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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Teaching and learning in primary education


5.Primary education

5.2Teaching and learning in primary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Curriculum, Subjects, Number of Hours

Primary education is regulated by the Primary Education Act (WPO). It prescribes, for instance, that schools have to provide at least 7,520 teaching hours over the eight years that children attend school. Under the WPO schools must provide teaching in the following curriculum areas:

  • Sensory coordination and physical exercise;
  • Dutch;
  • Arithmetic and mathematics;
  • English;
  • A number of factual subjects, including geography, history, science (including biology), social structures (including political studies) and religious and ideological movements;
  • Expressive activities;
  • Self-reliance, i.e. social and life skills, including road safety;
  • Healthy living.

The WPO does not lay down the number of teaching hours in each of these areas.

Frisian as a compulsory subject
Frisian is a compulsory subject for primary schools in the province of Friesland, but they may apply to the provincial executive for exemption if less than 5% of pupils at the school have a Frisian background.

Non-core subjects
Schools may choose to teach extra subjects in addition to the core curriculum, such as religious education, French or German. Parents can give their opinion on extra subjects through the school’s participation council but the school takes the final decision.

Attainment targets

Attainment targets for primary education have been laid down by the government. Schools are expected to organise their teaching in such a way that all the subject matter to which these targets relate has been covered by the end of primary school. The targets define in broad terms the core curriculum at primary schools and ensure that pupils are prepared for secondary school.

A booklet is available (in Dutch only) that describes the attainment targets in the following core areas:

  • Dutch;
  • English;
  • Frisian;
  • Arithmetic/mathematics;
  • Social and environmental studies;
  • Creative expression;
  • Sport and movement.

Attainment target cards are also available as a classroom resource.

The subjects French and German do not fall within the attainment targets, though schools may include them in their curriculum. The statutory attainment targets for English provide a model for French and German.

Science and technology
The government wants schools to devote more time to science and technology. These areas are also addressed in the attainment targets. Businesses and colleges for higher technical education help primary schools give their pupils an introduction to technology.

Diversity and sexuality
In 2012, learning to show respect for sexuality and diversity, including sexual diversity, were introduced as attainment targets in primary, secondary and special education. This is part of the broader aim of teaching children to treat others with respect.

Subjects are usually taught in Dutch. However, some 650 schools offer early foreign language education. The most common foreign language taught at primary school is English, followed by German, French and Spanish. Foreign language programmes usually start in year 1 (at the age of 4).

Methods and materials

Mainstream primary schools and special schools for primary education are free to choose their own teaching methods and materials. Teaching materials are the property of the school. In the Netherlands, the production, distribution and sale of teaching materials is a commercial activity.

The Knowledge Centre for Teaching Resources (KCL), which falls under the National Institute for Curriculum Development (SLO), helps schools select teaching materials by providing an overview of all the textbooks and teaching materials available for primary education.

The Ministry has charged the SLO with further elaborating the attainment targets in the form of more detailed content and activities (formerly referred to as intermediate targets and learning trajectories) These suggestions for content and activities offer guidance to teachers, but they are also useful for pupils, designers of teaching materials, trainers and counsellors, school inspectors and other parties involved in primary education.

Use of ICT

The use of computers and other ICT equipment in primary education is not laid down by law, but nearly all teachers use digital learning materials. In 2018 some 98% of primary school classrooms have an electronic blackboard and schools have, on average, one computer for every 3,5 pupils. Almost all teachers (99%) also use digital learning materials in class. The majority (62%) often give (more than 60% of the lessons) class explanations using digital learning tools. 57% of teachers also often use the internet for lesson planning.

Teachers and school leaders also make use of the possibilities that ICT offers to better organise education. For example, they often use a pupil tracking system in which the progress of the pupils can be digitally monitored during the school career. All schools also have a student administration system in which the data of the students are kept. Schools exchange pupil data in a secure digital manner with the Education Executive Agency of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. These data are centrally managed by the Education Executive Agency DUO in the education database BRON. This data is used to determine the funding of the schools and for policy information.

Schools can apply to centres of expertise such as Kennisnet (in Dutch only) for support in all issues concerning ICT – from hardware to applications.

Source: ICT use in education 2018 (report available in Dutch only). KBA Nijmegen 2018.

Note: There is no more recent data available than 2018.