year engineering universities provide technological designer programmes composed of advanced study and personal design assignment. The latter is completed in two years and students receive a professional doctorate in engineering following this. The training of medical specialists is associated with a university hospital.
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