Personal development sect Avatar 'infiltrates' Dutch schools: media

A sect similar to Scientology is infiltrating the Dutch school system and may run as many as six private schools in the Netherlands, according to research by the NRC and current affairs show De Monitor. They claim several so-called ‘democratic schools’, including the Guus Kieft School in Amstelveen, are run om Avatar principles. The schools are privately funded and often take in pupils who, for one reason or another, fail to thrive in the regular school system. Avatar is similar to Scientology, which has been accused of brainwashing and manipulation. Invented in the USA by former Scientology member Harry Palmer, the members of the sect adhere to a mixture of Scientology, Hinduism and New Age, and believe the earth was colonised by aliens. However, the NRC writes, Avatar also advocates such controversial techniques as exorcism to cure cancer and ADHD. De Monitor said the management board of the oldest and largest Dutch democratic school, De Ruimte in Soest, includes six Avatars and parents are encouraged to do Avatar training courses. ‘Our experience is that Avatar brainwashing is very evident there,’ one mother who took her children out of the school is quoted as saying. The school has denied the accusation. Wizards Earlier this month the NRC revealed that three local councillors, who have the status of Wizard in the organisation have been promoting Avatar by sending civil servants on Avatar courses. According to the paper there are some 1,600 Avatar trainers in the Netherlands. The local council footed the bill which may be as high as €15,000, the paper said. Sektesignaal, an organisation set up by the justice ministry to monitor sectarian activity, has asked the education minister to look into the matter. The De Monitor report will be broadcast on Tuesday evening.  More >

Fewer children are bullied at school

The number of children being bullied at secondary school has fallen sharply following concerted efforts to tackle the problem, according to new education ministry figures. In 2014, 11% of secondary school pupils said they were bullied, but that has now fallen to 5%, the education ministry figures show. At primary schools, one in 10 under-12s say they are the victim of bullying, the same as in 2016 but down from 14% in 2014. Education minister Arie Slob described the reduction as a 'tremendous performance from schools, teachers, pupils, parents and everyone else who has worked on this.' Nevertheless, 'we must remain on top of the situation', Slob said, adding that reducing bullying requires a long-haul effort. Bullying at school hit the headlines in 2012 when three teenagers committed suicide in quick succession because of being bullied at school. In 2013, then-education minister Sander Dekker and the children's ombudsman drew up a plan of campaign to tackle the problem. In 2015, all schools were required by law to tackle bullying. Primary schools In May this year, a report by five Dutch universities and mental health monitor Trimbos found that only four out of 10 popular methods to combat bullying in primary schools actually worked. The report also showed 30% of primary school children experience instances of bullying at school and a smaller group, 1 in 14, is bullied more than once a week. Of this group a third does not tell anyone about the bullying and 97% of these children have been bullied over several years.  More >

Students furious, government ups loan bill

Student campaign group LSVB has reacted angrily to news that the government is planning to extend the fixed interest rate period for student loans from five to 10 years because repayments will be more expensive, broadcaster NOS said on Friday. Education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven has sent draft legislation to parliament extending the fixed period from five to 10 years to all loans taken out from 2020. The measure was included in the coalition agreement. 10-year loans are more expensive than five-year ones and the minister estimates students will have to pay back an extra 18% a month on their loans - €82 rather than €70 on the average loan of €21,000. However, if students take the full 35 years to pay back the cash, they will be thousands of euros worse off, student groups say. The measure will raise some €226m for the treasury and is necessary to keep the student loan system affordable, the minister said. The government scrapped student grants in 2015 and pledged at the time the extra cash would be ploughed back into education. It also said the debt would not have an impact on mortgage applications. However, it has transpired in the last few days that loans are being included by banks on assessing mortgage applications and that the money saved by scrapping grants has not yet been put into higher education.  More >

Dutch scientist wins Kavli award

Dutch astronomer Ewine van Dishoeck has won the prestigious Kavli award for astrophysics for her work on the origin of stars and planets. She will receive the gold medal and €1m prize money from the hands of King Harald V of Norway on Tuesday. ‘I am still speechless after the phone call from the Norwegian Academy,’ Van Dishoeck, who became chairman of the International Astronomical Union in the same week, said. ‘It’s a great honour, especially for my young co-workers and colleagues worldwide. Thanks to them we are now in the Champions League of astronomy.’ ‘But is not just about pure science but the fact that we are helping to solve one of human kind’s greatest puzzles: are we alone in the universe?’ she added. The Kavli award is awarded every two years by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters.  More >

Fewer Dutch children cycle to school

Three in 10 Dutch children travel to school by car despite a series of campaigns encouraging them and their parents to take the bike, according to new research. Research agency SOAB found that the number has increased in recent years from 26% even though schools and safety organisations such as Veilig Verkeer Nederland have urged parents to escort younger children by bike. The trend has been partly attributed to the increase in the number of families where both parents work, leaving them with no option but to drop their children off by car on their way to the office, De Telegraaf reported. As well as the health implications, the increased car usage leads to congestion and parking problems at the school gates. Ellen van der Ligt, head teacher at 't Praathuis primary school in Culemborg, said: 'Last week we had the children handing out flyers to motorists. From next week the police will be out enforcing the rules. People who breach the parking regulations will be fined.' Although some parents have valid reasons for using the car, in many cases it becomes the convenient option, said traffic psychologist Gerard Tertoolen. 'It's the idea that we're so horrendously busy. We want to use every minute productively and see cycling or walking to school as dead time.' As well as enforcement measures, some schools have introduced incentives to reward children who go by bike. The cycling4school scheme enables children to earn points by walking or cycling which they can then spend on activities for the class. Ineke Spape, of SOAB, said Breda had cut car use by 10% simply by encouraging children to take the initiative. 'They would rather cycle than sit on the back seat of the car and have been urging their parents to leave the car behind,' she said.  More >