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The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands situated primarily in Northwestern Europe, with a total geographic area of just over 16,000 square miles.  The country is also comprised of several Caribbean islands, and the mainland shares land borders with Germany to the east, Belgium to the south and the North Sea to the north and west.  It also shares maritime borders with the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium.  The government structure of the Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy that is organized as a unitary state, and while the capital city is Amsterdam, the seat of the government is The Hague.  The Netherlands is often referred to as Holland, but in truth North and South Holland are just two of the twelve provinces that comprise the country.
 
As of the last census taken in 2011, the Netherlands had a total population of approximately 16.7 million, making it the 11th most populous country in Europe and the 61st most populous country in the world.  The country is fairly ethnically homogenous, with nearly 81 percent of the population self-identifying as Dutch.  Minority groups in the country include those of Indonesian (2.4%), German (2.4%), Turkish (2.2%), Surinamese (2.0%), Moroccan (2.0%), Antillean and Aruban (0.8%) and other (6.0%) ethnicities.
 
The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch and is used for all official purposes in the country, including government, commerce, media and education.  It is also the most widely spoken language among the Dutch people.  Frisian also has official status and is the most widely spoken language in the northern province of Friesland.  Roman Catholicism is the largest single religion in the Netherlands, with 28 percent of the population practicing the faith, followed by Protestantism which accounts for 16 percent.  The Netherlands is not very religious as a whole, one of the least-religious in Europe with less than 50 percent of the population being religiously affiliated and fewer than 20 percent attending church services on a regular basis.
 
Education in the Netherlands
 
Education in the Netherlands is overseen by the national government and administer by each of the twelve individual provinces.  School is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16 and partially compulsory from age 16 to 18.  The education system has three general divisions:  primary education, secondary education and higher education.
 
Primary education in the Netherlands is administered at elementary schools and is mandatory for all Dutch children.  Usually this level spans eight years, beginning with kindergarten and culminating usually when children are age 12 or 13.  The initial focus of instruction is on reading and writing education, along with some very basic arithmetic, with courses in science, history, geography, language and literature, fine and applied arts, physical education, social and cultural being added gradually as children proceed through each grade level.  At the end of grade 8 all students must sit for an aptitude test that, in combination with his or her parent’s wishes will determine in which of three secondary streams a student will participate.
 
These distinct secondary educational tracks are:
 
  • VMBO.  The VMBO is a four year program of vocational education that is subdivided over several levels.  Students who successfully complete the program earn a low-level vocational degree and can apply for the mid-level applied education course upon graduation.  Typically, this level focuses on specific trades.
  • HAVO.  The HAVO secondary education track spans five years and focuses mainly on professional education.  Students who successfully complete each of the five years can apply for admission into “higher professional education,” which is administered in the Netherlands by designated universities of professional education.
  • VWO.  The VWO is a six year program for students who demonstrate above average academic aptitude in elementary school.  These programs are divided between two types of schools, atheneums and gymnasiums, at which the primary goal is preparing students to enter one of the Dutch research universities upon graduation.
 
Students who earn a diploma from the VWO stream of secondary education tend to go on to study at one of the many universities in the Netherlands, where they can earn Bachelor (3-4 years), Master’s (2-3 years) and Doctorate, or PhD-level (4 years) degrees in most major academic fields.  Doctoral candidates, who are considered temporary university employees in the Netherlands, along with the faculty at each of these institutions, are responsible for much of the educational and scientific research conducted in the country.

See here for more information about studying in Holland.

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