Over 4,000 schools close as teachers start their 2-day strike

Teachers, school leaders and other employees in education are striking on Thursday and Friday for higher wages and lighter workloads. Over 4 thousand primary and secondary schools are expected to remain closed today and tomorrow.

As far as is known, a total of 3,978 primary schools and 180 secondary schools are closed on one or both days of the strike, NU.nl reports. Together that is 56 percent of the total number of schools in the Netherlands. 59 percent of primary schools are participating in the strike and 28 percent of secondary schools.

On Wednesday evening, Minister Arie Slob for Primary and Secondary Education said that he understands the teachers' concerns, but there is no more money to meet their demands. The government already earmarked a lot of extra money, among other things for higher salaries for primary school teachers. And the number of applications for teaching training programs, both from new students and from professionals looking to switch careers, are on the rise, he said in NPO talk show Op1. 

Slob said he realized that this is not yet enough, and that work still needs to be done. He wants to help schools look for alternatives to substitute for absent teachers so that classes don't have to stay home. He called for employers and employees in education to come up with a joint collective bargaining agreement for primary and secondary education, to help tackle the current wage gap. But there is no extra money, he said to the Telegraaf. "That must be arranged int he next cabinet periods."

Looking for something to do with your child while they're not in school? About two thirds of daycare centers are offering extra activities during the strike, a third had to tell parents "no" because they simply couldn't manage it. Many museums, zoos and amusement parks are offering discounts today and tomorrow to school kids and their minders. 

According to the teachers, the Netherlands is facing an "education crisis". They demand that the government invest hundreds of millions of euros more in education so that wages can be raised and workloads can be decreased by doing something about the teacher shortage. "In 2020, 55 thousand pupils in primary education do not have a teacher in front of the class and if we do nothing, this number will increase to nearly 240 thousand pupils in 2028," AOb said to RTL Nieuws. 

Teachers will hold protest marches and demonstrations in various cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Groningen, Maastricht and Middelburg during the strike, according to the broadcaster. Among other things, primary school teachers demand another 560 million euros investment so that they can earn as much as their colleagues in secondary education.

Minister Arie Slob for Primary and Secondary Education will visit four schools on Thursday to discuss the teacher shortage with teachers. In the morning, he will visit schools in Zwolle and Oosterbeek, and in the afternoon he's going to Rhoon and Reeuwijk.

This is the 10th teacher strike in the Netherlands since June 2017. The protest actions started with schools opening an hour late, escalated to one-day nationwide and regional strikes, and then to the current two-day strike.

The government has made various extra investments in education since the start of the strikes. According to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, this cabinet period the government is spending 895 million euros on primary education. 700 million euros is structurally being invested in a lower workload and higher salaries. And this year and next year, the other 195 million euros once-off is meant for a regional approach to the teacher shortage, for training other professionals to become teachers, for guidance for new teachers, and for teaching assistants going to get their teacher training. 

According to AOb, it is still necessary to take action. "Teachers don't strike for fun," union director Eugenie Stolk said to RTL Nieuws. "We also see that investments are being made in education, but at the same time we see that it is insufficient. It sounds like we want more and more, but we just want good education."

Earlier this week, Stolk told AD that she is noticing less support from school boards for the teacher strikes. Associations for childcare Brancheorganisatie Kinderopvang and parents in daycare BOinK told NOS they are also noticing dwindling support among their members. One childcare worker told Brancheorganisatie Kinderopvang that it is "no longer fair' to put this extra pressure on childcare workers for the "umpteenth strike in education". Boink said parents certainly have sympathy for the problems in education, but they are "gradually getting fed up with all the strikes."