Netherlands: Fighting language problems at younger age

Toddlers growing up in underprivileged neighbourhoods in the four large cities, as well as in Oost-Groningen and Zuid-Limburg, will be required to take a language test at the consultation bureau starting 1 January 2009.

If they score below average, they will be required to follow extra language instruction before school so that they can start primary school without any disadvantages, the Volkskrant reports.

State secretary for education Sharon Dijksma (Labour PvdA) announced this on Wednesday. Some 35,000 children currently follow pre-school education voluntarily.

The ministry says that this reaches almost half of the children growing up in underprivileged areas. Dijksma's plans will increase the number of toddlers in pre-school language education to 75,000.

"We have to reach 100 percent of these kids," the state secretary says. "It can no longer be voluntary. We cannot let these children down. Poor language skills will haunt them the rest of their lives."

Dijksma announced her plans at the presentation of a study by Forum, the institute for multicultural development, which shows that primary schools are becoming increasingly segregated in some areas.

Half of the 31 large cities are facing ethnic segregation, meaning that the schools have disproportionately high numbers of native Dutch or ethnic minority students in relation to the neighbourhoods in which they are located.

The western Netherlands and Noord-Brabant have the most serious problems with segregation. A quarter of Amsterdam schools do not reflect the neighbourhood in which they are located: 42 are attended by a disproportionately high number of native Dutch students, 13 by an inordinately high number of ethnic minorities.

Of the 192 primary schools in Rotterdam, 36 are "too white," and 60 "too black." One third of the primary schools in Utrecht have similar problems.

The main problem is not that parents are unwilling to enrol children in pre-school education, but that not enough language classes for toddlers are being offered, said Dijksma.

The state secretary did not say how she planned to finance the plans.

Source: Expatica (English)

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