In Defense of a Dutch Education Reform: Why Graduating High School Should Not Have Been That Much Work

education-systemAbout a month ago, I first read about the possibility of a “customized” secondary school diploma in the near future, meaning that students would be able to graduate in subjects on different levels. Paul Rosenmöller, chairman of the Secondary Education Council (VO-raad), wants to implement this proposition soon. Aside from a few hang-ups, I am a big proponent of that and will explain to you why.

Dutch students have officially dropped their pens a few days ago: finals are over. If you graduated with a Dutch pre-university diploma (VWO), you know that the requirements are no easy feat. They weren’t for me, at least. In order to get your VWO diploma, you have to graduate with an average of 5 for math and at least a combined average of 5.5 for math, Dutch and English. As 5.5 is a narrow pass, this might not seem too difficult, but my math grades hardly got close to a 5 during my first years of secondary school, let alone a passing grade. I did well in all other subjects, but boy, math certainly made up for most of my schoolwork!

For me, math tutoring began while I was still in elementary school. However, when I went to a Gymnasium (grammar school), I had to triple my efforts. At one point, I had to be tutored three times a week (yes, really) and would feel stressed about an exam a month in advance. Nevertheless, my grade average still circled around a 3,5 out of 10. Ouch. At one point, my math teacher told my mother that “he had never encountered a case like [me] before.” I transferred to a different school over the Christmas holiday and, with my new teachers’ support, even more tutoring and an intensive three-day prep course at Leiden University, managed to graduate with a 6 on my diploma. Victory was mine.

I can still look at my diploma with great pride, as I invested hundreds of hours in getting it. But the downside of this story is that wanting to go to university would not have needed to be such a battle if I would not have had to take math at a VWO level. I knew I would never go into any sort of profession where math would play a role, so what was the point of fighting for it? I did it not only because I wanted to go to university, but also because I did well in all other subjects. It felt like a waste to go for a less challenging diploma.

According to Rosenmöller, it’s “old-fashioned to receive a diploma at your worst subject’s level.” I agree and believe that a shift in the way we look at secondary education is necessary. There are plenty of people who do not exactly have what it takes to be a VWO graduate but would make a fine or even excellent university student.

I hope that Dutch politicians will come to realize that a pre-university diploma should not be a one-level, one-size-fits-all sort of thing and allow all Dutch secondary schoolers to be able to reach their maximum potential without having their worst subject(s) stand in the way of their future career.



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Hozier – Hozier: A Review


I was rather late to join the Hozier bandwagon. So late, in fact, that when I recently sang Take Me To Church at the top of my lungs, my 11-year-old sister was baffled I even knew the song. (Is my pop culture knowledge now, at the tender age of 19, inferior to that of an elementary schooler? Ouch) But now I know it and I like it. Or perhaps “like” is not the best word exactly. It is a fairly multi-layered song and I… let’s say I acknowledge and appreciate it. I was intrigued by Hozier’s deep, almost syrupy voice and headed over to Spotify to give his first album, Hozier (2014), a listen.

As I expected, the album opens with Take Me To Church, a song about love and obsession with the object of the singer’s desire: not exactly an original concept. Nevertheless, it is unique. Hozier describes his lover along the lines of a metaphor. She is a religion, her body a church and loving her, or making love to her, is worship. The powerful instrumentals, mostly piano, bass and drum, underline his strong vocals and the darkness of his descriptions.

Not all of Hozier’s songs are as dramatic (and I mean this in the best possible way). Some are tender (In A Week), some upbeat (Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene), some quite shocking (To Be Alone). They do, however, stay true to his forceful, brooding folk style. Hozier also establishes himself as a good songwriter, not just a good singer. I love his use of, for example, assonance and alliteration in Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene: “Calling to join them the wretched and joyful.” Sentences like these really come to life when heard, so citing them isn’t doing them much justice. You’ll know it’s good when you’re listening.