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One hundred years of education policy in 5 crucial moments

In 2018, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) is celebrating its 100-year existence. To commemorate this occasion, policy historian Pieter Slaman conducted a comprehensive survey of the ministry. We now look back on 5 crucial moments.

1917: Everyone with their own school

Slaman: ‘A year before the establishment of the ministry, so-called pacification had been introduced. This ended years of school-related power struggles between groups with differing ideological views, such as Catholics, Protestants, Socialists and Liberals. In 1917, it was agreed that each group could organise its own education at society’s expense. In the same year, universal suffrage was also introduced. Everyone understood: soon education would be accessible to the masses. The people’s age was born.’

1963: Cleaning up a fragmented field

‘Although all denominations were free to set up their own school, it contributed to serious fragmentation. You had schools for all systems of belief and ideological persuasions, craft schools, girls' schools, grammar schools for the elite, and the list goes on. Individual students were often the victim of all this. For example, in the vast majority of places, it was not possible to switch to a higher or lower level within one school. The Mammoet Act allowed the government to put an end to this fragmentation of the education system. A clear structure with different levels was implemented: MAVO, HAVO and VWO.’

‘A recurring dilemma: the freedom of school formation is often at odds with the interests of individual students.’

1985: Higher education for the masses

‘The number of students attending universities and universities of applied sciences rose rapidly during these years. In the past century, the number of students has multiplied by a factor of ten, to around 750,000 today. It was a direct result of the democratisation of education: it was your abilities that counted, not your origin. The enormous influx meant that the government could no longer arrange everything anymore. With the Policy Document on higher education, ‘Autonomy and quality’, the ministry stipulated that universities could make their own decisions about the education they offered. From then on, the ministry would only monitor quality by means of accreditations, for which universities and institutes of higher education were themselves responsible.’

1995: From small-scale professional education to mega-school

‘With the Education and Vocational Education Act, professional education was also scaled up and professionalised. Separate study programmes for furniture makers or welders, for example, were merged into large-scale ROCs and MBOs. That improved efficiency and student flows, but you hear a lot of criticism nowadays. ROCs have turned into mega-schools or skills factories, people say.’

2008: The mood changes

‘Education has experienced enormous organisational changes in the last century. An initially rather fragmented field with countless tiny schools has become strictly uniform. Too uniform, some believe. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way. There are numerous voices calling for the government to interfere less in education. As a result, there is now much less support for radical reforms, for example, to prevent the formation of disadvantaged schools. ‘This is probably the most important dilemma in the last 100 yeas of education policy: the freedom of school formation is often at odds with the interests of individual students.’ We still do not seem able to find the right balance in this.’

Ministers presented with the book

Pieter Slaman wrote the book In de regel vrij (PDF) together with other scientists on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. He presented the book to Ministers Ingrid van Engelshoven and Arie Slob on 25 September. He did this together with Geert ten Dam, President of the Executive Board of the University of Amsterdam and chairman of the book’s editorial board.

Many (former) ministers en state secretaries of the ministry attended the ceremony.
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