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Dutch education system explained

From age 4 children may attend elementary school (“Basisschool”) of which the first two years are similar to kindergarten.  It is also regularly referred to as  such (“kleuterschool” or “Groep 1 en 2”). It is a flexible arrangement for the first year, but as soon as your child turns 5 years old they are expected to show up daily.

Kindergarten (Peuterspeelzaal)

You may qualify for subsidy from your local municipality (“gemeente”) for this.  You need to consult with the doctor at the “consultatiebureau” (this is where your child will receive immunisations and their growth is monitored – like the clinics in SA).  Ask the doctor to give your child indication for VVE (“Voor- en vroegschoolse Educatie”).  This is a program incorporated at the kindergarten to improve the language skills of children.  It is very effective and applicable to children with a foreign mother tongue.  This ensures that your child will start elementary school (“Basisschool”) with a minimal setback in their language skills.

You get different forms of schools to choose from. Your neighbourhood may offer a variety or less, but in most cases schools are in walking distance from your home and you will encounter religious as well as public schools in one neighbourhood. 
These elementary schools are basically free, but most schools do ask for an annual contribution for things such as school trips. International (English) schools are also an option, depending on the area you are settled in, but they do charge monthly school fees 


When the student has completed Elementary School (“Basisschool”) the next step forward will be determined by mainly their performance academically up to that point. Teachers will give guidance and parents may also make their wishes known. There are 5 levels on college:

  • Practical education: Practical education leads directly to the labour market and takes 6 years.
  • VMBO: prepares students for secondary vocational education (MBO) and the HAVO: lasts 4 years.
  • HAVO: prepares students for higher vocational education (HBO): lasts 5 years
  • VWO: prepares students for university takes 6 years.
  • Gymnasium: highest possible grade in the Netherlands. Combination of VWO including Latin and Greek. Takes 6 years.



MBO: Secondary vocational education leads students to a profession such as in construction, engineering, care, social professions or economic professions.

HBO: Higher vocational education leads students to high-level positions within business and government. Result: Bachelor.

University: Carries out academic education and grants academic degrees. Result: Bachelor.

In the Netherlands, it is compulsory for a child to attend school from the ages of 5 to 16 years. After this, a student is partially compelled to study up to the age of 23. Parents do not pay tuition for primary and secondary education. It may be that schools ask for a parental contribution or lesson material to be purchased. From the age of 18, students pay tuition fees.

Dutch education system explained

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Related subjects

Childcare facilities

In the Netherlands there are three main types of organised childcare facilities: Kinderdagverblijf, Gastouder and Buitenschoolse / Naschoolse Opvang - BSO (After School Hours Care). For the childcare facilities you can apply for a “kinderbijslag”.

Child allowance

When you life and work in the Netherlands, you may qualify for “kindgebondenbudget” or also called “kindertoeslag” which is a child support benefit.

Dutch language

If your child speaks Afrikaans it takes about three weeks to get used to the Dutch accent, thereafter your child should be able to deduce what is said to him/her if the speaker speaks slowly and with a few hand gestures.

Swimming diploma

It is compulsory for children to go for swimming lessons and to qualify by doing a diploma called “A, B, C” swemdiploma. It makes sense as there is so much water here in the Netherlands!

Medicines and Doctors

Immunizations are done by the Consultatiebureau. If your child has a chronical condition, ask your current physician to draw up a summary of his/her records for you to bring with.


Once in the Netherlands, you'll notice some frequently used terminology, like: kinderdagverblijf, gastouder, naschoolsopvang.