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History & Background

The Netherlands is located in northwestern Europe, between the North Sea to the north and west, Germany on the east, and Belgium to the south. Land area includes only about 13,255 square miles, and with a population of 15.5 million, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Although indigenous Dutch are most likely a combination of Frisians, Saxons and Franks, immigrants from many other cultures have settled in the Netherlands for centuries. Twentieth century immigrants from former Dutch colonies, mainly Indonesia, Molucca and Suriname, make up a majority of ethnic minorities. In 1996, more than 16 percent of the Dutch population was non-indigenous. The largest minority population groups came from the Dutch Indies (more than 300,000), Surinam (282,000), Turkey (272,000), Morocco (225,000), the Antilles (94,000), and other Mediterranean countries (164,000).

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Dutch Constitution, church and state are separate, and there is no state religion. The Dutch population in 1997 was generally divided among Roman Catholics (32 percent), Protestants (22 percent), and the non-religious (39 percent). Almost 8 percent of the population belonged to other religious groups. Among those, 2.5 percent of the population was Muslim and.5 percent Buddhist.

In 1999, approximately 40 percent of the Dutch population was under twenty-nine years of age, making it not a particularly young country but nonetheless known for its counterculture youth. Dutch is the language of the country and of instruction, but in the province of Fries-land, Frisian is also an official language and taught in the schools. Due to its history of occupation, geographic location, and tourism interests, many people in the Netherlands are fluent in a few languages. Three-quarters of the Dutch speak a second language, and 44 percent speak two foreign languages. The most common foreign languages spoken regularly in the Netherlands are English, French and German.

Historical Evolution: The Netherlands has a long history of educational reform. In the fourteenth century, the Brethren of the Common Life was founded to bring together laymen and religious men. The Brethren eventually set up schools that some of the most important humanists from northern Europe attended. The most well known was Desiderius Erasmus, a great scholar and liberal educator.

The first piece of educational legislation in the Netherlands, the Elementary Education Act, was passed in 1801. Before the Kingdom of the Netherlands was founded in 1813, education was the responsibility of mainly private religious institutions, and guilds supplied vocational training. In the Constitution of the New Kingdom, education was declared the responsibility of the state to ensure that citizens unable to afford expensive private schools had an opportunity to receive a basic education free of charge. This was the beginning of Dutch public schools. Later the Constitution of 1848 restored the right of private organizations to found schools, but without financial help from the state. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, elementary schools were divided into government-funded public schools and privately-funded private schools.

The unequal treatment of public and private education led to the "schools dispute," a political battle to achieve complete equality under the law for both types of schools. Catholics and Protestants wanted their own schools but with equal state funding. The Liberals also wanted their freedom of education guaranteed by the Constitution to receive equal financial treatment. Dutch taxpayers were already contributing to the costs of funding state education. Most active church members felt they should not have to pay for private ("confessional") education at their own expense in addition to helping to pay for state ("profane") schools. Ultimately this led to the political emancipation struggle, often referred to as the "school funding controversy." This was finally resolved with the 1917 Constitution, in what is known as the "Pacification of 1917," establishing equal funding for state and private schools. After 1917, the principle of financial equality was extended to secondary and higher education. There are now nearly twice as many private schools as public schools.

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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceNetherlands - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education