Junior education minister Sharon Dijksma wants to introduce a compulsory language test for three year olds from January 2009. Toddlers that fail the test will have to go to pre-school classes to ensure their language skills are up to scratch when they begin school.
The tests will be part of routine check-ups at children’s health clinics (consultatiebureaus) in disadvantaged neighbourhoods of the country’s four big cities, Oost Groningen and Zuid-Limburg.
At present 35,000 children go to pre-school education on a voluntary basis, including about half of the children who need extra language skills. Under Dijkma’s plans around 75,000 young children will attend pre-school language classes.
‘The time for an incidental approach is over. We have to make sure children start primary school without a language disadvantage,’ Dijksma told ANP.
Dijksma (Labour) made her announcement on Wednesday evening during the presentation of a survey into ethnic segregation of primary schools by the institute for multicultural development, Forum.
According Forum’s research, many schools do not reflect the ethnic population of their neighbourhood. The Volkskrant reports that this is the case in 25% of the schools in Amsterdam where 42 are ‘too white’ and 13 ‘too black. Of the 162 schools in Rotterdam 36 are ‘too white’ and 60 ‘too black’. A similar picture emerges in one-third of the primary schools in Utrecht.
Under the former government, parliament voted last year in favour of a Liberal (VVD) proposal for the introduction of a language test for pre-school children. At that time, Christian Democrat prime minister Jan Peter Balkende – who now leads a new coalition without the VVD – said he was unhappy at the compulsory nature of such a test.
Ahmed Aboutaleb (Labour), who was an executive on the Amsterdam city council at the time and is now junior social affairs minister was also against such a move. ‘It is ridiculous to do a language test at that age,’ he said at the time.
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