#TeacherTuesday: Teaching in The Netherlands

Posted on Apr 1, 2014

An educational impression of The Netherlands by Aldo de Pape

A recent report launched by UNESCO reveals that the quality of education in this world is at its highest in The Netherlands. Yet Dutch educators are not celebrating and still see lots of room for improvement.

UNESCO investigated among children of a primary school age who reached grade 4 and achieved minimum learning standards in reading. Not surprisingly North-America and Western-Europe obtained the highest percentage (ca. 95%) as opposed to South and West Asia where only 30% of the children where able to properly read.

A closer look at the highest scoring regions reveals that The Netherlands scores best among Western-European nations, around 98%, closely followed by Ireland, Italy, Norway, Finland and Denmark.

2012 statistics from the Organisation for Economic Collaboration and Development (OECD) through its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) confirm that Dutch students do very well. Pupils of 15-years-old score considerably higher than their contemporaries in other OECD member states in fields like reading, mathematics and science literacy.

“I find it difficult to answer why the Netherlands are doing so well because what do grades mean!?” – is the first reaction of History teacher Cees Koole from Amsterdam when presented with these results. “To which countries did you compare?”

A similar skepticism resonates in the mission statement of OperationEducation, a grassroots movement that aims to change Dutch education for the better. Its main critique on the current system is that it is too standardized, set up to compete in international rankings such as PISA but not sufficiently equipped to develop the learning qualities of the individual student.

To mitigate the Dutch government’s ambitious moves to make school & student more than a number, the organisation “…. strives to visualize, connect and strengthen ideas already out there.”

A concrete example of ‘an idea out there’ is the company StudentDocent (StudentTeacher translated in English) founded by Steven van den Tol and Patrique Zaman. The organisation took on a recurring teacher shortage problem of schools by offering the teachers temporary support by students.

Even though the StudentDocent formula originally served as an answer to a short-term teacher demand, it also has the potential to resolve a more structural problem by more students choosing for a career as an educator.

Steven van den Tol responds: “For the students, the work at StudentDocent is mostly their first encounter with working in education. And usually, the students don’t see becoming a teacher as a viable career option at first. But their involvement leads to a growing enthusiasm for a career in education. It makes me very happy to see that a lot of the ‘studentdocenten’ from a few years ago have now become valuable teachers. Good education depends on having good teachers.”

Taking this back to the UNESCO & PISA stats it is safe to write that despite the fact that the country’s educational landscape can continuously improve itself, it already has a lot in place it can be happy with.

A probable cause for the country’s high educational quality is teacher training.

Teacher Cees explains: “We have a certain amount of teaching hours and all the coming tasks from that – preparing and the after work – and from 5-10% of your time is reserved for professional development every year – courses and training. 10% is a lot of time.Everyone has to write a professional development plan and in that plan you have your growing points – your developing points – and we do this every year after we speak to our boss who does our analysis. You then you do the courses you need. We have also a lot of training in how to go along with problem kids – pedagogical side – and those trainings are really moving because they tell a lot about your own personal difficulties.”

Even though Cees is happy with the training opportunities offered to him and other teachers, he does see room for improvement: “I guess that if we cooperate more between the teachers nationally – maybe if the ones who are writing the school books are aiming more on how we can create more active lessons that will help a lot more. When you find a really different lesson plan on the internet you wish you could find more. It needs to be written out, you can’t tell someone in one minute, how and why you can do a lesson. But the current method doesn’t offer that. We need more learning activities and programs. Teachpitch.com is a good example of a tool we use to professionalize ourselves by sharing knowledge with other teachers in the world through technology.”

The UNESCO and PISA statistics show a great variety in terms of the educational obstacles that countries are dealing with. Even though the Dutch challenges around individualizing its educational system and teacher training are very difficult to compare to the fact that 250 million children in this world have no access to school – they are taken very seriously in the country itself.

“Gather stories on why change is necessary…” is stated on OperationEducation’s homepage. I guess the smartest kid in class is not entirely happy with his work just yet.

What are your thoughts? Do let us know and send us an e-mail via info@aswegrow.org

This is the sixth of a series of ten educational impressions launched and executed in collaboration with UNESCO. Find out more about the #TeacherTuesday campaign on the UNESCO website directly.

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