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The clear split between educational levels in the Netherlands puts less educated children at a social disadvantage relative to their more educated peers. This is one of the findings of a study led by Prof. Herman van de Werfhorst, professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

The clear split between educational levels in the Netherlands puts less educated children at a social disadvantage relative to their more educated peers. This is one of the findings of a study led by Prof. Herman van de Werfhorst, professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Van de Werfhorst and his team studied the non-cognitive learning results of differentiated education systems.

The Dutch school system has many different types of schools and distinctions in level. Pupils usually learn in groups that are separated by level, such as preparatory secondary vocational education (VMBO), senior general secondary education (HAVO) and university preparatory education (VWO). Previous research had already shown that the early selection this system entails acts to increase inequality in pupils’ levels of knowledge and intellectual ability. Now, Van de Werfhorst has discovered that citizenship awareness can also be correlated to the degree of that differentiation.

Myriad possible causes

People living in countries with highly differentiated education systems tend to have less confidence in authorities, are less active in clubs and associations and vote less in elections than people in countries with undifferentiated education systems. According to the researchers, pupils enrolled in vocational education posses fewer citizenship competencies than do pupils in ‘higher’ types of schools. ‘Vocational education puts less of an emphasis on citizenship-building, but there may also be other factors to blame for the difference between pupils. Such as the effect of peer pressure. Those various factors interact in complex ways; how they do so is something we plan to investigate further,’ Van de Werfhorst explains.

Community schools and mixed classrooms

Citing the non-cognitive learning results of the Dutch differentiated education system, Van de Werfhorst advocates changes such as more mixed lessons in social studies. ‘That is easier to organise when vocational and pre-university education pupils are both already attending the same community school than when those schools are completely segregated. And that’s not the only argument in favour of community schools, which bring children in different types of education in frequent contact and thus enable them to share their knowledge and experiences.’

Wellbeing

Another aspect the team investigated is pupils’ wellbeing. According to Van de Werfhorst, ‘We have seen that pupils in vocational education suffer a poorer self-image where things like knowledge, insight and intellectual capabilities are concerned. The prevalence of drug and alcohol use is also higher in this group. And there are more dropouts among vocational education pupils. All of these factors tie in with wellbeing.’

Publication details

Prof. Herman van de Werfhorst conducted the study Onderwijsstelsels en non-cognitieve uitkomsten van onderwijs. Burgerschap, deviant gedrag en welzijn in landenvergelijkend perspectief (‘Education systems and non-cognitive educational results. A comparison of citizenship, deviant behaviour and wellbeing in different countries’) in collaboration with fellow UvA researchers Prof. Sjoerd Karsten, Thijs Bol and Justine Netjes. The research was funded by the Dutch Programme Council for Educational Research, which is part of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Van de Werfhorst received a Vidi grant for this research from the NWO in 2007. The full research report can be downloaded via the link below.