Sixteen Amsterdam primary schools shut this week over teacher shortage

Amsterdam flag
The Amsterdam flag flying above the city. August 2013George RexFlickrCC-BY-SA

The 5,400 students of 16 primary schools in Amsterdam Nieuw-West will not be able to attend classes this week, with their school closed for emergency meetings. The schools, part of the Stichting Openbaar Basisonderwijs Westelijke Tuinsteden (STWT) announced in November that it would close the doors to their locations for one week while its teachers, staff, and administrators try to come up with a solution to the worsening teacher shortage in the Netherlands.

"We have to think outside the box," said STWT chairperson Joke Middelbeek. "Because within the system we are only using plasters," she told AD. She said the problem has worsened substantially over the last two-and-a-half years.

It was at the end of the 2017-2018 school year she discovered that one class had been taught by 28 substitute teachers. "This has consequences for the quality of education. Children don't learn with strangers hopping in and hopping out again," Middelbeek told the paper.

She said it was her wake-up call that there was an authentic structural problem with the system, even if the education inspectorate was pleased that the doors were open, classrooms were full, and and teachers were giving lessons.

The STWT school system had the equivalent of 13 full time open positions at the beginning of the school year, a figure which nearly doubled by the end of November. The increase in vacancies came at a time when the government slashed the subsidy given to her schools for each vacancy filled to address the teacher shortage.

The schools were able to help parents of 800 children provide care and activities for the young students. This includes free ice skating at the Museumplein rink between 9 a.m. and noon, and free entrance to the seven city museums including the Nemo, the Tropenmuseum, and the Rijksmuseum.  At least one community center is also organizing daily guest lectures for 120 students as alternative classroom lessons.