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Netherlands

Secondary Education


The main goals in secondary education are interrelated: to encourage broad, personal development and social education of all students; to create active, independent learners; and to recognize and make use of individual differences between students. There have been a number of curricular reforms in secondary education based on these goals.

Secondary education is intended for students aged twelve and over. It is divided into prevocational education (VBO), junior general secondary education (MAVO), senior general secondary education (HAVO), and pre-university education (VWO). In 1999, VBO and MAVO were combined to create prevocational secondary education, VMBO. However, the new VMBO is being gradually phased in and both systems co-existed in 2001.

In the 1999-2000 school year, there were 861,485 pupils attending 635 public or private secondary schools. In the past, the different kinds of secondary courses were provided in separate schools, but by the end of the 20th century, many of these schools had been merged, creating broad-based combined schools. This has given students a choice in programs within the same school. Some schools are still independent, however, and many of these only have one kind of education program, such as preuniversity education with Latin and Greek.


Prevocational Education: Prevocational education (VBO) lasts four years and prepares students for secondary vocational education (senior secondary vocational education and apprenticeships). There are fifteen departments within VBO: building techniques, metalworking, electrical engineering, motor mechanics, fitting techniques, catering, printing technology, caring occupations, beauty care and hairdressing, fashion and clothing, retailing, clerical work, commerce, agriculture and the natural environment, and food technology. However, not every VBO school offers all of these courses. Some VBO schools have a separate department for individualized education (IVBO) to teach students who need extra help at their own speed.


Junior General Secondary Education: Like VBO, junior general secondary education (MAVO) lasts for four years. However, unlike the more vocationally oriented VBO, MAVO provides a more general education. Like VBO, MAVO prepares pupils for senior secondary vocational education (MBO) and apprenticeships.


Senior General Secondary Education: Senior general secondary education (HAVO) lasts five years and prepares students to enter higher professional education. However, many of these students go on to either preuniversity education (VWO) or MBO.


Pre-university education: Pre-university education (VWO) lasts six years and prepares students for university studies. However, some of these students prefer to enroll in higher professional education courses. There are three types of VWO schools: the atheneum (where Latin is sometimes offered as an optional subject), the gymnasium (where Greek and Latin are compulsory) and the lyceum (where Latin and Greek are optional).


Special Secondary Education: Schools for special secondary education (VSO) are created for children with physical disabilities, impaired hearing or vision, or chronic illnesses. Children with learning and/or behavioral difficulties also frequently attend VSO schools. Special secondary schools work in conjunction with MAVO, VBO or IVBO schools to put together courses based on students' individual needs to improve their chances of graduating from school or going on to vocational training.


Basic Secondary Education: In August 1993, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science introduced basic secondary education and a new core curriculum. Basic secondary education replaced the first three years of VBO, MAVO, HAVO, and VWO with a compulsory core curriculum of fifteen subjects: Dutch, English, German or French, history and politics, geography, economics, physical education, mathematics, physics and chemistry, biology, self-sufficiency (social and life skills), IT studies, technology, and two creative subjects. Each school chooses their creative subjects from these possibilities: drawing, handicrafts, textile crafts, photography, film/audiovisual studies, music, drama, or dance.

At the end of the basic secondary education period, pupils are assessed to see if they have acquired the knowledge, understanding, and skills defined in the attainment targets. Students need to take at least one final national test for each subject. Schools can vary the tests according to different learning styles and abilities of their pupils, and they may include additional school-specific examination questions. There are also cross-disciplinary general attainment targets relating to social issues and skills that are assessed at the end of basic secondary education.


Reforms in Secondary Education: Prevocational secondary education (VMBO) was introduced on August 1, 1999 as part of the secondary education reforms. The "learning pathways" of VMBO will eventually replace VBO and MAVO courses, although they both existed in 2001. The goal of the learning pathways is to provide a sounder basis for the next stage of vocational training, secondary vocational education (SBO) the new name for senior secondary vocational education (MBO).

After completing basic secondary education, students spend the second stage of their courses preparing for the school-leaving examinations for the program they have selected. These are both internal examinations given by the school and national examinations administered under government supervision. The system for selecting examination subjects was also changed in 1999. The VMBO, replacing VBO and MAVO, is made up of engineering and technology, economics, agriculture and care, and welfare. Students choose among three learning pathways: theoretical (MAVO), vocational (available at two levels), or combined theoretical and vocational. A fixed combination of examination subjects is specified for each pathway. In addition, a new kind of practical training was created to prepare students to enter the labor market directly if they do not qualify for completing VBO or MAVO.

Four set subject combinations were also introduced in 1998 for the second stage of HAVO/VWO. Students now choose among set combinations of: science and technology, science and health care, economics and society, or culture and society. Each combination includes an optional component for students to take subjects outside of their set combination or non-examination subjects chosen by the school, such as religious education. The reforms have been created to improve the transition from secondary to higher education by emphasizing independent learning.


Information & Communication Technology: The "Investing in Progress" action plan integrates information and communication technology (ICT) into the basic secondary education core curriculum to support independent learning and to support the teaching of modern languages and Dutch. Information and communication technology is also being used to update VBO, HAVO and VWO curricula to reflect the use of computers in trade, industry, research, and higher education.


Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceNetherlands - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education