How to end 'Apartheid' in Dutch Schools?
The Dutch cabinet wants this country's primary schools to be more integrated. But the government has backed down from proposals made last year to attempt to force school integration. By rnw political editor John Tyler
This middle road has aroused the ire of parties to the left and to the right. The Socialist Party even talks about a system of apartheid in the Dutch schools, and wants the national government to do more to force integration. On the other hand, the Christian parties are concerned that the pilot projects the government has proposed impinge on the identity of parochial schools.
So how bad is the problem of segregation in Dutch primary education? In Dutch, schools where the majority of pupils have a foreign background are called "black schools". The term can lead to confusion, since it does not explicitly refer to the racial make-up of the schools. "Black schools" include children of Moroccan, Turkish, and Surinamese background, but also children from countries in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. A more accurate term for these schools would be minority schools.
About 7 percent of all primary schools in the Netherlands are minority schools, and that number is growing. Jasper van Dijk, a member of parliament for the Socialist Party, wants to break what he calls a taboo in the discussion of segregation in schools.
"You cannot deny that when you have this segregation in the education system, you can call that apartheid. Because when even the cities are mixed, the children go to schools separately - that's a matter of apartheid, I cannot call it differently."
But the Socialist Party's position is not widely shared. Jan Jacob van Dijk, no relation to Jasper, is an MP from the Christian Democrats. He says quality is more important than integration in primary schools, and the quality of education at many minority schools has been improving. Besides, Jan Jacob van Dijk says, segregation in the school system is part of broader social patterns, including socio- economic factors.
"If you take for example some of suburbs of cities, and you see there is an overwhelming majority of people of immigrant background, then don't be surprised that at that moment, the schools in that area are 'black'."
The Dutch education system is exceptional in that kids do not automatically go to the neighbourhood school. The system has always been based on school choice. The government funds private as well as public schools, and parents must register their children at the school of their choice. Especially in urban areas, the number of schools on offer can run into double digits.
The best schools tend to fill up early, and parents who don't know the system often end up sending their kids to the nearest school. In neighbourhoods where the majority of residents are immigrants, the local primary schools quickly become so-called "black" schools.
That's something the government wants to change. Deputy Minister of Education Sharon Dijksma has announced a number of voluntary pilot projects to help immigrant families get involved in choosing a primary school. But the government has to tread carefully. They want to maintain the system of school choice, and don't want to force kids to go to a school outside their neighbourhood.
Many people who are involved in education are glad to hear that. Walter Wijnbergen is the director of the Sprinbok primary school in the Transvaal neighbourhood of The Hague. It's an immigrant neighbourhood, and the Springbok school is a minority school. Mr Wijnbergen wants to see integration in the neighbourhood, but is not concerned about attracting native Dutch children to his school.
"It's very important that the children, who are here in the school, and in this neighbourhood, are learning to work with together, and play together. And that's happening. It’s multicultural, and they are doing things together, and that, for me, is also integration."
19 March 2008
[Photo: Kids from Anita's group 2 class at the Springbok school]
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]