Improving education vital to safeguarding Dutch economy
The Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid (WRR), the Scientific Council for Government Policy, has just released a report calling on the Dutch government to not to be complacent with the Netherlands’ educational system.
In "Towards a Learning Economy," the WRR writes that the Netherlands is threatening to fall behind Asian, American and other European economies and therefore, more attention must immediately be paid in order to catch up in education and research.
Time to shift focus from the crisis
According to the WRR, the economic policies of recent years have focused on the financial crisis, the euro crisis and the reduction of the national debt: that is, short-term policies over long-term investments.
"It's too much about the macroeconomic variables, such as the budget deficit," says Peter van Lieshout, professor at the University of Utrecht and member of the WRR. "Investment in education provides little return according to the templates, so politicians choose policies that show results in the short term."
As the world economy is so changeable, and monetary policy is mostly already determined in Brussels, he argues that the only way to secure future prosperity is to focus on education and research as a foundation for the Dutch economy.
Yet according to the report, the standards of education are showing serious signs of falling.
State of the Dutch education system
In general, argues Van Lieshout, the Netherlands does fairly well, but only as a result of sensible policies from 10 or 20 years ago.
The report has examined the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores for the nation’s school children, which measure cognitive abilities in reading literacy, maths and science. The Netherlands’ scores have shown the least increase in the OECD over recent years.
Additionally, the report says the quality of teachers in primary education is deteriorating, while one out of fives lessons in secondary vocational education is given by an unqualified teacher.
At the HBO (hogescholen or university of applied science) level, only a third of students have a bachelor's degree within four years.
Van Lieshout claims that in other countries, unsatisfactory PISA scores caused programmes to be developed to address the problem. "Here," he says, "we just shrug our shoulders. We have no sense of urgency."
What to do
The report identified two tracks towards economic prosperity: linear predictions of what the market will want or need in terms of goods, services and sectors; and strengthen earning power, the capacity to exploit future opportunities and to cope with future threats.
"Towards a Learning Economy" advocates the latter, by strengthening infrastructure, institutions and human capital to ensure that they are adequately equipped to respond to changing circumstances.
Also, that the government should not only be looking at short-term macroeconomic variables such as GDP growth or deficit, but also pay attention to the long-term effects on the earning power of Netherlands.
It argues it is necessary for the Netherlands to step outside its comfort zone, especially now the worst of the financial crisis has passed. "In a situation of panic," said Van Lieshout, "no one would want to do anything with [the report]."