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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: 22 February 2024

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

There is no law on how to use ICT in primary education. Schools themselves decide how they shape their education with ICT. The Monitor ICT Competence of Primary School Teachers research 2020 by the PO Council and Kennisnet shows, among other things, that almost all teachers use various forms of ICT and digital learning materials. In the current situation, the emphasis in the use of ICT is mainly on supporting the teacher's teaching. The use of the digital whiteboard and digital teaching materials when providing classroom explanations is common. Exercise programs play an important role. Practice programs are commonly used in which the computer provides feedback and always tailors new assignments to the skill level of the student.

 ICT also supports teachers with testing and individual guidance of students, where ICT provides insight into the progress of individual students. For all these applications, teachers, school leaders and school administrators expect their use to increase further. For daily educational practice, this means that an increasing number of teachers and students are using various ICT applications more and more frequently. The trend is clear that the supporting contribution of ICT in education continues to increase. 

Teachers and school leaders also use the possibilities that ICT offers to better organize education. For example, they often use a student monitoring system in which the students' progress can be digitally monitored throughout their school career. All schools also have a student administration system in which student data is kept up to date. Schools exchange student data in a secure digital manner with the Education Executive Agency of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. This data is centrally managed by DUO in the Basic Education Register. This data is used to determine the funding of the schools and for policy information. There are knowledge centers that support schools in primary education in the application of ICT. An example of this is Kennisnet.