Volkskrant: American school pressure in the Netherlands? No thanks.

American high school students are stressed out. Is the same likely to happen to Dutch pre university VWO students?, asks the Volkskrant.

‘I’m afraid our children will sue us for stealing their childhood’, says psychologist Wendy Morel at the beginning of the documentary Race to Nowhere.
Stressed out students
The American film premiered at the Amsterdams Lyceum. Thirty VWO students, mainly girls, agreed to stay after class and marvel at their stressed out American counterparts.
Many people object to the ‘six out of ten’ culture supposedly prevalent in the Dutch educational landscape – among whom a significant number of ministers who only got nines by holding their report cards upside down. But there is a dark side to the relentless promotion of school excellence, say film makers Vicki Abeles and Jessica Congdon.
‘There were times when I sat down to do my home work and just started to cry’, says one American student. In order to go to a good university students not only need to achieve top grades but also have ‘leadership qualities’, be good at sport, work for the community and, if they can fit it in at all, speak five languages and dash off Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. ‘A race to nowhere’ one student calls it.
Worse results
This leads, Abeles and Congdon tell us, to stressed out children and parents and plummeting study results. American students are doing worse than many of their Asian and European peers, Dutch students included. American children learn how pass a test but not how to think independently, educational experts assess the problem.
This may be true for the United States but surely not for Dokkum, Den Haag or Dinxperlo? The film should be taken with a big pinch of Dutch salt, says educational trainer Bart van der Velpen whose organisation FC De Krachtpatsers organised the premiere with ABC educational advisory group.
But according to Van der Velpen, Dutch schools are not immune. ‘I believe that the cabinet’s plans to tighten up university entry requirements will result in a lot of students taking valium because of stress’, he warns.
‘Stand up if school stress gives you tummy aches or headaches’, says Van der Velpen. Half of the students stand up. One girl tugs another girl’s sleeve and she gets up too.
‘Stand up if you feel that school is all about results’, Van der Velpen says. This time nearly all students rise. ‘In the back of your mind you know that good marks aren’t everything but that is not the impression you get at school’, one student remarks.
But not all students succumb to school stress. When Van der Velpen says ‘Stand up those of you who are satisfied with six out of ten’, twelve out of the thirty students stand up. Twelve others think seven out of ten is good enough and the rest think eight out of ten should be the minimum.
‘I’m a six out of ten person’, Alicia says. ‘I do lots of things outside school like dancing and hockey. I could work harder for higher marks but I don’t want to.’
Thinking ahead
Her classmate Noortje is less carefree. ‘I’m thinking ahead all the time. Sometimes I get desperate when I have worked really hard but don’t get the mark I expected. And then I think: why spend so much time studying?’
‘I don’t feel stressed’, says Tess. ‘The Dutch school system is totally different. Your VWO diploma will still get you access to almost any university course you like.’ ‘We’re already top’, agrees Leonie. ‘And that means a lot less stress’, adds Tess.

This is an unofficial translation

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