Refugees in front of the classroom

Edition 30 October 2018, by Lorre Luthe

Last month, fifteen highly-educated refugees from Syria, Uzbekistan, Sudan and elsewhere found themselves back in the classroom. Years after having graduated from universities in their home countries, they began a new course of study that would qualify them to teach in the Netherlands. Communities throughout the nation are facing an acute shortage of certified primary and high school teachers. In Amsterdam, the deficit has reached the point of crisis. With over 300 teaching posts left unfilled at the beginning of the school year, the municipality plans to use civil servants, student teachers, and well-educated refugees to fill the gap. With a projected shortage of 125 full-time-equivalent teaching positions this year, Utrecht decided to turn to highly-skilled refugees as part of the solution.

Two long-term employment trends, increased labor market competition and the growing demand for workplace flexibility, have led to decreasing enthusiasm for teaching as a profession. A nation-wide shortage of teachers is the result. According to Marjolein Moorman, deputy mayor in charge of education for the municipality of Amsterdam, the situation has the potential to seriously impact the quality of education delivered to students. Numbers from the Department of Education, Culture and Science project a shortfall of at least 1000 primary education teachers within a few years if the current trend continues.

To fill the gap, several Dutch municipalities, including Amsterdam and Utrecht, are turning to highly-educated refugees. The Hogeschool van Amsterdam has created a program to train university-educated refugees with a background in teaching to become certified math, physics and chemistry teachers. The one-year course began this fall with fifteen participants, almost all of whom were certified teachers with years of experience in front of the classroom in their homelands. Of the fifteen participants in the program, thirteen are scheduled to teach math, one physics and another chemistry – all subjects in which the municipality faces severe teacher shortfalls. The new student teachers will spend four days a week in the classroom and one doing assignments for their course.

Just to the south of Amsterdam, the Hogeschool Utrecht has partnered with three organizations, Nuovo Scholengroup, CVO Group and Cals College, to create a similar teacher training course, called Statushouders in Onderwijs aan de Slag (‘refugees with leave to remain working in education’). Developed as a model for other municipalities facing teacher shortages, it starts with an intensive, personalized pre-program and offers students the opportunity to improve their Dutch, while they acquire the certifications and experience required to enter the teaching profession in the Netherlands.

Prospective teachers first participate in an orientation course, followed by a short internship at one of the participating schools, in order to gain an introduction into the Dutch teaching profession. Next, specialists evaluate the skills and interests of the candidates to ensure each student’s educational background, strengths and learning requirements fit the needs of the Dutch teaching market. The last step in the process involves quick meetings with prospective schools to facilitate placements that match the school and the candidate. Students who successfully complete the first stage of the process are offered the opportunity to start the training program. Once accepted, students participate in a comprehensive intake process that includes several assessments, which are used to create personalized training programs that emphasize Dutch language skills, subject matter training and classes in educational practice and theory. It also provides guidance on workplace integration.

These programs benefits both municipalities facing teacher shortages, as well as the refugees. “New teachers are desperately needed, and we know that there are university-trained refugees who are interested in and suitable for a job in education. That’s why, together with the Hogeschool Utrecht, we decided to explore how we could offer this group an appropriate course that would make them attractive candidates to the education labor market in the shortest possible period of time,” says Manon Koldewijn, leader of the Utrecht initiative. The course in Utrecht kicked off in April 2018 and will continue until the end of the 2019 school year. If successful, it will produce more than 30 new teachers with the certifications and tools to teach in the Netherlands.