Screenshot of the debate's livestreaming on Zoom.

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

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The countdown has begun for the Dutch Parliamentary elections. Crisis or no crisis, the campaign is off to a flying start. In a recent debate, seven parties delved into the topic of education, crossing swords about coronavirus restrictions, accessibility, and the shortage of teachers.

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The Dutch Union of Education (AOb in the Dutch acronym) was organising the debate, but called it off at the eleventh hour because some members of the union found it hard to swallow that the far-right party PVV was going to take part in it. 

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

The venue in question was the Amsterdam cultural centre De Balie, which took over the organisation of the event, making sure that it would happen. The focus of the debate 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 the Green Left party (GroenLinks) made a plea for getting rid of the terms "highly educated" and "lower educated". Her reasoning: “you’re not worth more just because you went to university”. PvdA MP Kirsten van den Hul found it a “sad observation” that it still matters how educated one's parents are when it comes to educational achievement.

Common thread
Some parties have come up with big salvaging operations for the entire educational system: one of them called for a “Marshall Plan” while another one called it a “Delta Plan”. But the common thread in all cases is tackling the shortage of teachers.

According to Peter Kwint of the Socialist Party, it is essential that the next government makes 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 students following Primary School Teaching Training (PABO) should be put to work in the pandemic. “They are all looking for a work placement”.

Guest lectures
Would VVD MP Wiersma like to become a lecturer himself? Certainly, but not full-time, was his answer. 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.”

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