How are school systems in the Netherlands dealing with teacher shortages, teacher burnout and the shrinking number of people choosing to become teachers?

Some Dutch primary schools in Amsterdam are considering an emergency measure: shifting to a four-day teaching week. Why? Amsterdam has been hit particularly hard by teacher shortages. At the beginning of this school year which began in August 2019, the city was short 280 teachers. This shortage has now grown to almost 400.

The Dutch Ministry of Education has asked for a plan to be ready by the end of January 2020. The idea behind a four-day week is that teachers will teach four days and then use the fifth day for class preparation, administration and professional development. Students will still attend school on the fifth day but participate in other activities such as technology, maker and/or art education taught by non-teachers such as instructors, coaches and  businesspeople with an understanding of didactics can step in to teach students. The plan still needs to be approved by school inspectors. (Read more about this issue in Dutch.)

News of a possible four-day teaching weeks comes at a tricky time for Dutch education. According to the most recent PISA survey in which teens from OECD countries are ranked according to test scores, The Netherlands’ PISA scores have dropped in reading, math and natural sciences. In addition, the gap between the highest and lowest achieving students is growing, fuelled because the teacher shortage is most acute in schools with the lowest achieving students.

On the bright side, new space in the curriculum could mean the integration of more technology and computer science education which is largely absent in most Dutch primary and secondary schools. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.