Dutch secondary school system too rigid, leads to segregation


The Dutch education council is recommending that first year secondary school pupils should be taught in mixed ability classes so that they get to know people from a wider section of society. The proportion of mixed ability first year classes, known as brugklassen or bridge classes in Dutch, has gone down from 70% to 55% over the past 10 years, the council says. Another problem is that many Dutch secondary schools - particularly in cities - no longer offer a mix of academic streams, and children are segregated from other ability groups all together. 'People end up living in their own clubs and that can create a schism in society,' the council's chairwoman Henriette Maaseen van den Brink said in Friday's Trouw. The council also says it should be easier for children to switch between different streams - something which has become harder in recent years and which disadvantages late developers. Dutch children are selected for one of three streams at the age of 12: pre-university (vwo), pre-college (havo) and vocational training (vmbo). Earlier this year, a survey of 2,000 teachers showed three-quarters had faced pressure from parents to recommend children went to a more academic secondary school. The pressure to avoid vmbo schools led school inspectors in 2016 to say there is an ‘unacceptable’ inequality in Dutch secondary schools and the children of well-educated parents are scoring better in final exams than children of equal intelligence from more disadvantaged backgrounds.  More >




AI braindrain depletes Dutch universities

Universities are facing a severe shortage of artificial intelligence lecturers as PhDs opt for jobs outside academia or go abroad, the Financieele Dagblad reported on Monday. At the moment some 90% of AI graduates already find work outside academia and there are fears that a recruitment drive by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States will be powerful pull on the remaining 10%. ‘The MIT will try to get our best graduates,' Maarten de Rijke, director of the new Dutch national institute for artificial intelligence ICAI told the paper. ‘If that happens we won’t have anyone to teach a new generation of scientists.’ AI is a very popular choice among students but, the FD writes, there are too few people to teach them. The combined Amsterdam universities only have a total of 30 lecturers, for example. Some 700 students wanted to do an AI Master’s degree in Amsterdam this year but there were only 200 places. One way of solving the problem would be to up university salaries, De Rijke said. University lecturers earn half that of an AI specialist in industry while in the United States salaries can be five times as high. But, De Rijke says, it is not just better salaries that will persuade people to stay on at the universities. An environment which offers cooperation with talented colleagues, access to the best data and career perspectives is also a major draw. However, he warned, a big hurdle is the lack of affordable housing. Earlier this year European scientists warned that Europe is lagging behind in the global AI race, with China and the US as leading investors, the FD said.  More >


Teacher sick? School asks parents to help

A primary school in Hoorn in Noord Holland has asked parents to help out in class if teachers are off sick for more than a day. The Het Kompas school has written to parents to explain the unusual request, stating that the aim is to stop pupils being sent home if a teacher is absent. The shortage of teachers means it is difficult to plug all the holes in the teaching roster, hence the appeal to parents as a last resort. 'We are asking parents just to supervise a classroom, not to play teacher,' head teacher Jaap Muurling told NH Nieuws. The classrooms will be equipped with special educational games so that the children will continue to learn while at play. In Lelystad last week, one class was sent home for an entire week because there were no teachers to fill in for an absent colleague. Last month, two school organisations in Zaanstad warned they may have to cut down to a four-day week because of a shortage of teaching staff. The organisations, Agora and Zaan Primair, say personnel numbers have been cut to such an extent that they will have no cover if teachers fall ill during the autumn flu season.  More >



Amsterdam student refused entry to UK

Glasgow University Legal experts have denounced the decision to refuse an Amsterdam University student from Bosnia entry to the UK to attend an academic conference as 'irrational' and 'nonsensical'. Nadza Dzinalija, 21, travelled to Glasgow for the six-day conference organised by the university's psychology department, but immigration officials said they were 'not satisfied' she would leave even though she had a return flight booked for October 29. The Home Office raised concerns because her student visa was due to expire in December, The Independent reported. Dzinalija, who is on the first year of a two-year masters programme, applied in September for an extension to her visa, which was expected to be granted. She said: 'I was really surprised. I’ve applied for a lot of visas before and this is the first time I’ve had this experience. I’m bitterly disappointed that I can’t attend.' Immigration expert Jan Doerfel said the UK government's insinuation that the student would use an academic conference as a pretext to enter the UK illegally was 'unlawful' and 'deeply insulting to Nadza’s integrity'. He added it was a further blow to the UK's reputation for academic excellence as universities gear up for the challenge of attracting and maintaining top talent after the country leaves the European Union next March. 'It portrays a feeling of superiority and arrogance not only towards applicants’ actual life choices but also towards our European neighbours, as well as an insensitivity towards needs of academic institutions in this country which aim to keep the UK attractive and at the cutting edge of scientific research,' said Doerfel.  More >



Schools facing supply teacher shortage

Schools are struggling with a shortage of supply teachers because replacement staff are being offered permanent contracts. A survey of seven regional agencies that provide teachers to stand in when regular staff are off sick or to cover a vacancy found they are having to refuse requests earlier in the school year than ever before. 'We had to turn down a request from a school in the first week of the year, which has never happened before,' an administrator in Zeeland told NOS. On average supply teacher agencies have lost a third of their personnel during the last school year, often as a result of schools offering permanent jobs to teachers who have stood in for a member of staff. 'The continuity of education is in doubt because of this,' said Joost Spijker, director of RTC Transvita, which supplies teaching cover to schools in Utrecht, Gelderland, Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland and saw 200 of its 500 teachers leave last year. 'Some schools don't even ask us any more because they know there's only a very small chance that we can provide a replacement.' Education minister Arie Slob pledged last week to invest an extra €21 million in addressing teacher shortages, partly by increasing opportunities for people in other professions to retrain.  More >