`Soft options' no longer a treat

24th February 1995 at 00:00
The Dutch education ministry has unveiled plans for a fundamental overhaul of secondary schools, aimed at eradicating so-called "soft option" studies and improving the transition from secondary to tertiary education.

Starting in 1998, pupils at Dutch grammar and secondary modern school equivalents, the YWO and HAVO, will have to choose one of four course combinations in their penultimate year: culture and society, economy and society, natural sciences and health, and natural sciences and technology.

Around 45 per cent of the course material in each combination will be the same, while students will be free to fill in 20 per cent of the study themselves. A second foreign language besides English will become compulsory.

Students will also have to pass both a central examination and final examination set by their own school to qualify for university education. At present, the average of the two results determines whether a pupil has passed.

While limiting study options in the final two years, the new programme, which will cost about Pounds 160 million to implement, aims to give greater freedom to schools and pupils to formulate their own study plans within the new structure.

"Pupils will be encouraged to work more independently or in small groups, while teachers will provide guidance rather than give lessons," said Tineke Netelenbos, the junior education minister.

In a separate move, the minister announced similar changes will be made to the third and lowest level of secondary education, the MAVO. Four course options will be offered, based on the sectors of technology, health and services, economics and agriculture. The reforms aim to increase the number of pupils going on to further education, better tailor studies to the demands of the labour market and stem the flow of problem pupils into special education.

All these proposed changes, which still need parliamentary approval, are designed to complement major reforms planned for university education. Debate is still raging on which new form tertiary education should adopt. Meanwhile, the second of three major bodies studying the problem presented its recommendations this week, calling for a bachelor and master's degree structure similar to the UK's. The Dutch body which reviews government policy said university education should be on a smaller scale and more concentrated. A government decision is expected this autumn.

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