Billions for education worth little without qualified teachers

The Dutch cabinet is planning a one-time injection of 8.5 billion euros into the framework of the National Education Program (NPO). Out of this amount, 5.8 billion euros are reserved exclusively for primary and secondary education. Schools can choose from a “menu” of appropriate interventions, for example extra support in the classroom or online tutoring.

De Volkskrant newspaper reports the main idea is to fight the learning disadvantages caused by the corona virus. In the past months, schools and universities were closed for a long period of time due to the pandemic and could only provide online classes. In many cases, this has led to students falling behind in their learning; the aims to eradicate the corona gap within the next 2.5 years. The available money should be distributed among all educational institutions in the Netherlands. The 6,600 primary schools in the Netherlands will receive 700 euros per student to make up for the corona backlog, or about 1.2 billion euros in total.

However, FD newspaper reports that many education specialists are critical of the project and the allocation of the extra budget. Representatives of teachers, school leaders and students say the NPO, which has been launched in a rush, is not very effective. Moreover, the intended timeframe for the NPO is far too ambitious, in their view. They propose to spread the funds over a longer period of time, for example 4 years. This gives the educational sector the space to use the money in a more targeted way and to support students for a longer period of time. In addition, the experts criticized the lack of concrete goals. The exact nature of the corona learning gap was not mapped out nationally and no plans for the evaluation of school performance after the program has ended were planned. This could increase the differences in performance between schools. In any case, they say, there is a need for a permanent raise in the education budget, which should be allocated to solve long-lasting problems in the industry: the shortage of qualified teachers, the high work pressure and the increased inequality of opportunities. Recently, the group was invited to the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) to voice its concerns.

Also, after many years of arguments for structural investments in education to counteract the steady decline in quality, the approval of extra money came just before the March elections. In an interview with FD newspaper, Tamar van Gelder, representative of the AOb, the largest education union in the Netherlands, says the move doesn’t feel correctly planned, but rather as an election stunt.

Additional people
De Volkskrant reports that, according to a survey by the General Association of School Leaders (AVS), primary schools want to use the money to put extra people in their classrooms. This includes attracting additional assistants in order to create smaller classes and more individual supervision.

The biggest challenge is to find people to do the job, since there is a shortage of staff, confirms AVS spokesman Rob van Ooijen. “It will be even harder if every school in the country starts recruiting.” And in any case, “if the basic needs are not in order, it’s difficult to eliminate backlogs,” say the aldermen of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. The four major cities want more money for extra learning time for children who desperately need it, for example through pre-school education and summer schools. According to the aldermen, this should not depend on the parents’ income.

As for higher and secondary vocational education, a large part of the money goes to the students themselves. For example, next year they will only pay half of their tuition fees. They will also be allowed to use their public transport card for an additional year.

In June, the minister for Primary and Secondary Education and Media, Arie Slob, scheduled a meeting to ensure that the 8.5 billion euros are actually spent on students. According to the Court of Audit, this was a problem with previous schemes that aimed to reduce the workload in education.

Written by Raphael Vieira