An international crisis in the Netherlands: Absences

Children and young people in The Netherlands stand to suffer a double- whammy in the coming years. Beginning in 2020, 30 percent of the country’s schools will close as a result of budget cuts that city and regional authorities have adopted to improve efficiency. And if bad news from Germany’s schools is any indication, these ones may be facing a double whammy of devastating consequences: A notorious trend among German schools is teacher strikes over the last several years has led to an alarming number of student absences as a result of the disruptions.

But despite the fact that this school year in Amsterdam is the worst in recent memory for absenteeism among students, in the eyes of the Dutch educational authorities, this is all simply a sideshow to the real issue at hand: The announcement that their number of known cases of schismatitis—an illness that causes chronically disrupted and often self-destructive behavior—has reached an epidemic level. They believe it is reaching epidemic levels not so much because of an imminent national crisis as because of a marked increase in their effectiveness as an effective platform for workplace safety and welfare programs.

The dangers posed by schismatitis to all aspects of public education are obvious. More and more students and teachers are presenting with symptoms such as seizures, insomnia, aggression, tremors, the inability to control anger, and erratic learning, among others. These symptoms are varied enough to give a person difficulty holding down a job—if the child does not return to school immediately after coming down with symptoms, teachers face losing their jobs if the student are absent for a certain amount of time. In The Netherlands, teachers can lose their jobs for less than a day.

In that context, the Dutch school superintendent Denise Mattern, who has been overseeing schismatitis and demanding that it be called what it is: absences, argues that the number of absences since the beginning of this school year—totaling more than 20,000 cases—has doubled those reported in previous years. The school superintendent also explains that these absences are correlated to the child’s learning abilities, which she estimated are only 79 percent of the Netherlands average. All in all, she determined that the average student absences in Amsterdam this school year have been greater than expected, which was announced earlier this year.

She believes that these absences are decreasing as a result of her measures. To increase the efficiency of the schools, the Dutch government has imposed stricter conditions, such as banning mobile phones in the classroom. However, these measures only lead to increases in pupil absences. It is only during week one of the school year that the problem begins. Children start school for two weeks and then go home until the beginning of the school year again. She also pointed out that although absences are available with teachers on attendance cards, parents often do not have time to bring their children to school with them, thus avoiding this application.

In addition to this, the Amsterdam Education Directorate explains that the influence of social media on many students, through texting and on the internet, has forced them to be absent more frequently. Many parents simply are not aware that it is illegal for a child to be absent more than two days from school in the Netherlands. Furthermore, a recent study by the Royal Netherlands Police indicated that a large number of absences are the result of blackmailing or extortion by adolescents who are dissatisfied with their performance. In an age when social media is ubiquitous and most children receive online grades before leaving the classroom, they are more likely to withdraw into themselves rather than share their weaknesses.

Education experts also attribute the rising number of absences to the fact that people, often adults, are now a common topic of distraction. Many more children are getting an iPhone each year, which leaves a greater number of distractions in the classrooms as school progresses. Additionally, according to the National Teachers University in the Netherlands, the number of different jobs in the workplace has changed considerably in recent years, making teachers more absent from their classes during lunchtime and on weekends.

These issues suggest that the students of The Netherlands are by and large suffering from issues which are becoming increasingly worrisome, with time running out. With other issues like the upcoming Brexit negotiations and the potential for a falling out between the United Kingdom and the European Union getting a lot of attention, the Netherlands has an uphill battle on its hands to ensure that all the children at their schools—even the entire school system—have what they need to grow, receive education, and have a productive future.

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