By Özge Bilgili
Thomas J. Alexander fellow at the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
The Netherlands stands out as a country known to have some of the “happiest children in the world”. It is also amongst the top six countries for average student performance in science, mathematics and reading according to 2015 results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). At the same time, the country has hosted generations of children with an immigrant background and has had years of experience addressing immigration and integration issues. Like many other OECD countries, the Netherlands has received a significant number of child asylum seekers and refugees since the peak of inflows in 2015. At a time when many countries are preoccupied with the question of how best to integrate these new populations into their society, the Netherlands’ approach offers some insights.
Move away from a “crisis management’ strategy towards a long-term vision
The recent surge in asylum seekers and refugee children entering the Netherlands prompted authorities to find ways to give these children, especially those living in reception centres, quick access to education. But as the inflows have slowed, it has become apparent that providing access to education for recent migrants is, in fact, nothing new for the country. While the size of inflows may vary over time, the Netherlands has hosted migrants throughout its history. Given this history, policy makers need to consider how education for recent arrivals should be organised so that the education system becomes more resistant to changes in the number and background characteristics of these new students.
Supporting the integration of young new arrivals with a long-term vision, and identifying and meeting these children’s needs, will not only benefit the students themselves, but also pave the way for the Netherlands to become a truly multicultural and inclusive society.
Revisit autonomy: A regional focus within a national framework
The Dutch education system is decentralised and schools have high levels of autonomy when it comes to addressing strategic objectives. Considering that migration is not a phenomenon that affects all regions of the country equally, school autonomy and flexibility are seen as advantages in terms of introducing measures that are in line with the student population’s highly diverse needs. However, there are some risks associated with school autonomy: not all schools or school boards make use of devolved authority effectively. In this regard, it is necessary to develop a regional focus within a national framework that guides schools towards what works best in local contexts. Moreover, schools can and should learn from each other. Creating platforms to share experiences and working towards a more medium- to long-term vision for this new group of students is of great importance.
Identify and address the diverse challenges of newly arrived immigrant students
Finally, recognising and identifying the diverse backgrounds of newcomer students is a pressing precondition for better integration policies. In the Netherlands, focusing on ethnic minorities, in general, risks overlooking the distinct needs of newer immigrant groups, such as asylum seekers and refugees. Strategies developed to support immigrant children should respond to the different levels of adversity that (newly arrived) immigrant children have faced and their consequent needs. In short, supporting the integration of young new arrivals with a long-term vision, and identifying and meeting these children’s needs, will not only benefit the students themselves, but also pave the way for the Netherlands to become a truly multicultural and inclusive society.
- Bilgili, Ö. (2019), “Policy approaches to integration of newly arrived immigrant children in schools: The case of the Netherlands“, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 206, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/f19de900-en.
- Bilgili, Ö. (2017). “The ‘CHARM’ policy analysis framework: Evaluation of policies to promote immigrant students’ resilience, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 158, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/164a7643-en.
- OECD (2018), The Resilience of Students with an Immigrant Background: Factors that Shape Well-being, OECD Reviews of Migrant Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264292093-1-en.