Gov't obliges Dutch schools to give good 'citizenship' lessons

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All Dutch primary- and secondary schools are obliged to give good "citizenship" lessons focused on the "basic values of the democratic constitutional state" in a new legislative proposal by Minister Arie Slob for Primary and Secondary Education, NOS reports.

"After all, children are not born with a 'democratic gene'," the Minister wrote in the explanation of his legislative proposal. "Therefore schools have an important task in educating our children to know their rights and respect the rights of others." The new law applies to all schools, including private schools. The Education Inspectorate can intervene if schools do not provide enough citizenship education. Now the inspectorate can only intervene if no citizenship lessons are given at all.

Schools have been obliged to give separate lessons on citizenship for the past ten years, though how and when they did so were left up to them. "Some do it perfectly and have citizenship in the DNA of the school", Slob said, according to the broadcaster. "With others, citizenship is done with one lesson per year." The Minister wants to put an end to this non-commitment. According to him, the "government aims to oblige the entire school community to make an effort to put into practice the clearer concept of citizenship."

Under the new law schools must include their approach to citizenship in the school guide and teachers must be a good example for their pupils. There is no detailed curriculum in the law, because schools have the freedom to chose their teaching methods and materials themselves. The law does state that schools must focus on freedom of speech, equality, understanding others, tolerance, autonomy, rejecting intolerance and rejecting discrimination. Things like Liberation Day, the Wilhelmus, the National Remembrance of Dutch Slavery and the Keti Koti Festival can be used to reflect on "historical development and the meaning of living together in the Netherlands", Slob recommends. 

The Dutch government considers the separate lessons on citizenship, in addition to other lessons, to be very important given the "current situation of increasing tensions and declining ties". It is important for pupils to come into contact with cultures other than their own during school time, and to learn to embrace the democratic constitutional state, according to the government. 

The internet consultation of the new law starts on Tuesday. Anyone can comment on the law. If the Tweede Kamer and Eerste Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament and the Dutch Senate, passes the law, it will be implemented in the next school year.