Education minister Ronald Plasterk’s decision to open up the debate about the age at which Dutch children are forced to make choices about their education is to be welcomed.
The pressure on children to decide on their future begins in their sixth or seventh year at primary school. It is then that the pre-testing for the wretched Cito test begins.
Then, in year eight, they are put through three days of multiple choice tests which are used to determine what sort of secondary school they should go to.
But just why is there so much focus on the type of secondary school? Because in the cities at least, most schools only offer one type of education – pre-university, pre-college or vocational. And that means if you get it wrong, you will either have to change schools or go through a long process – often years – to catch up with your peers. Late developers don’t stand a chance.
The other effect of this rigorous streaming from such an early age is segregation. Not just on ethnic grounds – even though most children at vocational schools have minority backgrounds – but in terms of class. Clever middle-class children only meet other clever middle-class children.
Children should be in schools offering education to all sorts of children as long as possible. Twelve is too young to be labeled.
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