Black parents protest at lack of white children

15th September 2000 at 01:00

PARENT protests have sparked a national debate on "black schools", where more than 50 per cent of pupils are from ethnic minorities.

Last week De Kameleon primary, a small school in Deventer east of Amsterdam, was the focus of parental anger. All 42 pupils are Turkish and their parents kept them at home for a day in protest against the lack of white pupils at the school.

Like many such parents, they feel their children would do better at mixed schools where it is easier to learn Dutch.

Later angry parents in Soest, south of the capital, campaigned against council plans to close three out of five state schools. Their 260, mainly black, pupils would be shared among other schools, including Catholic or Protestant institutions.

The Soest parents are furious at what they see as an attack on their right to send their children to the school of their choice - in this case secular schools. This right has been a pillar of the education system since 1917. Seventy per cent of schools are independent - though state funded - and follow a chosen philosophy or religion.

Following the appointment of an independent negotiator, the children at De Kameleon returned to school and Soest council agreed to study alternatives to closure.

But the incidents hae highlighted segregation problems at primary schools which have emerged as the ethnic-minority population increases.

Metin Alkan, a Turkish professor specialising in ethnic education at the University of Amsterdam, said children from ethnic minorities are regularly refused a place at white schools.

"It is a system based on apartheid and should be abolished," he said. "Most children from ethnic minorities are trapped in black schools. Their only contact with the Dutch language is the teachers, and they are leaving school with an educational levels two years behind white kids."

The government gives schools more money if they take on black children, enabling them to have classes half the normal size. But many independent schools still prefer not to take them, arguing that they would not fit in with their ethos, and many low-income ethnic families cannot afford the fees, even though they are low.

About 32 per cent of independent schools are Catholic, 28 per cent Protestant. There are also Islamic, Steiner, Jewish and Montessori schools.

Rob Limper, director of the Public Education Association, said all children should be sent to a single local primary where respect for cultural and religious differences is an integral part of the curriculum, he said.

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