Radical changes to school curriculum set for 2023: Education Minister

Primary school classroom
Primary school classroom Photo: racorn/DepositPhotos

Primary and secondary school education is being prepared for a substantial overhaul, with schools allowed to dictate roughly one-third of how teaching time is spent. Schools will still be required to focus their attention on reaching math and language goals, the education ministry announced on Monday.

It's one step the government is making to address the teacher shortage, which has led to two separate one-day walkouts by educators in the Netherlands, with a two-day strike planned for January. In the Monday announcement, the government said it is trying to address a "current curriculum [that] is too fragmented, too packed, and partially outdated," and teacher complaints that too much time is addressed on social problems.

“In the improved curriculum we set out what students must know and be capable of doing at the minimum. Teachers and school leaders know what else their students need," said Minister Arie Slob in a statement. "That's why I want to give them space. For example, this allows schools to spend more time on reading if their students need it."

The announcement comes just days after it was revealed that student performance is on the decline in the Netherlands. Reading skills scores recorded by the country's 15-year-olds fell by 3.5 percent since 2015, and now sits below the average of all 37 countries in the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"Choices must be made. That is why the curriculum needs to be improved," the ministry said in a statement. Schools will be allowed to decide how 30 percent of the day is spent in the classroom.

The government also plans to modernize the stated education goals that students face. In stating that a portion of the current curriculum is outdated, the ministry said, "the attainment targets have not been reviewed for almost 15 years." It also noted the lack of alignment between primary education and secondary education.

The new curriculum is expected to launch during the 2023-2024 school year, with the first transitional steps to start this year. The ministry said the proposed changes are based on discussions with 150 teachers and members of school leadership, and a survey of thousands more.

To deal with the country's teacher shortage, Slob proposed a 460 million euro one-off investment in the education system to boost teacher pay. Education unions said the commitment falls short of what the country needs, saying structural improvements with budget increases over the long-term is a more effective solution.

Teacher shortages affect roughly 40 percent of schools in the Netherlands, according to union AOb.