Dutch schoolchildren ‘not learning enough about citizenship’

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Dutch teenagers are lagging behind their peers in other countries when it comes to understanding their rights and duties as citizens, an international study has found.

Schools in the Netherlands devote less time to issues around citizenship, such as diversity, inclusion and equal rights, and the different social attitudes towards them, researchers found.

The International Civic and Citizenship Education Study concluded that awareness among schoolchildren of citizenship issues was “notably lower” than in comparable countries and regions, such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Netherlands’ performance was average when measured against all 24 nations that took part, but its attainment level had not improved since the last time the study was carried out in 2016.

“In actual fact the level of knowledge has declined further in six years,” researcher Anne Bert Dijkstra told NRC.

The researchers said the changing shape of society made it more important for youngsters to learn about their role in a democratic society.

“A free, open and democratic society based on legal principles does not exist automatically,” they wrote. “That is certainly the case if you consider that there is no single answer to the question of what democracy and society should look like.”

The report went on to note that there were “indications that the knowledge, attitudes and skills of young people around citizenship are not at the required level,” as well as the fact that there were vast differences between groups in society.

The findings from the previous edition prompted the education ministry to draw up a new citizenship law, passed in 2021, clarifying what schools should to to include the subject in their curriculum.

Caretaker education minister MariĆ«lle Paul said the latest research was “valuable”, but pointed out that it was carried out in 2022, when the new law had only just been passed.

“It shows where we stand and where we can do better,” she said. “We’re already working on it.”

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