Cracks are appearing in Dutch schools system, inspectors warn

Sharp choices need to be made to maintain the current high standards in the Dutch education system, the schools inspectorate said on Wednesday in a new report. The cracks which have been beginning to appear now threaten to get deeper and the future of the system is under threat, the inspectors say. These cracks are apparent in falling results, inequality of opportunity and increasing socio-economic segregation, and this situation is being made worse, the inspectors say, by the shortage of teachers in some sectors. This year, the education system needs a further 2,322 full time teachers and this will rise to around 4,200 vacancies in five years time. In particular, schools with a 'complex pupil body' are being hard hit by the lack of teaching staff. 'The shortages are bigger in schools with large ethnic minority populations, whether they are in cities or more rural areas,' the inspectors say. The inspectors also warn that more needs to be done to ensure schools produce youngsters who can easily slot into the labour market and meet the changing demands of the economy.  More >

'Burka ban' delayed to start of August

The ban on facial coverings in public spaces has been delayed by a month and will now take effect on August 1, home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren has said. The so-called 'burka ban' will apply in schools, universities, government buildings and on public transport. Anyone who covers their face could be asked to remove the garment and given a €400 fine. Ollongren said the extension on implementing the law was a response to comments from schools who said it would be difficult to change their procedures during a school year. The ban will now take effect in schools after the summer holidays. The Senate passed the law last July following more than a decade of political wrangling and a sustained campaign by right-wing parties such as the PVV to curtail Islamic cultural influences. A ban was included in the coalition agreement in 2010 as part of the deal which saw Geert Wilders's party support the minority VVD-CDA coalition. However, the government collapsed in May 2012 when Wilders walked out before the measure could become law. The Council of State has been critical of the plan, saying the 'need and usefulness' has not been proven and warning that it risks infringing on the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Amsterdam's mayor Femke Halsema also stirred controversy last November when she said enforcing the ban was 'not a priority' in the city. She later qualified her statement by saying the city would abide by the law.  More >

More cash invested in boosting literacy

Ministers have set aside €425m over the coming five years to boost literacy, numeracy and computer skills among people who have difficulty functioning in society. In total, the money will be used to target 2.5 million adults and children 'with and without an immigrant background', the education ministry said on Monday. 'Language, arithmetic and digital skills are essential to be able to contribute to society,' education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said in a statement. 'A lack of skills is a barrier to independence in our society, both online and offline. So we are investing heavily in helping people improve their basic skills.' The money will be spent on adult education classes and special subsidies for employers who sign a ‘language agreement’ pledging to work to combat illiteracy. By 2024, at least 1,000 companies should have signed up for the agreement, and the target is to provide help to 30,000 people via the corporate scheme. Money will also go on helping people learn to use computers and smartphones.  More >

Iranian students face further checks in NL

The Netherlands is to increase its monitoring of Iranian students and researchers at Dutch universities to make sure they cannot acquire specialist knowledge which can be used to develop ballistic missiles in Iran. The cabinet is making the move following concerns that Iran is developing ballistic missile technology and a 'recent case', foreign minister Stef Blok said in a briefing to parliament. Sources told broadcaster NOS the recent case refers to a student at Delft University of Technology who was able to learn about building and launching rockets. In 2012, the Dutch courts ruled it is illegal to discriminate against Iranian students by requiring a special permit for some studies but now there are more legal options to intervene, ministers say. Students and researchers are currently screened for links to North Korea but that will now be expanded to other countries, starting with Iran. Other countries may be introduced later if necessary. Students who do not pass the screening will not be allowed to study in the Netherlands. Delft University said in a reaction that it understood the sensitivity of the issue and pointed out that students and researchers from countries considered 'risky' already need special permission for subjects such as rocket technology.  More >