THE HAGUE--Members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament expressed support for the introduction of English as the language of instruction at schools in St. Eustatius during a meeting with Dutch State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science Sander Dekker on Wednesday.
Members of Parliament (MPs) André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party, Roelof van Laar of the Labour Party PvdA and Paul van Meenen of the Democratic Party D66 lauded the decision of the state secretary to make the switch from Dutch to English as the language of instruction at Statia schools.
The MPs shared the opinion of the expert committee that investigated the pros and cons of introducing English as the language of instruction in St. Eustatius. “The switch to English will better connect with the language of the people and will make it easier for youngsters to achieve better school results,” stated Van Laar.
Van Meenen stated that the report of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF about children’s rights in the Dutch Caribbean made mention of the language problems that children faced on the islands. “Children in St. Eustatius learn a different language in primary education than they use for the final exams in secondary education,” he said.
According to Van Meenen, special solutions are needed for the three public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. “We can’t continue to forcefully teach in the Dutch language with pupils insufficiently mastering the language and as a result don’t understand the curriculum. Offering English in secondary education is therefore a good step that will enable the children of St. Eustatius to continue their studies worldwide,” he said.
Bosman said he supported the switch to English as the language of instruction as it better fits in the local circumstances. However, not everyone was in favour because they feared that young people, once they have completed their studies, would have trouble working at a job that demands knowledge of the Dutch language. “How will the Dutch language be guaranteed for this group to prevent job opportunities from being lost,” he asked the state secretary.
Bosman and Van Meenen expressed concerns about the connection to studies in the Netherlands. “We have doubts about the connection with education in the Netherlands. How will a student be pulled up to the level when they want to study in the Netherlands,” asked Van Meenen.
“How do we guarantee high quality education that connects to Dutch education or do we let go of that connection and focus on further studies in the region? Every advantage has its disadvantage. It is either your own language with a more difficult connection or the Dutch language with difficulties to acquire the level,” said Bosman.
Van Laar and Bosman asked about Bonaire and the decision of the state secretary to stick to Dutch as the language of instruction on this island. Van Laar pointed out that Dutch was a foreign language for many pupils and that at home these children mostly spoke Papiamento or Spanish, English with their peers and that they were only taught Dutch in class.
“The question is whether this doesn’t have an adverse effect on school results. Pupils leave primary education with insufficient knowledge of the Dutch language and will never catch up on that backlog. Dutch has to strongly improve if it is to remain the language of instruction,” said Van Laar.
Van Laar asked about the possibility of having a second trajectory in secondary education in Bonaire for students for whom Dutch is a foreign language and who don’t focus on continuing their studies in the Netherlands. “Wouldn’t their school results drastically improve with English or Spanish as the language of instruction? Wouldn’t that make it easier to connect to further education in the region? We ask the state secretary to look at this,” he said.
Bosman asked whether having English as the language of instruction in St. Eustatius and Saba and Papiamento in Bonaire, if the island decided to go for this option, would mean that the diplomas would have the same value as the diplomas in the Netherlands and whether the students would have the same rights to further their studies in the Netherlands.
State Secretary Dekker soothed the worries of the MPs. He said the diploma of the Caribbean Examinations Council CXC that students in St. Eustatius would be receiving had to be of the same level as the Dutch diploma. Saba already has English as the language of instruction and students receive a CXC diploma.
Dekker sent a letter to the Second Chamber on October 8, 2014, in which he outlined the trajectory to introduce English as the language of instruction in St. Eustatius. He confirmed his full commitment to contribute to this process, as having English as the language of instruction had proven to be in the best interest of the pupils/students. He did warn that it would be a very demanding and intense process for all stakeholders