1. Background Information
Citizenship is nowadays the central concept in policy, theory, and practice concerning the personal and social development of people. In becoming a citizen, education is crucial. All nations make their own citizenship policy, but are influenced by global developments. In the past decades, the concept of citizenship has been broadened and deepened.
Each nation has a policy of citizenship and citizenship education. The kind of citizenship a nation tries to develop depends on the dominant political regime. In the Western world a democratic perspective on citizenship is usually stressed, but within this democratic framework different articulations are possible. Cultural differences and political configurations strongly influence the kind of citizenship and citizenship education a nation tries to realize in socializing their citizens.
2. Citizenship Education in the Netherlands
The socialization function of education has always been strong in the Netherlands.
A second important aspect of Dutch education that is relevant for citizenship education is the strong focus on assessment, selection, and tracking. Children are assessed a lot, in particular in languages, mathematics, and science. At the age of 12, they are segregated into six different levels of education (3 vocational, 3 general). It is easier to go down the ladder than to climb up. This early selection and the strong competition support the idea of citizens that are personally responsible for their own success and position in society. This is a strong hidden curriculum in citizenship education.
A third important element affecting Dutch citizenship education is the arrival of many immigrants from non-Western countries in the last half a century. First, most of them came as ‘guest workers’, now the new arrivals are refugees. There is some idea of a multicultural society, but the immigrants have to adapt to Dutch values and norms. Citizenship education is used to promote living together with different cultural groups and to assimilate immigrants into Dutch society.
A fourth relevant element, with a long history, is the role of religion. Religion and differences between religions have always played a significant role in Dutch society. The term ‘pillar’ is well known. Each religion had, and to some extent has, its own institutions. Particularly in education, the pillarization is still very strong. In the Netherlands, there are now more non-religious people than religious people, however, 2/3 of the schools are religious, mostly Christian. The religious schools are fully paid by the government; they have to follow the national curriculum except for the subject Religious Studies and religion-related topics. And here is where the difficulty with the curriculum for citizenship education starts. Religious groups do not want to have a strong curriculum policy for citizenship. They say that it is the religious group itself which has to determine what kind of citizenship in particular is in line with its own social and cultural make-up. According to them, the government should not overly interfere.
Altogether, the hidden curriculum of citizenship education is full of segregation by social class, culture and religion; different social and cultural groups hardly meet, either in schools or in the wider society. They do not really learn to live together or to build a democratic society together. Many politicians, and in particular advisory boards such as the Educational Council
The Netherlands in international comparative studies: ICCS and Teaching Common Values
The Netherlands participated in the international comparative study on civic and citizenship education (ICCS) in 2009 and 2016. In both studies, Dutch youngsters scored quite low in citizenship knowledge and in the desire for active participation in politics. They also scored very low in their attitude towards rights for immigrants.
Research done at the request of the European Parliament on the policy and practice of attention to the common values of democracy and tolerance in all 28 EU Member States has shown that in Dutch educational policy attention to these values is quite abstract and that no real operationalization into concrete practice has been made. Also, segregation and inequality is quite widespread and increasing.
3. Definition of Citizenship Education and Legal Environment
Let us see what the overt curriculum says about citizenship education. Since 2006, schools have had to pay attention to citizenship education. The central concepts are ‘active participation’ and ‘social integration’, as well as cultural diversity. There is no real formal curriculum for citizenship education: there are guidelines, and some civic competences are included in the core objectives of primary and secondary education. The National Institute for Curriculum Development in the Netherlands (SLO) provides schools with information and tools to develop a vision statement and a citizenship education programme. All subjects, in particular subjects like History and Geography are urged to pay attention to citizenship education. For History, a ‘canon’ has been developed for Dutch history. Geography should give insight into the place and role of the Netherlands in Europe and the global world. In upper secondary education, there is the subject social studies (maatschappijleer) that deals with social, cultural and political issues.
Researchers, and recently also the school inspectorate, show that many schools do not pay much attention to citizenship education.
There is now also the recognition by many scholars and some politicians that the focus of citizenship education on active participation and social integration is too narrow and that the concept of democracy should be more central. The Ministry of Education has taken several initiatives to more strongly define the content of citizenship. However, it has refrained from mandating the creation of an actual subject of citizenship education and from formulating more concrete objectives for the different subjects involved (see for the recent national debates and initiatives Externer Link: www.slo.nl/thema/meer/burgerschap).
4. Ecosystem of Non-formal Citizenship Education: Role of NGOs
The Netherlands has a long tradition of non-governmental and other kinds of organisations that inform and educate both youth and adults about citizenship-related issues.
Other examples of programmes schools can make use of are the museum Humanity House and the Castle of Democracy (permanent exhibition for children and adults), Movies that Matter (an initiative by Amnesty International to promote human rights through film), the Anne Frank Foundation on anti-racism, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) rights organisation COC, that advocates the rights of LGBTs among young people and adults. A special programme for primary schools, The Peaceful School (De Vreedzame School), has been developed by an education support organization to promote social competence and democratic citizenship. Compared to other European countries, the Netherlands has a broad spectrum of organisations that support schools in providing citizenship education. There are many interesting examples. However, most schools do not make much use of these recourses.
NGOs and community organisations are often involved in service-learning for students. Starting in 2011, each student of secondary education had to do some service learning. In the beginning, schools were not very enthusiastic because of the extra work load, but when students turned out to be positive about these learning activities and when an improved cooperation with the local community became clear, schools became quite enthusiastic. In 2014, however, a new government reneged on this obligatory service-learning and the concomitant extra resources for the schools. In many schools, service-learning once again became a marginalized activity.
As stated above, school boards and their corresponding religious organisations have a strong influence on citizenship education policy. In addition, many non-governmental organisations provide schools with extracurricular materials on citizenship education. Some organisations receive government funds to develop specific projects and materials, but schools always have a choice to either use the materials or not.
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science nevertheless, for example, legally obliges schools to focus explicitly on sexual diversity, a theme that has been mandatory since 2012. Schools may use materials developed by non-governmental organisations or develop lessons themselves.
Another example is community service-learning. In 2011, the law on mandatory community service-learning was introduced at secondary schools nationwide. Eighty-one percent of the parents supported the mandatory community service-learning.
6. Challenges and Future
The minister of education, Arie Slob, recently presented new regulations for citizenship education.
At the present time, the subject Social Studies is taught only in upper secondary education. In lower secondary education, the focus on citizenship exists particularly in History and Geography and in religious schools in Religious Studies, but the subject Social Studies is missing. The curriculum foundation of citizenship education must be made stronger.
From the perspective of building an inclusive society, segregation in society and in education remains a real problem. The strengthening of an education that takes place together, in groups that include the various diverse strata of society, demands a more integrated school system with less selection or selection at a later age, and a stronger focus on public education where all cultural groups are really welcome.