Ambitious educational goals for Caribbean Netherlands

Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba have set various educa­tional goals for the coming years in their Education Agendas, sent to the Dutch Second Chamber of Parlia­ment on Tuesday, June 4, by Caretaker Minister of Primary and Secondary Ed­ucation Marielle Paul. Al­though this is the first time that Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba each have their own agenda, the islands have set similar priorities to improve the quality of education in the Caribbean Netherlands.

The Education Agendas are a joint product of the school boards, the Exper­tise Centers for Education Care, the public entities Bonaire, Saba and St. Eu­statius and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and describe the common goals and priori­ties to work together to im­prove the quality of educa­tion in the Caribbean Neth­erlands.

According to Minister Paul, joint educational goals are very important for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. “It is essential that every child, wherever they may live, has the same opportunities to develop to their full potential. School is a crucial place where chil­dren not only learn to read, write and calculate, but also to develop and prepare themselves for their future. Education has a universal power that should be equal regardless of location. That is why it is important that we continue to invest in the quality of education on Bo­naire, Saba and St. Eusta­tius,” Paul writes.

It is also very important to recognise the islands’ indi­viduality, Paul states. ‘Al­though there are similari­ties between the European and the Caribbean Nether­lands, there are also many differences that require a specific approach because of the local context, scale and location. Customisa­tion is essential: looking at what really works and not automatically copying Dutch solutions to the is­lands.”

Paul writes that she re­alised how important a fo­cused approach for each island is during her working visit to Bonaire, St. Eusta­tius and Saba. “It is impera­tive that the government continues to listen to all those involved in education on the islands, because they experience every day what works and what does not work in local educational practice. I therefore appre­ciate all the input I received during and after my trip,” she explains.

The agendas include joint educational goals and pri­orities per island. The edu­cation agendas of Bonaire and Saba focus on a total of six priorities. For St. Eusta­tius, seven priorities have been agreed on.

For all three islands, the first priority has to do with teaching staff, as teachers are key when it comes to quality education. The ob­jective here is to support staff wherever possible; for example, by ensuring pleas­ant working environments, creating opportunities for professional development and recruiting more teach­ers.

The second goal is strengthening educational leadership and availability of long-term administrative support. School boards on all three islands do valuable work, but unlike school boards in the European Netherlands, they often lack a network of support staff and experts who can help with complicated situ­ations.

Third, the agendas take into account the multilin­gual background of many students in the Caribbean Netherlands. Pupils on St. Eustatius and Saba, for example, grow up on an English-speaking island, but students also encounter other languages in school, such as Dutch, which is of­ten a foreign language to them. In recent years, all three islands have seen an increase in the number of newcomers: children who come from abroad and join the education system at a later age, often not speak­ing the language in which teaching takes place.

Multilingualism will re­quire specialist knowledge from all teaching staff in the Caribbean Nether­lands, in addition to the knowledge and expertise that most teachers already possess.

The fourth joint goal has to do with better education­al buildings, as these are an important part of accessi­ble, good-quality education system. This goal includes ongoing maintenance to keep school buildings and installations in good work­ing order, up-to-date main­tenance plan, adequate funding and a clear policy on school buildings.

Fifth, the transition of pupils to suitable forms of further education must be smoother, as this is crucial for their future develop­ment, as well as the develop­ment for the entire region.

Improving this transition means helping students to choose a study programme that meets their needs and expectations and which they will enjoy and be able to successfully complete.

Lastly, the government must ensure that the right preconditions are in place for high-quality education. Schools need access to the right tools to shape the education that they provide. In the European Netherlands market forces often provide the necessary tools for this, but this is not always the case for the Ca­ribbean Netherlands due to the islands’ smaller scale. In cases where markets fail to provide solutions, the national government will have to step in to provide the necessary tools. This includes making the right teaching materials avail­able — both educational ma­terials that are appropriate to the Caribbean context and digital education tools.

St. Eustatius has one ad­ditional educational goal: strengthening education care through structural support for children who need a little extra help in school, embedded special­ist facilities and better co­operation between school boards and the youth care train.

The Education Agendas of Bonaire and Saba were signed on July 5, 2023. The signing of the Education Agenda of St. Eustatius took place on January 30, 2024. These agendas cover the period from school year 2023-2024 to school year 2026-2027. This is the third time that the education agendas have been agreed on with the islands.

This year’s agendas are a follow-up to the 2017 Sec­ond Education Agenda Ca­ribbean Netherlands. How­ever, this is the first time that an Education Agenda has been established for each island, rather than one Education Agenda for the entire Caribbean Neth­erlands. This is in line with the different educational developments on the three islands, Paul writes.

The Daily Herald.

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