When the first Dutch immigrants arrived in Australia fifty years ago, most did not speak one word of English. At the time, schools emphasized for the Dutch students to forget Dutch as soon as possible and only use English, because naturalising would be easier and quicker. Now Australia is experiencing the impact of this way of thinking.
By Yolanda Edens
The importance of Dutch education abroad
Those immigrants are now elderly and sometimes demented. A large group of these elderly, revert to the Dutch language and have trouble speaking English. Their children have grown up exclusively with the English language which causes communication problems within families. Parents and children no longer speak the same language and the social and emotional impacts are far reaching. The elderly grow lonely and feel rootless. Due to these experiences, current Dutch immigrants are advised to educate their children bilingual and continue to speak Dutch at home as much as possible. Experience shows that children who continue to practice their native language and culture socially and emotionally, but also cognitively, have an advantage.
Stichting Nederlands Onderwijs in het Buitenland
Up to 1980 Dutch education abroad was mainly a concern for parents and businesses. Schools of the ministry of defence existed in Germany, Belgium and France. In Singapore and Jakarta the Dutch-language education had existed for decades. Joint initiatives of the ministry of education and organisations like the Vereniging Bijzondere Scholen (VBS) and the Institute for Individual Education (IVIO) decided to financially support schools abroad. The Stichting Nederlands Onderwijs in het Buitenland (NOB) was founded in 1980. Jan Boomsma of the Stichting NOB briefly outlines their working method: The foundation supplies subsidy to Dutch schools abroad, for teaching positions and teaching packages for distance education. School management, school principals and teachers abroad also get support and advice concerning teaching methods, the set-up of a syllabus and quality guarantee, the establishment of new schools, the use of IT in the classroom and the recruitment and selection of teachers. The Stichting NOB also advises parents on education abroad and departure to the foreign country, the stay there and finally the return to The Netherlands. The information could be about multi-linguistics and keeping up with the Dutch language. The foundation also conducts individual investigations in teaching and/or behaviour problems, highly gifted children or the contiguous level with education in The Netherlands. The most important objective is to establish an excellent connection with the education in The Netherlands, to make the return to the schools in The Netherlands smoothly.
Prevention of language deprivation
The Australian education system is rather progressive and innovative and more focused on the individual student and incite students to think independently. Depending on the place of establishment, schools often have experience with the intake of foreign students. Children who stay in Australia temporarily, because of their parents' work, have no immigrant status and don't come under the Australian education regulations which could help them with the transition to the English/Australian language. When the intention is to stay permanently in Australia it too is recommended that the children, beside the lessons they follow in the regular Australian primary education, also visit a Dutch language school for a number of hours per week. After finishing high school, young Dutch immigrants often choose to study in the Netherlands and return afterwards. As the teaching material at the Dutch schools abroad is the same as the material in The Netherlands, this can be realised without any problems. Kiki Paul teaches at the Dutch (primary) school, De Kangoeroe in Sydney, also a member of the Stichting NOB. She subscribes to this vision: "It is important that language deprivation is as little as possible when children return to The Netherlands. However, parents wrongly assume that, when they continue to speak Dutch at home, the children automatically keep up the language. In practice this is often not the reality. Children speak English at school all day and often have trouble explaining in Dutch what they did at school that day. It is also important to keep up the reading and writing in Dutch when it concerns younger children.
De Schakel in Perth, Western Australia is one of the schools that regularly use the services of the NOB. Wilna Cornelisse is the coordinator of De Schakel. One of the first tasks for De Schakel is teaching the English language. This often happens during school hours. When the English language has reached an acceptable level, they gradually proceed on to the Dutch curriculum. The aim is not to cause any delay in the Dutch education program. In dialog with parents and class teacher(s) the number of hours per week in the English language is established and carried out. Therefore the student gets their own Dutch language teacher assigned. The lessons are on a one-to-one basis, and the desired result is reached within half a year. Twice a year the school writes a report about the progress and results of the students. The reports are also meant as a communication means for the future attendance of school in The Netherlands. De Schakel has no permanent building or classroom. Since the students live in Perth, far apart, the Dutch language teacher teaches at the allocated Australian school. That can be before, during or after school hours. Children are also taught at home, mainly after school or at night at the teachers' home. "Not one of our students lost a school year after returning to The Netherlands. We are very proud of that", says Wilna Cornelisse. The Dutch culture is also kept alive along with the Dutch language lessons. Sinterklaas, Christmas and Queens' birthday are celebrated elaborately.
Could something be said about the different results and possible problems children experience when they return to The Netherlands, between the children that did or did not have (extra) Dutch-language education? "No extensive research has been done into students who return to The Netherlands and how they cope", says Boomsma. "As far as we know, based on feedback from parents and students, compared to their contemporaries in The Netherlands, students who have had Dutch-language education, perform the same as we expect from students that had their education in The Netherlands. However, the results depend on how the Dutch-language education took place, the length of the stay abroad and the possibilities to speak, listen, read and write Dutch at home. When these factors are not optimal, then it is possible that, related to the stay abroad, students have fallen behind in the Dutch language. Next to the learning performances we experience that it is important to pay attention to social and emotional functioning of the students after they return to The Netherlands."
Therefore, the importance of the native language (and cultural education) should not be underestimated. "The sooner the children come into contact with bilingualism the better", says Boomsma, representative of the NOB. "The feasibility depends on the local circumstances for Dutch-language education, possibilities of parents and children, the intensity of a day school program, available resources and material (internet, e-mail et cetera).
Loosing of the roots
"The speaking of the language gives more involvement and identification with The Netherlands", says Kiki Paul. "But the communication with family members in the home-country: Opa and Oma, uncles and aunts and friends is important too. I think that I would feel uprooted if I would not speak Dutch anymore. When speaking Dutch I can express my feelings about this and give it a place. It relaxes. Naturalising has a lot to do with the attitude you have. Language helps, but is, in my opinion, certainly no decisive factor. The more you speak the language of the country with the residents of that country the better it becomes. I do not think that you should do that at home. An immigration process already is an impressive, emotional event. To hang on to your own language at home can reduce the feeling of 'uprooting' and give something to hold on. There are things, like certain words- or cultural jokes, which you can only share with compatriots: you can explain to an Australian about "De Vieze Man van Koot en Bie", but only a Dutchman gets it.”
Facts and data
The Stichting NOB is the only organisation that has experience and expertise to realise the task of the ministry. Anno 2005 approximately 240 Dutch schools and three organisations for teaching abroad are connected with the foundation. The organisation works for about 8,250 children from four till eighteen years old in almost 80 countries. Of this 1200 children follow distance courses through IVIO Wereldschool, Edufax (primarily or higher education), or Stichting IBID (IBID accompanies Dutch students who visit an international Baccalaurate (IB) - school abroad, but have no Dutch-language teacher). 1700 children at 25 schools attend primary education and 5300 children attend Dutch language and culture (NTC) - education.
The Stichting NOB receives a certain amount of the Ministry of OCW annually. The foundation pays for activities which result directly from the core functions and supply subsidy to the schools and organisations for distance courses. In 2004 this amount was 4.1 million euro. Besides this, the ministry of OCW makes an ICT-subsidy available. In 2004, this amounted to 23 Euro per student.
website Stichting NOB: www.stichtingnob.nl.
The Dutch version of this article was published in the September/October 2006 edition of Holland Focus.
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