Moving Forward? Addressing the Needs of Young At-Risk Students in the Dutch Education System: The 2007 International Focus Issue of Childhood Education Examined the Topic of Inclusive Educational Practices around the World. We Revisit That Theme Here

By van der Aalsvoort, Geerdina M. | Childhood Education, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Moving Forward? Addressing the Needs of Young At-Risk Students in the Dutch Education System: The 2007 International Focus Issue of Childhood Education Examined the Topic of Inclusive Educational Practices around the World. We Revisit That Theme Here


van der Aalsvoort, Geerdina M., Childhood Education


Inclusive education in the Dutch education system has achieved new meaning in the last decade or so. Until 1998, the Netherlands recognized 19 types of special education. Then, two Educational Acts were passed, in 1998 and 2003, that decreased the types of special education by including measures to enhance inclusion of students with special educational needs in regular primary and secondary education. We will first present information about the Dutch preschool and primary school system, followed by a description of the two laws mentioned above. (The information applies to the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, and Suriname.) Then we will present the main findings of three investigative studies. The first study was retrospective and it revealed teachers' and parents' views about students who had been referred to special schools in relationship to the students' portfolios. The second study was a literature search, conducted under orders of the Dutch government to clarify how identification of learning disabilities is organized in Europe and the United States. The third study was a longitudinal experimental study that included microgenetic data to analyze the social play of at-risk students taught in either regular or special primary schools.

The Dutch Preschool and Primary School System

Most children (94 percent of the population regardless of ethnicity) who enter primary school have been in child care, between birth to age 4, or a play group, between ages 2 to 4. Play groups aim at providing opportunities for social development. Children attend play groups two to four half days a week. Child care is offered for infants to 4-year-olds. The centers that provide child care look after children 2 to 5 days a week, offering cold meals, nap time, et cetera. The Ministry of Welfare, Health and Sports is the government agency with jurisdiction over child care. There is no law requiring type of activities for the preschool period, but Inspection Boards regulate quality of care with respect to staff training, parent involvement, and the building where the care is offered.

Ninety percent of all children in the Netherlands enter primary school at the age of 4. By age 5, school enrollment is compulsory. Grades 1 and 2 can be characterized as kindergarten. Formal or systematic learning of reading, writing, and mathematics starts in Grade 3. At age 12, students enter secondary education and stay until age 16 to 18, depending on the level of secondary school. This may vary from low-level to high-level school education, followed by either vocational training or college and university. There is no national curriculum in kindergarten and primary school, although general educational goals are defined and evaluated on a regular basis by the School Inspection Board. Education is financed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science.

It is characteristic of the Dutch system that policy decisions are the result of extensive consultations between policymakers at various levels as well as the organizations within the institutions. Decisions regarding educational and pedagogical aspects, however, are made autonomously by child care centers and school boards, not by national or local authorities, and child care and schools are all financed on an equal footing (Kloprogge, 1998).

Two Educational Acts

For the past 20 years, the Dutch education system has been highly differentiated. Every child between ages 5 to 17 falls under the system. Two laws have elicited changes. In 1998, the Act on Primary Education (APE) included a movement called "Going to school together again." One main school board includes the boards from several regular primary schools within a specific region and the board of one school for special primary education for students with behavioral and/or learning problems. Board regulations are specific with respect to identifying children with special educational needs. Students from age 3 and older are allowed in special primary education. …

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