An Expat’s Dutch Education Cheatsheet

Y’all, it’s bonkers. Just know that going forward. Especially considering we were not smart enough to move here when the boys were little. So, the kid is in a language immersion class this year and will join a Dutch high school next Fall. Sounds simple, right? Follow me …

Here’s how it goes down:

  • Receive an “advice” email (teacher’s recommendation based on tests, schoolwork, etc.) in January.
  • Run to the computer to learn about the Level/Track/Stream they are advising.
  • Pour a large glass of wine and call your Dutch friends for help.

Your advice will be one of 3 different streams with different levels: VMBO, HAVO, VWO.

  • VMBO-t/vmbo-tl/MAVO :the most theoretical education of the VMBOs.
  • VMBO-g : one subject less than vmbo-tl. + 4 hours of vocational teaching.
  • VMBO-k:  12 hours of vocational teaching w/ theoretical subjects at a lower level than vmbo-tl and vmbo-g
  • VMBO-b: 12 hours of vocational teaching. The theoretical subjects are at a lower level than vmbo-k

  • HAVO (5 years) diploma equivalent of secondary school + junior college.
  • VWO (6 years) with one programme requiring Latin and Greek & final exams are in one of the two classical languages.
  • VWO+ is a Masterclass or lyceum, offers extra subjects like philosophy, additional foreign languages, and courses to introduce students to scholarly research.

Are you with me so far? Now that you know your kid’s Advice …

  • Research schools (religious, montessori, waldorf, distance, offer your track, etc.) and choose 5.
  • Sign up for Open House Days – which are currently mostly virtual.
  • Hope your kid pays attention because Open House be probably in Dutch.
  • Submit your choices in order of preference and wait for the lottery results in March.
  • Take your final tests in April and see if your test results match your advice.
  • If not, parents ask the school to change the student’s track.

If I haven’t lost you completely … here are the potential tracks for high schoolers:

  • VMBO -> MBO (2yr) -> HBO (2yr) = 8 years
  • VMBO -> HAVO -> HBO (4yr) = 9 years
  • HAVO ->  HBO (4yr) = 9 years
  • HAVO -> HBO (1yr)  -> WO (3yr) = 9 years
  • VWO -> WO = 9 years
  • Career Example:
  • Doctor: VWO + WO
  • Nurse : HAVO + HBO
  • Carer: VMBO + MBO

I have to say, as crazy as it seems to those of us who are new to this, it’s fairly awesome. There is no “right” way to get from Point A to Point B. Whatever you want to be, however you learn best, there is a school/track for you here. If you are a woodshop kind of kid, a VMBO could be perfect. If you hate sitting still and memorizing facts, Montessori might be best. If you are brilliant and can take a final exam if Latin (for heaven’s sake! WHAT?!?!?), you get to rock on and study with other nerds … er… brilliant kids. These are not options we are used to in the US. At least not without paying a fortune for private schools.

My favorite part of the entire experience is that we’re getting asked (in all seriousness) what my 12 year old wants to study at University so they know the best path to get him there. He’s still deciding between being a brain surgeon and stunt man.

Let’s see how they work with that.

PS – If you know more than I do and see anything that needs to be corrected, please let me know!

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