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Netherlands was among the countries CIEB profiled in 2015. This profile has been archived and is no longer being updated.

The Dutch education system is distinctive in Europe and across the globe. With long-standing commitments to religious and other freedoms, the Dutch have an education system of publicly funded choice. The Dutch allow any public, private or religious organization or individual to establish and administer a school. More than two-thirds of Dutch primary and lower secondary school students attend “independent” schools run by private or religious organizations. All schools, independent or public, are granted public funding at an equal level, as long as they operate according to guidelines set by the Ministry of Education and agree to be monitored by its Inspectorate. All students, whether in public or independent schools, must also take required subjects and achieve attainment targets in those subjects on national examinations. Schools, though, maintain a great deal of autonomy, and are able to choose their own curriculum, make hiring and promotion decisions and allocate resources at the school level.

The Netherlands, which has historically considered education to be a “right” for all citizens, was also the first country in the world to offer free education to 4-year-olds and in 1985 integrated pre-primary education into its primary schools. The Dutch also have one of the most robust vocational education systems in the world, with over half of all secondary students enrolled in this pathway. Labor market outcomes for Dutch young people are among the best of the OECD. A vocational pathway is introduced early in the Netherlands, right after primary school in grade 9, but students have multiple opportunities to move to the general secondary education pathway and to progress to higher education.

The Netherlands has consistently scored well above the OECD average on PISA since 2000, with a high point in 2006 when they scored in the top five in mathematics. Since then, their scores have declined slightly across all three subjects, although they remain in the top tier of performance among OECD countries and one of the highest scoring countries in Europe. On PISA 2015, the Netherlands scored 11th highest in mathematics and 15th highest in science and reading.

Although the Netherlands ranks at about the OECD average on most measures of equity for PISA performance, equity has not significantly improved in recent years on any of these measures except for the performance of immigrant students. The gap in performance between immigrant students and non-immigrant students declined significantly between 2006 and 2015.

The Dutch have focused most recently on attracting more candidates to teaching and raising the quality of the teaching force. In 2017, the government cut tuition in half for the first two years of teacher preparation programs, which typically last four years. They also mandated that all teachers register in a national registry, which requires that they be fully qualified for their positions and participate in ongoing professional learning. The Netherlands has raised the academic requirements for primary and vocational school teachers, who have not traditionally had to meet as high standards as general secondary school teachers. And in 2018, primary school teacher salaries increased to bring pay more in line with that of secondary school teachers. These reforms are seen as a response to a rising shortage of primary school teachers, whose qualifications and pay have not been as high as those who teach at the secondary level.




Ethnic Makeup

Dutch 76.9%, EU 6.4%, Turkish 2.4%, Moroccan 2.3%, Indonesian 2.1%, German 2.1%, Surinamese 2%, Polish 1%, other 4.8%


$924.4 billion; $53,900 per Capita

Major Industries

Services: 70.2%, Industry: 17.9%, Agriculture: 1.6%


Unemployment: 4.9%; Youth Unemployment: 7.2%

Educational Attainment

Upper Secondary Graduation Rate: 89%