There is a highly developed and often confusing educational system in place in the Netherlands. The level of participation in education is high: one out of three school-leavers now completes a first university degree.
Education in the Netherlands is characterized by division: education is oriented toward the needs and background of the pupil. Education is divided over schools for different age groups, some of these are in turn divided in streams for different educational levels. Schools are furthermore divided in public and special (religious) schools. A recent assessment coordinated by the OECD gives Netherlands something to boast about. The education system in the Netherlands is ranked as the 9th best in the world.
Education policy is coordinated by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, together with municipal governments.
Compulsory education (leerplicht) in the Netherlands starts at the age of five, although in practice, most schools accept children from the age of four. From the age of sixteen there is a partial compulsory education (partiële leerplicht), meaning a pupil must attend some form of education for at least two days a week. Compulsory education ends for pupils age eighteen and up.
Primary education (Basis onderwijs): Primary education in the Netherlands comprises general primary education, special primary education and (advanced) special education for children with learning and behavioural difficulties and children with learning disabilities. Primary school educates children until the age of 12 and has eight grades, called groep 1 (group 1) through groep 8. School attendance is compulsory from group 2 (at age five), but almost all children commence school at four (in group 1).
Secondary education (Voortgezet onderwijs): There are around 700 secondary schools in the Netherlands, both publicly and privately run. Secondary education encompasses schools providing pre-university education (VWO; 6 years, age 12-18), senior general secondary education (HAVO; 5 years; age 12-17), pre-vocational secondary education (VMBO; 4 years, age 12-16) and Practical Training (PRO; age 12-18). All four types of secondary education are for children aged twelve and over and all begin with a period of basic secondary education.
VWO: The vwo (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs), literally means, "preparatory scientific education", has six grades and is attended from age twelve to eighteen. A vwo diploma provides access to wo training, although universities may set their own admittance criteria (e.g. based on profile or on certain subjects). Vwo is divided in Atheneum and Gymnasium. The former doesn't include classical languages, while the latter does.
VMBO: The vmbo (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs, literally means, "preparatory middle-level vocational education". This lasts four years, from the age of twelve to sixteen and combines vocational training with theoretical education in languages, mathematics, history, arts and sciences. Sixty percent of students nationally are enrolled in vmbo. Vmbo itself has four different levels, in each a different combination of theory and practical vocational training is combined.
HAVO: The havo (hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs), literally means "higher general continued education" has five grades and is attended from age twelve to seventeen. A havo diploma provides access to the HBO-level (polytechnic) of tertiary education. In the first three years, all havo students follow the same subjects including languages, mathematics, history, arts and sciences. In the third year, students must choose from one of four profiles that specialize in certain areas. They must also choose one to three additional subjects. Dutch, English and some minor subjects, are compulsory.
PRO - Regional training centres: There are 40 regional training centres in the Netherlands. They provide vocational education in three sectors: Engineering and Technology, Economics and Health & Social Care.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food quality provides vocational education in agriculture, natural environment and food technology.
Vocational education offers participants from the age of 16 a choice of 700 vocational courses, four training levels and two different routes in which courses can be followed. Students can choose between a full-time college-based route that includes work placements or the part-time work-based route, which combines part-time education with an apprenticeship in a company.
Higher education: There is a growing demand in the Dutch labour market for MBO (upper secondary vocational education) and HBO (higher professional education) graduates. Higher education comprises higher professional education (HBO) and university education (WO). These types of education are provided by HBO institutions ("hogescholen") and universities respectively.
MBO: Mbo (middelbaar beroepsonderwijs, literally, "middle-level vocational education") is oriented towards vocational training. Many pupils with a vmbo-diploma attend mbo. Mbo lasts three to four years. After mbo, pupils can enroll in hbo or enter the job market.
HBO: With an mbo, havo or vwo diploma, pupils can enroll in hbo (Hoger Beroeps Onderwijs, literally "higher professional education"). This higher learning and professional training degree takes four to six years to complete. After obtaining enough credits (ECTS) students will receive a 4 years (professional) Bachelor's degree. Succesful graduates find employment in a variety of fields at various levels in trade and industry, social services, health care and the public sector.
WO: With a vwo-diploma or a propedeuse in hbo, pupils can enroll in wo (wetenschappelijk onderwijs, literally "scientific education"). Wo is only taught at a university. There are thirteen 'regular' universities in the Netherlands. Besides these, there are 43 colleges offering 200 different programmes for a variety of professions in a range of social areas. After obtaining enough credits (ECTS), pupils will receive a 3 years Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Laws degree. They can choose to study longer in order to obtain a Master's degree in different fields. At the moment, there are three variants: Master of Arts, Sciences, and Master of Laws. A theoretical Master requires one year, while practical (e.g. medical) and research Masters require two or three years.