Bildung and citizenship

'Bildung' is important for the development of children and young people, and is one of the statutory responsibilities of the education system. Young people need a broad cultural grounding, including knowledge of traditions and prevailing morals. This cultural grounding shapes their personality and at the same time prepares them to function in society. Bildung gives young people knowledge and skills, and enables them to engage in a dialogue and to decide their point of view on social developments and issues. Schools and teachers have an important role to play in this. The Education Council believes that current education practice offers more opportunities for Bildung than many people often believe. Bildung and knowledge transfer belong together; you cannot have one without the other.

The Education Council has published its views on the theme of Bildung in various reports. At their core are four tasks of education:

  1. offer guidance and invite pupils to develop a sense of purpose (general formative education);
  2. encourage citizenship;
  3. strengthen the partnership between parents, young people and the school;
  4. work towards a school culture that unites (and combat educational segregation).

1. Offer guidance and invite pupils to develop a sense of purpose

In 2010, the Education Council was asked by the Senate to make recommendations on Bildung in the school system. In its report, the Education Council called on schools to give Bildung a more prominent and contemporary place in their education. Children and young people need reference points to guide them through our complex society. Knowledge of literature, philosophy, religions and professional ethics can help provide these. At school, pupils can also learn to engage in dialogue and learn about other beliefs.

Teachers have a central role to play in Bildung, as they provide knowledge and demonstrate values and ideals by the way they act. There are many striking examples to be found in education. School leaders and governors could support teachers by having a clear educational vision for the school. In addition, there should be scope and time for personal contact between teachers and pupils. This vision of formative education is also expressed by the Education Council in its recommendations on other aspects of education.

The education minister adopted the recommendations in the policy response and emphasised that Bildung is not counter-opposed to learning achievements. The minister also referred to the importance of social training places and cultural education.

2. Encourage citizenship

In 2003, the Education Council proposed that the responsibility of schools to encourage citizenship should be anchored in law. Citizenship education should also form part of the core objectives, the learning outcomes and the qualification structure of various sectors of education. The recommendations (Education and citizenship, 2003) have now largely been implemented.  The task given to schools to actively encourage citizenship and social integration has been enshrined in the relevant education acts. The Education Inspectorate is responsible for overseeing compliance with this task. 

In 2004, the Education Council also called for European citizenship to be brought to the attention of pupils (Education and Europe: European citizenship, 2004). Secondary education now includes knowledge of Europe as one of its core objectives.

In 2007, the Education Council proposed tightening the legislation for higher education in this regard (Reinforcing Knowledge II), but our recommendations were not adopted. The government considered that sufficient measures had already been taken to embed citizenship education in senior secondary vocational education and higher education.

Five years after the statutory provisions were introduced, the education minister now considers it time to take stock, and in 2011 she asked the Education Council for its advice. How can schools be supported in their task of providing citizenship education? The report should be available in early 2012.

3. Strengthen the partnership between parents, young people and the school

The commitment of parents to the school and to education is important. Not just because it helps relieve the burden on schools or helps keep tabs on the education and learning processes, but also as an expression of citizenship. Schools would do well to intensify their contacts with parents (Parents as partners, 2010). In particular, the Education Council see opportunities to invest in the role of parents as education partners (parent-teacher) and as members of parent-parent relationships. Together with the parents, the school could also provide sufficient shared activities for pupils and strengthen their social networks. Peer coaching and mentoring could be used to achieve the latter (Social education and social networks in education, 2005). The education minister agreed with this advisory report. Officials at the education ministry regularly call on parents to intensify contacts with their children’s school, and many schools respond positively.

4. Work towards a school culture that unites (and combat educational segregation)

In 2007, the Education Council observed that mixed schools succeed in establishing a ‘we feeling’ if they formulate a vision on the school as a living and learning community (A school culture that unites, 2007). A clear identity then emerges from this which the school can then communicate to parents and other stakeholders. The Education Council described three routes that schools could take to achieve a school culture that unites. It also recommended that the efforts made to achieve this culture should be regarded as a part of citizenship education.

The state secretary supported the idea that schools should maintain a vision of their school culture and should undertake corresponding activities. However, she also believed that the Active Citizenship and Social Integration Act (Wet actief burgerschap en sociale integratie) already made sufficient provision for this.

In 2005, the Education Council made recommendations on the ‘double waiting lists’ (one for indigenous children and one for children from an ethnic background) which the city of Rotterdam was using to combat segregation (Beacons for dispersal and integration), arguing that we should aim for mixed schools and selection should be based on disadvantage rather than ethnicity. At the same time, a number of local measures were proposed to help combat segregation. The education minister adopted the Education Council’s recommendations.  Combating segregation is no longer a priority for the current government.