K-12 Education in the Netherlands

The K-12 Education System in the Netherlands introduces in a child's life as soon as he/she enters in school for Class 1 studies. Education is free for all children. Here are exclusive details about K 12 Education System in the Netherlands.

Pre-Primary Education in Netherlands

Holland currently has no formal pre-primary education system. From the age of 4 years onwards, primary school is attended. While the age for entrance into school is 5, almost all kids (around 98%) commence school at age 4, according to a Dutch Ministry of Education report. Though there is no formal educational provision yet many childcare facilities can be availed outside the education system as well. 

The following facilities are organised for students. Playgroups are open to children between the ages of 2 to 4 years and they are the most popular choice for parents. Children attend playgroups twice a week for around 2 to 3 hours per visit. Playgroups allow children to develop key socio-emotional and cognitive skills. A growing number of pre-schools offer development stimulation program and have a more educational focus. There are also day nurseries catering from 6 weeks to 4 years which open on weekdays. Main functions of these day nurseries is taking care of children to enable parents to work.  

Primary Education in Netherlands

Primary education in Netherlands includes general primary education, special primary education and secondary special education. Primary education program encompasses 8 years for education from the age of 4 till 12. Compulsory education begins from the age of 5 normally though children start attending school from 4 years also. These comprise public authority as well as denominational schools.

A growing number of private schools have also been established in the Netherlands. Public authority schools are also open to children. Such schools are mostly run by local authorities/school board/foundation/legal entity. There are also denominational schools including Roman Catholic and Protestant along with Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and humanistic schools. There are also free schools which base their education on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy.  There are also non-denominational private schools. 

Special primary and secondary education: Pupils who require specialised care and support can access special and secondary special education. During the year 1998, schools for children with learning and behavioural difficulties and children with moderate learning difficulties were changed into schools for special primary education.

Secondary Education in Netherlands

On an average, children below the age of 12 years enter secondary education in the Netherlands. Secondary education includes schools that provide the following types of education:
  • Pre-University Education/VWO
  • General Secondary Education/HAVO
  • Pre-Vocational Secondary Education/VMBO
  • Practical Training/PRO
VMBO comprises 4 learning paths namely the Basic Vocational Programme, Middle Management Vocational Programme, Combined Theoretical and Vocational Programme and Theoretical Programme.

VMBO students also receive learning support programmes or lwoo. Following VMBO, at the age of 16, students can opt for MBO or Vocational Education. Students who have completed theoretical programmes can opt for HAVO or General Secondary Education which serves as preparation for Higher Professional Education. VWO is intended for preparing students to pursue careers in research or WO. They can also choose HBO programmes. While VMBO takes 4 years to complete, HAVO takes 5 years and VWO around 6 years.  

Secondary schools have branched out into upper secondary education and the introduction of the VMBO in the later part of the 2000s. During the academic year 1999-2000, a fresh structure for secondary stage education namely HAVO and VWO was introduced. HAVO and VWO schools introduced established subject combinations and independent study in the past 2 or 3 course years. Independent study is also for years 4 and 5 for HAVO and 4,5 and 6 for VWO. In the year 1998, VBO and MAVO were combined into VMBO. During this time, learning support departments were also given impetus. 

Vocational Education in Netherlands 

From 1998, adult and vocational education institutions have been included in regional training centres. MBOs comprise a vocational training programme and a block or day release programme. These are the following classification levels. Assistant worker is Level 1. Level 2 is accorded to basic vocational training while professional training is pegged at level 3. Middle management and specialised training is placed at level 4. This programme lasts for around 4 year maximum. 

Regional Expertise Centres in Netherlands

Regional Expertise Centres have been established and these include consortiums of special schools as well as secondary special schools in a particular district. Consortiums are divided on the basis of intended pupils into four levels. Cluster 1 is for education for the visually handicapped. Pupils with hearing and speech impediments attend schools from cluster 2. 

Cluster 3 schools are for education of  physically, mentally or multiply handicapped students. Cluster 4 is for students who suffer from behavioural disorders. Secondary Special schools in Holland offer a multitude of choices. Within these schools, pupils can follow curriculums for training in VMBO, HAVO or VWO courses. 

Curriculum and Learning Strategies at Different Levels of K-12 Schooling in Netherlands

At Pre-Primary Level

Dutch pre-schools use ready made curricular programs chosen either by the local government or the organisation itself. Several programs include children within playgroups and the first two years of primary education, while others are specifically for 2 to 3 years old. Pre-school curricula also differs in terms of its nature and content has been developed by wide a variety of individual experts as well as organisations. 

According to a Ministry of Education report, some are more comprehensive such as Piramid and Kaliedoscoop. Others are oriented towards certain areas such as language/socio-emotional development. Along with centre based programs, there are also home based ones or ones for those with special needs. Piramid pre-school program is one of the most well used in Dutch preschools.

Curriculum at Primary Education

At this level, according to the Primary Education Act, following subjects appear within the curriculum in an integrated form:
  • Sensory Coordination
  • Physical Education
  • Dutch
  • Arithmetic and Mathematics
  • English
  • Factual Subjects such as Geography/History/Science
  • Social Structures
  • Religious/Ideological/Political Studies
  • Expressive Activities (Language/Drawing/Music/Handicrafts/Play and Movement
  • Social and Life Skills 
Prescribed learning areas are specified through a set of core objectives which form the basis of Dutch educational programmes. 

Current core objectives are in the following areas:
  • Dutch language: oral and written language 
  • English language: with stress in communication skills.
  • Frisian language: oral and written language for Frisian schools only.
  • Mathematics/arithmetics
  • Personal and world orientation
  • Art education
  • Physical education

Curriculum at Secondary Education

The core objectives of the secondary education in Dutch educational institutions covers the following: Dutch language, Frisian language and culture for Frisian schools, English language, Mathematics and arithmetic, Man and nature, subjects, Man and society, Art and culture and Physical education and sports. 

Following completion of basic secondary education, students move onto upper secondary education wherein they choose certain specialisation. 

Vocational Education: or VMBO involves two years of vocational basic education, pupils enter the specialisation stage for another 2 years. During this stage, students can specialise through choice for a particular sector which forms the basis for further training. Then, there is a vocational stream within the sector wherein each path has distinct group of subjects as well as vocationally oriented programmes that have a more theoretical or practical orientation.  The specialisation occurs for another two years. 

Academic education (HAVO/VWO): The remaining two years of HAVO and three years of VWO are the tweede fas or second phase. This constitutes upper secondary education. During this year, students focus on one of the following 4 subject clusters/profielen, emphasising a special field of study. The following subject clusters are on offer: Natuur en Techniek: science and technology, Natuur en Gezondheid: science and health, Economie en Maatschappij: culture and society and Cultuur en Maatschappij: economics and society.

Each subject group contains the following: common component covering 40 to 46% of the curriculum, specialised component of 36 to 38% of the curriculum and an occupational component comprising 18 to 21% of the curriculum. Pupils are free to make their choice for the optional component from subjects offered by the school. 

Examinations for K-12 Education in Netherlands

Primary education exams are decided by schools. There is a secondary examination which consists of a national as well as school examination. School exams are administered at the school level and consist of two or more tests or practical assignments for each subject area in the last two years of the course. These exams are set by the schools as and when they decide. National examination occurs at a fixed moment towards the close of the year. Both exams are conducted in the schools approved by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

Education in Holland is known for its cohesive structure, cogent syllabus and effective teaching strategies. School education here primarily comprises primary, secondary and upper secondary education. There is no formal system of pre-primary education in the Netherlands. 
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