Kathleen Anten, 51, ponders for a moment the question: Could her primary school in Amsterdam-Osdorp handle thirty extra students? “In an emergency, of course. Schools don’t like to turn kids away. But only temporarily, as an emergency measure. Because we really have very few teachers.”
There are 280 students in this school. Two chapters are devoted to “newcomers”, children who have just come to live in the Netherlands. They have to learn the language, get to know the neighborhood and the city. The turnover rate is also high in other categories. Anten: “In my group last year, eleven students are already attending another school, usually in another country.” Because of the poverty in the neighborhood and the corona period, preschoolers have less knowledge than before. “On average they know 500 words. The national average by age five is 3,000.”
Her school has to teach the students a lot in a short time. Many children do not read, do crafts or play a game at home. Like all primary schools in disadvantaged areas, the school suffers from a major shortage of teachers. 40 percent of vacancies are filled by unqualified teachers. “It’s certainly not a bad thing, but they don’t have all the teaching and pedagogical knowledge.”
So they are trying to get a huge job done. By the way, with pleasure. “I travel five days a week from Lelystad to Osdorp [vijftig minuten] And I go to work happy every day.”
If skewed population growth becomes visible anywhere, it will be in schools. De Wilgen Primary School is located 93 kilometers south, in Sliedrecht in the south of the Netherlands. Between March and September, director Rene de Kuiper received 43 applications from Ukrainian students. It’s a chaotic and inspiring time, too, he says: some kids stayed for a month, others stayed until summer break, and a few didn’t come at all. But “world class” stands now. There are nineteen children, mostly Ukrainians, and a few from Syria.
It might be called a miracle
Employees can handle this and even like it. “We have no vacancies,” says De Kuiper, which can only be described as a miracle. Most primary schools have this in Sliedrecht. De Wilgen also had a room left, which is why De Kuiper volunteered as a municipal shelter in March.
Unlike Amsterdam-Osdorp, Sliedrecht is demographically an average municipality. Osdorp has been growing for years. In Sliedrecht (on the edge of the Randstad district), the number of children born has been holding steady for a few years now. According to Statistics Holland, the number of children will increase from 0 to 20 percent in the next twelve years, and then it will not increase. During this period, the Randstad and Central Holland will receive at least 20 percent of new babies. In Friesland, Drenthe, Groningen, Zeeland and Limburg, the number of pupils will shrink even further in the coming years.
The village school has mostly disappeared in those counties in the last fifteen years. “You know: the school building that used to be the pride of the village. That has been zoomed in for minutes on black and white films,” says Maren Mollema, professor by special appointment of “Vitality and Regional Dynamics” at the University of Groningen.
Many primary schools in Randstad have waiting lists. Others grow like cabbage. The official “cancellation criterion” varies greatly by municipality: in sparsely populated areas, primary school should only close if there are fewer than 23 pupils for three years (eg Ameland and Noord-Beveland). In densely populated areas, the primary school closes if there are fewer than 200 (The Hague), 183 (Rotterdam) or 195 (Amsterdam) pupils for three years.
After a few years of national decline, the population as a whole will grow again in the next twelve years. The reason: immigration. Dutch mothers have only 1.57 children per woman – not enough to maintain the population. This number was 170,000 children in 2022. According to Statistics Netherlands, there will be 208,000 in 2035. This growth continues. Tanya Trag, CBS Researcher: “The reason for the growth is higher-than-expected immigration in 2022. It mainly concerns Ukrainian refugees who are staying in the Netherlands and are going to have children.”
If the newcomers also largely settle in Randstad, the question arises: Who will educate all these children? There are fewer and fewer teachers. On average, 15 percent of job vacancies are not filled. In disadvantaged areas up to 30 percent. After 2027, the primary education labor market platform predicts, the primary school shortage will increase, mainly because student numbers will increase again.
Plus, according to that platform, the worse the economy is, the more people will want to work in education. Until a recession, the purge is open: Half of new young teachers will drop out within five years, according to the AOB labor union. Speaker: “They think it’s too heavy.”
Make the profession more attractive
There is only one way to get enough teachers in front of the class again, says Thijs Roovers: “Make the profession more attractive. This requires a long-term vision and a national direction.” Rovers also taught primary school in Amsterdam for a long time and recently became a trade union official. “Education Minister Wiersma is listening to us. This is too much. But it is too late for a whole generation of primary school students. We are now aiming for every child to have a qualified classroom teacher by 2030.”
What is ironic is that precisely in Amsterdam-West, Rotterdam-South and parts of The Hague, good education and a lot of schooling are needed more than ever, he says. The social structure has completely disappeared in many neighborhoods. The teacher no longer lives there, as does the nurse and the community police officer. I lived and worked in a neighborhood, and so I sometimes met the mother of one of my apprentices who had the difficulties of being a butcher, so to speak. It has been exceptional over the past ten years. And yes, I also stopped working as a teacher. I became a trade union official precisely because this worried me so much.
He has been warned many times. Even without immigration, there would be very few teachers. Alexandre Renoy had already predicted this in 2007. In the report Teacher He expected a “dramatic quantitative shortage in the quality of teachers.”
Shouldn’t new families and their children live in shrinking areas? More teachers and less expensive homes. In short, is distribution policy an option? Not just like that, says Prof. Mollema. “We want our best fair share For newcomers in the North, but then there should be enough work and infrastructure for parents. And there is no. The national government has not invested in this for years.”
A lot of money went to the routes around Schiphol-Amsterdam-Almere, to the Randstadrill in the southern Netherlands and to the north-south line in Amsterdam. Mollema: “And very few in the northern provinces. And then, they will now send, by demographics group, all the newcomers to the shrinking regions? No.”
Mollema: “The basis for the uneven growth in the Netherlands is the attractive influence of the economic core area of the Randstad. Everyone wants to go there. There is work there, there are networks, and that’s where it happens. In the 1990s and 2000s, the cultural trend Also: in big cities, sex and the city, That’s where you need to be.” It’s kind of a normal phenomenon. “It’s like this all over the world.”
Only a strong central government, Mollema says, can mitigate this development. “But it has left everything to the market for the past 20 years. The big cities also have the strongest lobby in The Hague to attract investments.” How should it be? Mollema: You can make investing in shrinking areas financially attractive as a business owner. You can create government services, build roads, houses and utilities.”