Back To Which School?

By Rosanne de Koning

Source image (via readandrife.org)

Last week we announced Back to Work = Back to School, for us. But as we return to work, the kids return to school. However, what school they return to is no longer a simple question. Taking a cue from the charter schools in the US there is an ever expanding plethora of schools in the Netherlands as well. While most of us are familiar with concepts such as the British School, the American School, or now the more ‘exotic’ Finnish school, more and more new types of schools are popping up. Initiatives are based on lifestyle, convictions, academic achievement, or theories about education (for example that kids should move while reading as the image depicts).

This trend has now found itself a new partner in crime, the city of Amsterdam. Faced with a challenge of providing enough schools for the expanding population, the city of Amsterdam had joined forces with Stichting Nederland Kennisland and rolled out a competition. Aptly named Onze Nieuwe School (Our New School) the city sent out an open call for plans and initiatives. These plans, 124 in total, are up for public vote on the website for the first round in which the general public can vote for their favorite. The top 35 will advance to the next round, a pitch day, joined by 15 more candidates selected by a jury. During pitch day these 50 initiatives will present their ideas to a jury who will select 15 initiatives to join an incubator. At the end of this phase 3 or 4 projects will be selected and aided by the city to bring their plans to life and become an actual school. Ultimate goal is to find schools that are an addition to the current offering based on actual demand of parents, students, companies, and higher education

As a result, most plans are not too different from the current system but offer slight modifications. We asked Lisanne de Berg one of the initiators of the Wereldschool (World School) about their idea of the school of the future (the other initiators of this school are Bart Ongering (Meester Bart), Rik Seveke, Sultan Goksen, en Wouter Reitsema). She explains that the school will provide one place for both primary and secondary education (0-18) without the traditional ‘break’ between elementary school and High School. They intend to play into two main trends they see in demand and supply. They strive to “enrich the profession of teaching and give it back to the professionals” -put teacher back in charge of educational programs-, and “provide an educational experience that is in sync with the world kids live in today.” 

What is behind this search for a ‘new school’? In the US Charter Schools have become very popular, even though, on average, they perform worse than traditional schools. One of the reasons these schools are so popular is the lack of choice in the American system, parents are not free to choose a school, instead they are assigned a school. Similar systems have been introduced in the Netherlands with a preference based on postal code. So is it just a lack of choice or is there more to this story? The limited choice parents have also coincides with overcrowded classrooms and other problems due to severe budget cuts in the public school system.

Another influence is the competitive culture we live in today, reflected in all sorts of extra tutoring kids nowadays receive from a young age. Not a minute is wasted! A strong focus is placed on a child’s talents, developing only certain skills, either preferred or natural talents, often ignoring other subjects in which the child is underdeveloped. So what will the long term consequences of this cherry picking be?

As schools start to change we believe it is important to reflect and think about these changes, they are a reflection of society today while at the same time they shape our future through shaping future generations. Do we understand the consequences of the choices we make, especially when we omit certain subjects in favor of others? Can we forgo certain subjects to focus on others? Out of all these ideas, which will survive, and what will the school of the future be?