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March 5, 2012

Homeschooling a Topic of Discussion in the Netherlands

“Home to School”

Watch the RTL news segment (Note: You will need to download Microsoft Silverlight to watch the video.)

Dutch Minister of Education Marja van Bijsterveldt-Vliegenthart released a proposal last month outlining changes to the education system that would place additional bureaucratic burdens on parents who wish to homeschool. The minister’s statement on homeschooling comes is the result of a discussion about homeschooling that began nearly one year ago in the Netherlands.

The parents of nearly 100 Muslim children living in and around Amsterdam submitted exemption letters en masse last spring in order to begin homeschooling their children. While homeschooling is possible in the Netherlands, the number of homeschoolers is few. The actions taken by the Muslim parents sparked a debate within the Dutch parliament and elicited a request for the minister of education to provide an official comment on home education. The situation also provoked an increase in attention from Dutch media.

Dutch homeschool leader Kor Stelma notes that Dutch homeschoolers are keeping a close watch on the process and are working to influence the decision making process.

“Our system of government has safeguards in place that should detect the inaccuracy between the minister’s proposal and our Constitution and current laws,” Stelma said. “An exemption from school on a religious basis is a very fundamental right in the Netherlands.”

In the Netherlands, parents are able to homeschool their children by filing an exemption letter in accordance with the law. Once the letter is filed, exemption follows from the law, not from permission granted by a government official. This letter must be re-filed each year by July 1. In most cases, a family does not have legal ground for exemption if a child has attended school the previous year.

The situation with the Muslim parents drew attention from a number of members of the Dutch Parliament (MPs) who were not aware that the Dutch education law allowed for home education. The MPs raised dozens of questions in early 2011 and concluded with the request that Minister van Bijsterveldt-Vliegenthart investigate the regulation of homeschooling, which resulted in her December proposal to increase regulations.

Despite this outcome, the attention has also resulted in positive media coverage of homeschooling. RTL Dutch TV sent video journalists to the United States to produce a story on American homeschooling for their evening news program. A representative from RTL explained their interest in covering the home education movement in the U.S.: “More and more people are discussing homeschooling in Holland. We’re interested in learning how homeschooling works practically, what are the consequences, and what we can learn from the U.S. about why parents choose this educational path.”