Take action on integration in education

13 September 2016

Take action on integration in education

The aftermath of the coup in Turkey has laid bare tensions between population groups which had been below the surface. Politicians such as Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health and Welfare Minister Edith Schippers are falling over each other to condemn failed integration policies. At the same time we still don’t see even the start of a solution to segregation. Indeed, the established parties – the Labour Party, the Christian Democrats and the centre-right liberals of the VVD – are crying crocodile tears when you consider that they themselves are responsible for this segregation.

To begin with education. Government after government has neglected integration policy. In major cities population groups live in isolation from each other. No government has acted against the growing segregation in neighbourhoods and towns. In education it’s worse still: we see black and white schools in mixed neighbourhoods. A hundred years after the introduction of freedom of education in Article 23 of the Netherlands’ Constitution, denominationalism has largely disappeared, and the population is no longer divided for general purposes into catholic, protestant and non-religious sections.

In education, however, denominationalism is alive and well. Two thirds of schools are private, most of them either catholic or protestant. That fails in any way to correspond to reality. Moreover, new denominational establishments, such as Islamic and Jewish schools, have been added. At the same time we even have “Gülen schools”. The result is that we are stuck with schools that deliberately isolate themselves through a one-sided student intake. That’s out of date, and discourages integration.

Article 23

For these reasons we advocate a modernisation of Article 23. Put the child’s future first rather than the religious constitution of the school. Many private schools admit children of all kinds. Yet these schools can indiscriminately call on their religious identity to deny access to children, including children of immigrants.

In orthodox schools you can be certain that there is segregation. They consist exclusively of pupils who share their beliefs. Islamic schools take virtually only Islamic pupils. Many general private shools, such as Montessori and free schools, are lily-white. In these ways segregation in our schools is consciously encouraged. That’s undesirable for society, for integration and certainly also for pupils who have fallen behind.

Many immigrant children are amongst those who have fallen behind, for example because their parents are insufficiently assimilated into Dutch life. In order to increase their opportunities, it’s important that they learn to speak the language and gain knowledge of non-immigrant children. The chances of this are small if children grow up amongst pupils from identical backgrounds. With this, freedom of education becomes unfreedom. Children are closeted away in their own schools, which means that they rarely if ever come into contact with other children. It’s time to call a halt to this segregation in education.

White flight

It goes without saying that schools should provide quality, but they can also play a role in integration. As things stand they are not in any way obliged to do so. The only duty these schools have is ‘to promote active citizenship and social integration.’ That’s completely voluntary, allowing black and white schools to continue absolutely intact.

In our opinion every local authority should be making agreements with the schools to bring about a fairer division of children who have fallen behind. Clearly this must be tackled at local authority level. The population composition of Emmen is after all very different to that of Rotterdam. Such agreements would put an end to white flight and ensure that children from different backgrounds rubbed shoulders with each other.

Schools which back out of the agreements, which continue to direct their attentions towards an exclusive group of pupils could lose their funding. Stop schools from operating any longer as islands, and act to create generally accessible schools which in terms of their students reflect their surroundings.

In 2017 it will be precisely a hundred years since Article 23 of the Constitution was introduced. In our view it’s high time for an update. Make schools accessible to all, regardless of religion or origin. Stop subsidised segregation, take action for integration.

By Jasper van Dijk and Sadet Karabulut

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the national daily De Volkskrant

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