Citizenship education in the Netherlands

The SIRIUS European Policy Network on the education of children and young people with a migrant background held an international conference in Brussels last month. One of the workshops planned for the Brussels conference was on citizenship education.

In 2013 SIRIUS produced a comparative report on citizenship education in European countries with a focus on the general outlines of the national policy. In a paper prepared for a workshop on citizenship education we went a step further and focused on the implementation of the Dutch policy.

One of the main goals of education in the 21st century is learning to live together. In general, that would require a whole school approach. Citizenship education is an integral part of this approach.

In the Netherlands citizenship education was formally introduced in 2006. Soon the Education Inspectorate reported about stagnation in the development of school practices in citizenship education. In 2014, stagnation is still a dominant characteristic. We have analyzed the implementation process throughout the years 2006-2014.

Policy analysts traditionally identify three types of policy instruments: the carrot, the stick and the sermon. In recent discussions nudging was added as an instrument; and from motivational theory also watering the plant is mentioned. We can use these metaphors for our analysis.

Implementation of citizenship education in the Netherlands

From 2006 onwards primary and secondary education is obliged by law to teach ‘active citizenship and social integration’ in the Netherlands. The Inspectorate of Education is monitoring the implementation of citizenship education, using an explicit framework for supervision. This is ‘the stick’.

From the texts of the laws and the framework for supervision, schools should know what they are expected to do. The information was communicated by the Ministry through the usual channels, including some official words about the importance of the theme – one might say a bit of ‘the sermon’ was used.

The development of citizenship education was somewhat supported by communication about good practices and an analysis of some learning materials (by a subsidized organization) – that was a type of ‘nudging’.

There was no explicit strategy for implementation, and hardly any budget – no ‘carrot’ for the schools, hardly any ‘water for the plant’.

In 2010 the Education Inspectorate reported that in the previous years the development of the practice of citizenship education had stagnated. This was one of the reasons why the Advisory Board on Education recommended more investments in citizenship education (August 2012). More specifically, the Board identified three recommendations:

  1. Organize support for schools and teachers.
  2. Stimulate systematic knowledge production. A network institute is called to develop knowledge and research agenda on citizenship education.
  3. Offer schools a perspective or compass on the content of civic education by identifying more specific goals.

In a letter to the Parliament (December 2013) the Ministry of Education again recognized the stagnation of citizenship education; it also stated that the desired level of performance was not achieved. Most schools do not have targeted approach and both national and international comparative studies show the level of civic competences is not what might be expected.  Therefore some small scale activities were announced, generally in line with the recommendations of the Advisory Board.

Are the steps of the Ministry enough to overcome the stagnation in the schools and the lack of progress in research and development? Not by far, in our opinion. Therefore, our recommendations try to identify the means necessary for adequate implementation of citizenship education in all schools. A mix of instruments is required – the carrot, the stick and the sermon as well as nudging and watering the plant.

See for a full version of our analysis including the recommendations

SIRIUS is a European platform that brings together key stakeholders in migration and education from around Europe, including policy makers, researchers, practitioners and representatives of migrant communities. SIRIUS transfers knowledge and influences policy developments in order to help pupils from a migrant background achieve the same educational standards as their native peers. The Open Society Foundations (OSF) is a collaborative partner of SIRIUS.

Frank Studulski – Sardes Educational Services

Guido Walraven (– Dutch National Knowledge Centre for Mixed Schools, National Partner of the Netherlands of the SIRIUS Network. (The Knowledge Centre is a clearing house for state of the art knowledge on how to get and keep school populations ‘mixed’ in terms of social economic status, cultural and ethnic background)


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