Government gives go-ahead to teaching in foreign languages in primary school

The Cabinet has decided to give primary schools more scope to teach English, German or French intensively at an early age. From 1 August 2015, primary schools will be permitted to set aside 15% of their classroom time to using one of these languages as a medium of instruction. Not only will pupils then learn English, for instance, as a subject on the curriculum; they will also take other subjects, such as history, biology or PE, through the medium of English. This Cabinet decision comes in response to the aspiration of schools and parents to give children an education that is more international, more challenging, and less bound by rules. A bill to this end will be submitted this summer by Sander Dekker (State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science) for an opinion to the Council of State.

The law as it stands makes Dutch and (in Friesland) Frisian the only permitted media of instruction in primary schools, with English a compulsory subject on the curriculum. Schools are also permitted to offer French and German as subjects.

What you learn when you're young stays with you for life

Learning through the medium of another language is one of the most effective ways of learning that language. Research shows that children who learn an additional language via play at a young age will speak that language much better at an older age than children who start learning the same language at age 11 or 12. 'Children then learn foreign languages naturally and not at the expense of other subjects,' says Mr Dekker. 'Learning a language this way also makes education more challenging and interesting, even for our most talented pupils.'

Positive experience

More than 1,000 primary schools offer foreign language learning from the age of 4 or 5. In recent years, some have been experimenting with the use of foreign languages as a medium of instruction in other subjects for up to 15% of classroom time. Their experience has been so positive that all primary schools are being offered the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.

Bilingual education pilot project launched

In the next school year, a five-year pilot project is to be launched at 12 Dutch primary schools where 30-50% of classroom time will be set aside for teaching through the medium of English, German or French. In 2015, another eight schools may follow. By 2019, if the project at these 20 schools proves successful, a decision may be made to permit bilingual education by law, although it is expected to appeal to a relatively small number of primary schools.