Action programme “Count on Skills (‘Tel mee met Taal’)
The action program “Count on Skills” was first introduced in 2015 and covered the period 2016-2018. It is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. The purpose of the program is to provide everyone with sufficient basic skills (reading ,writing, numeracy and digital skills) to participate in society, both online and offline. Although participation in adult learning in the Netherlands is high by international standards (reaching close to 60% of adults according to the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), around 2.5 million people between 15 and 65 years old lack the skills that are required to successfully participate in society and to manage transitions in the labour market and in the digitalised economy.
In March 2019, a policy letter was sent to Dutch parliament to announce the follow-up of the Count of Skills program, covering the period 2020-2024. In the letter entitled “Joining forces for a higher skill level in the Netherlands: follow-up approach to low-literacy, 2020–2024,’’ three main ambitions were announced:
- Reaching more people with a tailored approach
- Knowing what works: greater insight into quality and effectiveness
- Joining forces: more municipalities, employers and social organizations active for children and adults
In order to reach the aforementioned goals and ambitions, ten policy objectives have been identified. These objectives have all been translated into quantitative and qualitative ambitions, to be achieved by the end of 2024 at the latest (when the Count on Skills program is set to end):
1. We try new ways to reach more people. We pay more attention to people with Dutch as a first language. Language ambassadors are helping us to do so. These people also had trouble with the basic skills in the past. This is why they can help us to reach people. Language ambassadors can also help organisations to use language that people can understand better. New projects help us to find people who we could not find before; via social media, for example. We look if we can use government websites to find people who would be helped with courses. We pay more attention to young people who may get language problems.
2. We make agreements with the towns and cities. We believe that each town or city must offer good support. We support that each town or city collects data about the number of people that they help. This way they can learn from each other.
3. Towns and cities will get extra money to carry out the agreements. Together with the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG), we will look at what the towns and cities are doing with the extra money.
4. We will set up a national programme to help towns and cities. Towns and cities will be helped with training language buddies, for example. We will also help towns and cities to find people who have trouble with the basic skills. We will help them to learn how they can give more help to these people.
5. Each year, we will give €3 million to employers. Employers will use this money for training in basic skills at work.
6. We work to promote reading and to help families. We already do many things to make more people read. We will continue to do so. Each year, we will also spend more than €2 million extra to reach parents who have trouble with language.
7. We spend €500,000 each year to improve the quality of Language Hubs and Language Points. Course providers must make sure that their courses are good. They are checked by other people.
8. We will set up an expertise centre for basic skills. The centre will do research, share knowledge and improve quality. We will give extra money to special teachers for people who have Dutch as their first language.
9. We will publish the results of the low-literacy programme. We will publish these results on a website that everyone can access.
10. Each year, we spend €700,000 on thinking up new ideas, sharing knowledge and showing good examples.
The urgency to invest in improving the basic skills in the Netherlands is widely supported. The “Count on Skills” program is joining forces with municipalities, employers, libraries, representatives of the target group, numerous social organizations and others. The government is funding a range of projects aimed at improving people’s basic skills, for instance through the Reading and Writing Foundation, the Royal Library and the ABC Foundation (the latter is an organization run by people who used be functional illiterate themselves).
Employers and other organizations can also apply for the Count on Skills subsidy in order to offer basic skills classes to functional illiterate employees and parents. Organizations can also apply for subsidy to organize other activities aimed at an educational partnership between parent and school or an educational home environment, or to initiate experiments aimed at reaching more functional illiterate people and guiding them towards basic skills classes, or experiments aimed at improving the quality of basic skills classes.
Thanks in part to a structural addition of €5 million per year included in the coalition agreement, the government will invest almost €125 million (€24.8 million per year) in measures to tackle low-literacy among adults as well as to encourage reading skills and language acquisition among children over the next years. This sum is in addition to the structural budget for adult education received by municipalities (€60.4 million per year). As a result, the government will spend a total of more than €400 million through to 2024 on improving the skills of people who are currently missing out on opportunities to participate in Dutch society.
Lifelong learning aside from basic skills, the current government (2017-2021) has initiated an inter-ministerial action programme on adult learning. By providing a broad and comprehensive package of measures, the government is seeking to encourage adults to pursue lifelong learning. The programme comprises five strand of action, including various policy measures:
1. Stimulating and facilitating people’s ownership of their own life and career.
- Digital overview of learning and related financial opportunities
- Individual learning budgets (STAP-budget)
2. Stimulating adult learning in SME’s
3. Improving the regional support structure
4. Flexibilising the learning offer for adults
5. Making arrangements with social partners
In addition, several measures on adult learning have been launched in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Policy priorities in the past
The government has made extra funding available to tackle functional illiteracy through the action program “Count on Skills” 2020-2024. The 2020-2024 plan is a continuation of the action program “Count on Skills” 2016-2018, which in turn is a continuation of the 2012-2015 Functional Illiteracy Action Plan.