Increase of expats at Dutch-speaking schools

Edition 8 March 2019, by Bárbara Luqe

Recently, municipalities have struggled to fill the educational needs of expat children in Dutch schools. Public schools, particularly in the regions of Eindhoven, Amsterdam and The Hague, are expecting a significant increase in the number of children of expats in the coming years.

Mainly because regional companies recruit more and more foreign technicians and ICT specialists, expat numbers have increased quickly. In 2008, a total of 500 expats came to the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. That number has risen to 13,000 per year in 2018, and considering many of them come with families, Dutch schools now face a great challenge in their educational program, given the increasing number of international students.

In previous years, expats usually chose an international school for their children, since they would stay in the country for no more than three years. Additionally, their employers would usually cover the cost of this education. This has changed, as expats are now staying abroad for an unknown and usually longer period of time. “The stay abroad can last for the entire primary school period”, said a spokesperson for the municipality of Amstelveen to the newspaper Trouw.

Two factors affect the declining suitability of private international schools: first, there are long waiting lists for entrance to these schools; second, due to the high fees of international schools, many expats prefer public schools.

Amsterdam and surrounding municipalities expect a total of 3,000 expat children coming into school, half of them in international private schools and the other half in regular schools. The problem that this represents is getting more evident with time. Just recently, in the municipality of Amstelveen, a place that has always been a favorite for expats to settle, there have been classes with only two children who speak Dutch.

Frans Cornet, director of Amstelwijs, a foundation for public primary education in Amstelveen that runs eleven public primary schools, pointed out the lack of financial means to regulate this student influx. Because these are mostly children of well-educated parents, publicly funded schools do not receive extra money to provide language education for non-Dutch-speaking kids. Also, Cornet states that support for these expat pupils cannot be funded from the existing budgets, which schools need for other expenses.

On this matter, Petra van Haren of the General Association of School Managers (AVS) said: “The parents have the right to choose a Dutch school and that school is obliged to accept the children. But while schools receive extra money for language lessons for migrant children, this does not apply to children of expats, because they often only stay for a few years.”

She states that a discussion on the subject must be had with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and the companies involved. She thinks they should find a way to obtain sufficient funds for the education of expat children. She said to public broadcaster NOS: “Often these children do not speak Dutch at all, but they have to learn it, because classes are taught in Dutch. Learning the language takes a lot of extra time and there is no money for that now.”

While discussions about solutions take place, teachers are having to put in extra time to pay special attention to these children, who don’t speak Dutch and sometimes only join the class for a few months. To solve this, the municipality of Amstelveen has put extra money into the fund for classes to newcomers, where children of both expats and migrants can now get intensive language lessons for a year. They have also created what they call “Group 0”, where for the first year they are in the country, children get an extra teacher who will guide them in school skills and basic education, which will help them to adapt easily in their new city.

Given the good results of this project, the demand has been so great that the funds from the municipality cannot keep up. As a result of this, children end up attending regular Dutch classes, with no extra teaching in language or culture.

Speaking about more long-term solutions, Cornet sees a great potential in schools where children can take fifty percent of their classes in Dutch and fifty percent in English: “There is a great demand for this, but legally it is still complicated to arrange it, as officially schools can only teach a maximum of fifteen percent of the lessons in English.”

As for the municipality, it holds bimonthly consultations with schools on how pupils can be assisted. Specifically, the parties are in talks to open a government-funded school for international education, perhaps already in 2019.