Pilot of bilingual primary schools announced in the Netherlands

14 January 2014, by
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Next school year, 12 Dutch primary schools across the Netherlands will start a fully bilingual English/Dutch education programme, the Dutch government has announced.

Starting in kindergarten, children in schools in (among others) Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Hilversum will spend half their school hours being taught in English, including subjects such as physical education, geography and history.

Until now, bilingual education was only offered in secondary schools.

Bilingual primary school pilot

The pilot is one of the actions from the "English plan" that State Secretary for Education Sander Dekker announced in summer 2013, partly prompted by requests from schools with a strong international orientation.

Next year, a further eight schools will be able to join the programme. If by 2019 the programme is considered a success, more schools may be allowed to switch to a fully bilingual curriculum.

Current language education in the Netherlands

Last year there were 965 primary schools in the Netherlands that offered English classes, and a further 100 that taught German, French and Spanish. There are also a large number of international schools in the Netherlands that offer English-language curricula.

The government is also working on a bill that will provide curriculum space of up to 15 per cent for all primary schools to use English, French or Germans as the language of instruction.

Benefits of bilingual education

According to Dekker, children with a bilingual education will be more worldly-wise, better personnel and have a stronger competitive position.

"Dutch children will be earning their living in a world where it is more important than ever that they speak good English in addition to Dutch. Young children especially pick up languages with ease," he said.

Research supports this: academics at the universities of Utrecht and Groningen have shown that students who received English lessons at a young age reach a higher level in the language than their Dutch-only educated peers, while their level of Dutch is on a par.

Project launched in The Hague

The first school to announce the pilot is Basisschool de Haagsche Schoolvereeniging in The Hague. Ingrid van Engelshoven, alderman for education and services in The Hague, said that bilingual education was a "long-cherished wish" of the council and parents in The Hague.

Bilingual schools in the Netherlands

"Children grow up in a city with numerous European and international institutions in the fields of peace and justice," she said. "Bilingual education gives children from an early age the resources to be at home in the city and in the world at the same time."

Concerns around the project

According to some educators, however, expanding English-language education into primary schools may not have the desired effect.

Arjen de Korte, who teaches English for pre-university students at Driestar University, says that secondary education does not follow up on the knowledge gained in primary school.

He says that schools cannot take into account the varying language levels of students and that those who have learnt English in primary school become lazy at secondary school. He also says that bilingual education will require a lot of teachers with good levels of English, as well as further education and training for them.

The government has not as yet announced plans for additional English language teachers or education for current primary school teachers.

An online poll on Trouw newspaper asking people if they would have preferred a bilingual education showed that out of around 1.000 people, over half said they did not, as they had easily learnt good English later in their education.

Schools participating in the pilot

De Visserschool, Amsterdam
De Haagsche Schoolvereeniging, The Hague
De Blijberg, Rotterdam
De Lanteerne, Nijmegen
Het Talent, Lent
De Violenschool, Hilversum
De Wilge, Hilversum
De Kindercampus, Hilversum
De Groningse Schoolvereniging, Groningen
De Internationale School, Eindhoven
De Prinseschool, Enschede De Polle, Marsum

Sources: Government of the Netherlands, NOS, Trouw

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