The rules on foreign language education at Dutch primary schools are to be changed to give schools more leeway to introduce English lessons from an early age.
Junior education minister Sander Dekker told parliament he considers it ‘a shame’ that most primary schools only start teaching English from year seven.
‘Young children have the ability to pick up a foreign language in a playful way,’ he said in a statement. ‘This is an opportunity we should not ignore.’
According to the education ministry, almost 1,000 primary schools have been experimenting with introducing English and an increasing number want to do so.
The new programme will also include using English as the language of instruction in other subjects, such as history.
To make this possible, Dekker is planning to change the rules so that up to 15% of teaching time can take place in English or another language In addition, 20 primary schools will start experiments in fully bilingual education.
A spokeswoman for The Hague city council said the city welcomed the plans. ‘As a council we have urged the government to give more room to bilingual education,; Ingrid van Engelshoven said. ‘It is appropriate at a time of increasing international contacts. We will seize this opportunity with both hands.’
A year ago, a court in Rotterdam ruled Dutch primary schools should no longer be allowed to give more than 3.5 hours of lessons in English a week.
The case was brought by Taalverdediging, an organisation which campaigns against the unnecessary use of English and other foreign languages.
The lobby group was angry that some primary schools in Rotterdam were giving children four hours of lessons in English a week. This, the organisation says, is illegal because under Dutch law, lessons should be given in Dutch.
See also: Power to the People
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