Dutch Schools Break Mold for Quality Over Quantity

From 2004 to 2006, the Dutch government committed to the Lisbon Strategy, which had as its aim to make the EU a competitive knowledge economy — and a decade on, the plan is being improved.

Peter Teffer, writing for The New York Times, says that one of the goals attached to this strategy was to ensure that one-half of the EU's workforce would have higher education by 2010. When this plan failed, the leaders set a less stringent goal that 40% of people aged 30-34 should be educated to tertiary level by 2020, which is up from 37% EU-wide in 2013, according to Eurostat.

The goal had already been reached in The Netherlands when this new target was set, so the government has veered away from numerical objectives. Now, its is focusing on quality over quantity where higher education is concerned.

There are negative aspects to enrolling more students in universities and higher vocational training. Since The Netherlands pays most of the cost of tuition for every student, Education Minister Jet Bussemaker has announced a reform in this model.

Netherlands students now receive a "performance grant" which is a loan that converts into a grant if the student graduates within 10 years. All students qualify for this grant.

The remodel that Bussemaker is proposing will replace the performance grant with an expanded option to borrow money for higher learning from the government. Unlike other countries, the Dutch system has kept tuition low, and now graduates will have 35 years to pay back any student debt they accrue, so that no more than 4% of a student's salary will be necessary for repayment.

There is strong political backing for vocational education, known as MBOs, for which there is great need. Still, this area of learning is stigmatized by bad image and declining standards.

There is another educational issue in the Netherlands; some think the teaching methods are antiquated. The system is high in international rankings, but, according to EuroNews, some people think the system lacks cutting edge innovation.

One of these people is entrepreneur Maurice De Hond, who told Learning World:

"Children at home are interactive, digital, multimedia, multi-tasking and then they go to school and see how it was in the past. And I didn't want to bring my daughter every day to a museum in the pretense that we were preparing her for the future."

De Hond and a group of volunteers set up the foundation O4NT or Education For a New Era, which is behind the so-called ‘Steve Jobs' schools. In these schools, children work at their own pace, moving between classes at their own choosing, and use iPads loaded with educational apps, so that they have control of their own learning.

There is also a situation that the Dutch refer to as a black and white issue in the education system. Many citizens of the Netherlands were born in other countries. This multi-cultural country has experienced a growth in neighborhoods that have been built around the country of origin link among the inhabitants. Some schools are then dominated by children born outside the country.

As proof the the Netherlands proactively seeks international students, there is a group of around 300 Indonesian children who are sent to the Netherlands to study each year. Why? Because of the 12 universities in the Netherlands that are recognized as part of the top 200 of the Times World University Ranking says The Jakarta Post.

Last week, the Netherlands awarded 14 Orange Tulip Scholarships to Korean students at the Netherlands Education Support Office in Seoul, says Kang Hyun-kyung of  The Korean Times.

The students will attend 12 Dutch schools, including Erasmus University, beginning in the fall semester. The Education Support Office chief representative, Leo Chung, encouraged students to consider schooling in the Netherlands.

"In the Netherlands, there are more than 2,000 degree and non-degree programs that are offered in English," he said. "Compared with English-speaking countries, tuition and living expenses in the Netherlands are relatively cheaper. Nearly 80,000 students from all over the world are now studying in the country."

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