Education and training in the Netherlands until August 1997

1. Primary education

Primary education is intended for pupils between 4 and 12 years and lasts for eight consecutive years. The first year is not compulsory. Depending on results pupils will start in different forms of secondary education.

2. Secondary education

Secondary education is intended for pupils between 12 and 18 years of age. Since 1993 all types of secondary education start with a period of basic secondary education, which usually lasts 2 to 3 school years and offers a broad range of subjects that is in principle the same for everyone.

There are four different types of education:

  • pre-university education (vwo) lasts six years and prepares pupils for a university course or higher professional education; this comprises the ‘gymnasium’, the ‘atheneum’, and the ‘lyceum’, which is a combination of gymnasium and atheneum;
  • senior general secondary education (havo) lasts five years and prepares pupils for higher professional education;
  • junior general secondary education (mavo) lasts four years and prepares pupils for senior secondary vocational education and training;
  • junior secondary pre-vocational education (vbo) lasts four years. The final two years comprise subjects which prepare pupils for follow-up courses in senior secondary vocational education and training.

3. Vocational education and training on senior secondary level

Vocational education and training on senior secondary level is provided in two learning pathways: the apprenticeship system and senior secondary vocational education. In both learning pathways the courses are based on national standards, decreed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

The apprenticeship system
Participants attend courses at school during one or two days a week; they work in practice during three or four days. The apprenticeship system is divided into three levels:

  1. foundation courses (1 – 3 years) train apprentices to the level of starting professionals;
  2. secondary courses  (maximum 2 years) train apprentices to be independent professionals;
  3. tertiary courses (maximum 2 years) prepare individuals for middle management functions or independent business professions.

Participants receive the diploma of a course in the apprenticeship system from one of the national bodies of vocational training.

Senior secondary vocational education
Senior secondary vocational education and training is indicated as mbo. Students attend courses at school on a full-time basis, supplemented with periods of practical training, lasting from a few weeks up to one year within a company or institution.

The courses are divided into three levels:

  1. short courses (1 - 2 years) prepare students for the intermediate and long courses and for secondary level courses within the apprenticeship system. Students are trained to the level of starting professionals;
  2. intermediate courses (2 – 4 years) prepare students to work competently and independently;
  3. long courses (3 – 4 years) prepare students for middle management functions and specialized professions.

Students receive the diploma senior secondary vocational education from the school. The diploma allows transfer to higher professional education.

4. Higher education

Higher education is distinguished into higher professional education (hbo) and university education (wo). The identity of hbo is defined in relation to its focus on professional practice; the identity of the universities is intertwined with scientific research.

University education has a two-phase structure. The first phase lasts four years. The second phase, which lasts two or three years, is an advanced training programme for scientific research. It has limitations in capacity and admission.

5. Adult education

Adult education is oriented towards adults aged 18 and over. The most important forms are:

  1. Dutch as a second language: these courses teach Dutch to foreigners who live in the Netherlands;
  2. basic education: very elementary skills are taught (language skills, numerical skills, social skills);
  3. secondary adult education (vavo): allows many adults to acquire a diploma or course certificate at junior or senior general secondary level (mavo, havo) or pre-university level (vwo);
  4. vocational courses: a broad range of training provisions.