Onderwijsdebat in De Balie. Foto | HOP

Election debate on education: “Teaching isn’t a hobby”

Crisis or no crisis, the election campaign is off to a flying start. The General Union of Education (AOb) debate on education went ahead yesterday after all, but without the participation of the union itself. Seven parties crossed swords about the coronavirus, accessibility to education and the shortage of teachers.

photo HOP

It was a debate that included the PVV, something that the members of the AOb had trouble swallowing. That’s why the union decided last weekend at the eleventh hour to scrap the whole election debate completely.

But you can’t cancel a debate just like that, other education spokespeople exclaimed on Twitter. “Democracy = debate”, Paul van Meenen (D66) tweeted. VVD MP Dennis Wiersma agreed. “If necessary we’ll organise it ourselves. The venue is already booked.”


Eventually, that venue, the Amsterdam cultural centre De Balie, took over organisation of the event, and the seven parties, including the PVV, came together to exchange views last night. The focus was on primary and secondary school education, but higher education was also discussed.

Wiersma, for example, argued that a lot had to be “repaired” for the current cohort of students affected by the coronavirus crisis. “They’ve now had a totally different kind of education.” Something no one could deny.

Lisa Westerveld of GroenLinks made a plea for getting rid of the terms ‘highly educated’ and ‘lower educated’. “You’re not worth more just because you went on to university.”PvdA MP Kirsten van den Hul found it a “sad observation” that it still makes a difference who your parents were when it comes to educational achievement.

Common thread

Some parties have thought up big salvaging operations for the entire educational system: for one it’s a “Marshall Plan” while another calls it a “Delta Plan”. But the common thread in all cases is tackling the shortage of teachers.

According to Peter Kwint of the SP, it is essential that the next government make substantial investments in teachers’ salaries. “If you’re a higher education graduate, you earn relatively poorly if you choose to go into teaching.” He also argued that PABO students should be put to work in these coronavirus times. “They are all looking for a work placement.”

But the debate never really got heated. As representative of the largest governing party, Wiersma was often on the defensive, among other things because the VVD wants to primarily reward ‘excellent’ schools. But D66 MP Van Meenen also had to regularly defend the policies of ‘his’ minister, Van Engelshoven. Both parties ended up pointing their fingers at each other (“Your party…”, “Yes, but your minister…”).

Guest lectures

Would VVD MP Wiersma like to become a lecturer himself? Certainly, but not full-time. His party definitely sees something in ‘hybrid’ lecturers: teaching duties combined with a job in the real world. “So that could also be someone who gives guest lectures or supervises interns.”

That earned him the criticism from Kwint that giving a guest lecture now and then is more like a hobby than a profession. Don’t forget all the bureaucratic duties that go with the territory, the SP MP warned. Meetings, reviewing reports, tutoring: those “chores” would then have to be covered by the rest of the team. “Teaching isn’t a hobby, it’s a job.”


On Wednesday morning, there was another debate: this time organized by the science society KNAW (as a replacement for the hacked NWO), with an obvious subject: science. All parties want extra money for science, it turned out. But what is more important: the economy or curiosity? The debate (in Dutch) has been recorded and you can watch it here.

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