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The Netherlands: Strike action demands government funding of education and teachers

Education International strongly supports the Netherlands’ education staff who are set to strike again – they are seeking appropriate and sustainable funding in the public education sector. Most Dutch schools will be closed from 30-31 January.

Structural investment in education in the Netherlands has been deficient despite consistent evidence and union actions and strikes over the years. The quality of education is decreasing due to the lack of investment in education and related teacher shortages. Inequalities have grown. Burnout rates have risen alarmingly. Many teachers have left the profession. The country has shown steadily declining results in the Programme for International Student Assessment, a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The Algemene Onderwijsbond (AOb) and a range of other trade unions and organisations have started a period of “structural action” by calling on educators to engage in a two-day strike from 30-31 January. The strike aims to pressurise the government to accept responsibility for ensuring free public quality education for all in the country and allocating proper funding to education. The AOb has developed a toolkit to support the strike organisers
It is expected that this strike action will see more schools than ever before closing their doors. Over 4,000 schools had already planned to keep their doors shut at of 29 January, a number still expected to grow on the strike days.
Hidden vacancies
The strike action also comes against a background of recent research showing that teacher shortages are higher than known about. Research in Rotterdam and The Hague revealed many ‘hidden vacancies’. In these cases, schools have found outside-the-box solutions by handing over classes to unqualified teachers. Or school leaders, remedial teachers and education support personnel take care of ‘leftover classes’ instead of doing their regular jobs. In The Hague, for example, while researchers noted 41 official vacancies, they found 332 ‘hidden’ ones.
A previous strike action on 6 November 2019 was followed by a government offer of €460 million to the education sector. However, teachers responded with consternation “when this proved nothing more than a one-time boost”, according to AOb President Eugenie Stolk. Teachers and other education workers stressed then that they were ready for further action. 
AOb: Disaster of national proportions
“There is a disaster of national proportions taking place,” said Stolk. “We will soon see a complete generation of students entering secondary education who never received the primary education they should have enjoyed by right. We will see the harsh consequences of this in further education and in society.
“In the meantime, our Education Minister announces the ‘good news’ of having found a budget of €9 million for an ‘emergency plan’ for people who are willing to enter the teaching profession after another career. It shows a total contempt of the seriousness of the situation.”
That is why, she concluded, AOb members are determined to go on strike at the end of January, “the next step in our struggle for quality education”. 
In November 2019, Education International expressed support for Dutch teachers striking for a sustainable solution to the education funding crisis and staff shortages. It reiterates its solidarity with them for their 30-31 January actions. 
The context for this crisis in Dutch education is that, in 2020, 55,000 students in primary education are without a teacher. If the situation does not change, this will be the case for nearly 240,000 students in 2028. 
Burnout rates among education personnel are also steadily rising, with 27 per cent of staff experiencing burnout, according to AOb. The secondary education sector has the highest burnout rate of all professions in the country.
In addition to stressed-out teachers, secondary school classes are overcrowded, schools lack teachers in several subject areas, and austerity measures have affected students’ learning environments. 
“The few young people who still choose a teaching career may start with enthusiasm, but many of them will not keep up,” Stolk regrets. Indeed, within five years, one-in-three (31 per cent) of them will have left the profession. And, while one in four teachers will retire during the next 10 years, the number of students in teacher training institutes is steadily declining. This will spark a recruitment crisis in the near future. 
For more information on planned Dutch education unionists’ actions, see here