5.4.2: 1910 - heden - Education and literacy

In the twentieth century, education became less and less moralising and educational methods became better suited to children's perception of their environment.

The establishment of general compulsory education in 1900 was more or less meant to guarantee 100% literacy. At the end of the nineteenth century, learning to read using the phonetic method became common practice and today still forms the basis of our reading education. In this period, a large number of reading methods existed in which either words or whole sentences were learnt first. One of the education reformers was Jan Ligthart, who, together with H. Scheepstra, wrote the famous Ot en Sien books. From the 1970s onwards, the focus was on reading comprehension. More attention was also paid to adults and children with reading problems due to disabilities such as dyslexia or as a result of poor primary education because of illness, the Second World War or specific circumstances as in the case of bargemen's children. In the last two decades, the question as to whether or not to teach children of immigrants to read in their own language was the subject of much debate.

The government's involvement in education continued to increase during the twentieth century, both financially and in education legislation. Government spending for education in 1955 was around 10% of the total budget, it peaked in the seventies at 25% and then declined to around 18% at the end of the century. In absolute figures, the spending rose from around 7 guilders (over € 3.-) per capita in 1910 to 55 guilders (about € 25.-) in 1950. In 1980, spending had risen to around 1760 guilders (over € 800.-) per capita, and in 2008 the amount was over € 1700.-!.

A milestone in education legislation was the financial equalisation of special schools and state schools in 1917, with the subsidising of special (confessional) education marking a victory for the confessionals in the school funding controversy. Of the other legislation and regulations regarding education, the so-called Mammoth Act of 1968 was of great importance. It underwent major revision in 1992 with the Basic Education Act. A significant consequence was the so-called Second Phase of 1998, otherwise known as the Study House in secondary education, emphasising the acquisition of knowledge and the development of skills.

Compulsory education was continually extended and combined with an increase in wealth it resulted in an explosive growth in the participation rate in secondary education. Second-chance education increased as well, with adult secondary education, the open university and other forms of adult education.

The average level of education in the Netherlands rose sharply, but in the year 2000, the type of secondary education a person attended still depended on social background. The division between men and women did not disappear either. Not until the last decade of the twentieth century did the number of women beginning a university education rise to the same level as the number of men. The study of Dutch language and literature at university expanded with this new wave of students.

After the Second World War, the methods for literature education were determined more specifically by law, with knowledge of the cultural-historical context being considered more important than the history of literature. The extensive involvement of the government in education shows that being widely-read is considered to be an important aspect of civilisation.

author: B. de Vries

Education and literacy