English proficiency test puts Dutch first, but is it true? The Volkskrant has doubts

School autumn term has started but where are the books?

Are the Dutch the European champions when it comes to proficiency in English? The Dutch have come first for the second year running in the English Proficiency Index (EPI), a survey by language course provider Education First (EF). The Volkskrant had its doubts and thought it was time to take a closer look. The media were quick to pick up on the Dutch score but the paper noticed something wasn’t quite right. Proficiency seemed to rise and fall quite arbitrarily. Two years ago, the Swedes pipped the Dutch to the post, while earlier results showed the Norwegians and Danes to be top of the class. The scores also varied wildly per province. Zeeland and Zuid-Holland used to leave the rest of the country behind but now the most proficient English students live in the province of Utrecht, the paper writes. The Volkskrant is not alone in its suspicions. Survey researcher Jelke Bethlehem who works for Leiden University has been debunking the proficiency index since 2015.  A high EPI score is nothing to write home about in any language, he found, as its flimsy foundation is a short test on the Education First website. The index score is based on people who happen to decide to take the test and as such, it is wholly unrepresentative of the proficiency of any nation, Bethlehem says. Incentive ‘The proficiency test is really an incentive to buy one of their language courses. It would be better if an independent organisation did a test,’ Bethlehem told the paper. EF said it is aware of the test's shortcomings and the reasons for such variations. ‘We do say so on our site,’ a spokesman told the paper. ‘But we are the only ones to test proficiency every year and we do listen to feedback.’ In addition, the index is based purely on testing reading and listening skills using multiple choice questions rather than the spoken or written word. So are the Dutch any good at English? Nobody knows, the Volkskrant said. The most recent research it could find is an EU wide study among secondary school students which dates from 2013. The Dutch came out with a better than average score but the Swedes and the Flemish won by a nose, the paper said.  More >

Children too few internet skills: report

School autumn term has started but where are the books? Dutch teenagers are not as web-enabled as they think, according to a new report which compared their opinions with a test. The figures come from the Monitor Youth and Media 2017, an annual report on internet use by teens. Some 1,000 of the 1,600 teens who participated in the survey also did a digital skills test on how they conducted online searches. VWO level pupils were found to be most critical when it came to judging information and sources. They were also more likely to cross-reference whether the information could also be found on other websites. ‘Too many children struggle with the nature of online information,' digital literacy expert Remco Pijpers told NOS broadcaster. 'We are in the middle of a discussion about fake news...[and] it is important for these children’s future careers that they are able to find and verify information.’ Media wise week The survey, published to coincide with the national 'media-wise week', also shows that children develop their internet skills not in school but in their spare time. ‘Schools do try, but they need help. In some schools it’s part of the lessons,’ Pijpers said. Lyanca ten Donkelaar, team leader at vocational training school AOC Oost, tested her pupils’ digital skills and confirmed the report’s findings. ‘I would tell them to find something on the internet and they would simply put down whatever came up first in Google: in a class about birth control that is a bit worrying,’ NOS quotes her as saying. According to Ten Donkelaar, it is best to integrate computer skills in existing classes instead of making this a separate part of the curriculum. Pijper agrees, but also sees a role for the parents. ‘There should be more communication between schools and parents about the subject, not just at parents’ evenings. And parents should sit their children down and talk to them,’ NOS quotes Pijpers as saying.  More >

Pirate PhD candidate refused by Delft

School autumn term has started but where are the books? A student at Delft University who has been refused leave to defend his PhD thesis while dressed as a pirate has taken his case to the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, the Volkskrant reported on Thursday. Michael Afanasyev, a 38-year-old geohydrologist, claims he is a priest of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which, according to its website, ‘casts a critical look at society and other religions but takes a tolerant stance’. ‘Afanasyev claims the university is guilty of discrimination. ‘Muslims can wear head scarves on their passport pictures for religious motives and Sikhs can wear turbans. The it would be logical for us to wear a colander to honour our god, his noodly appendage,’ the paper quotes him as saying. Afanasyev has earlier successfully claimed freedom of religion to gain an Israeli passport with a picture of him in his capacity of priest, wearing a colander on his head. The pirate costume derives from the belief that pirates are godly creatures whose demise is causing natural disaster, a story Flying Spaghetti Monster adherents say is no more weird than changing water into wine. In a reaction the university, has said that the ceremony is a formal academic one with an emphasis on scientific dialogue where participants wear suitable clothing. An earlier PhD candidate specialised in robotics did bring a robot to the ceremony as one of the coaches which was wearing a bow tie for the occasion, the Volkskrant said. Afansyev’s case will be heard by the human rights commission on November 21.  More >

Primary school class sizes keep on growing

More kids per class: Dutch primary school class sizes keep on growing While primary school classes still average around 23 pupils, there has been a 5%  increase in the number of classes with over 26 children in the past five years, the AD said on Thursday. In total, some 35% of primary school teachers now have to deal with at least 26 children in class, the paper said, quoting government figures obtained using freedom of information legislation. 'To say there has been no increase in the average class size is burying your head in the sand,' said Jan van de Ven, founder of lobby group PO in Actie. 'Nine years ago, you could count the number of classes with more than 30 children on one hand, but now almost every school has at least one.' Parents' organisation Ouders & Onderwijs says it is contacted by parents who are worried about class sizes every week. 'In short, parents think that classes are too busy and that their child is not getting enough attention,' director Peter Hulsen told the paper. Maximum Socialist party MP Peter Kwint, who last year tried to get a maximum class size of 23 on the statute books, told the AD that classes of 30 pupils mean a lot more work for teachers. 'Thirty children means 30 meetings with parents, 30 reports to write, 30 tests to mark,' he said. 'This illustrates the need to take steps. Primary school teachers are currently campaigning for more pay and for more measures to reduce the pressure of work. They say that although the new government has allocated extra cash, it does not go far enough.  More >

Foreign student numbers double in 10 years

School autumn term has started but where are the books? The number of foreign students in the Netherlands has doubled in the past 10 years, hitting some 80,000 in the 2016/17 academic year, according to a new report by international education group Nuffic. Of these students, some 25% will remain in the Netherlands to live and work, mainly in the urban central belt stretching from Amsterdam to Utrecht and Rotterdam, Nuffic said. Maastricht and Amsterdam universities have the most foreign students. In Maastricht, 50% of the student body is foreign, in Amsterdam around 10%. In Delft, Wageningen and The Hague, around 20% of university and college students come from abroad, Nuffic said. Germany remains by far the most important country of origin and German students are most likely to enroll in universities close to the border. Economics and business studies are most popular among German students, followed by human and social studies. The Nuffic report also shows that the number of British students registering at Dutch universities and hbo colleges has quadrupled since 2011, partly due to the sharp rise in British tuition fees in 2011. The liberal arts and sciences and European studies are the most popular choices for British students.   More >