The Netherlands

Floris Velema

Quick facts


Part of the philosophy curriculum (VWO)
15-18 years old
160 VWO schools (25% of the total number of schools nationally)
3 years, 480 hours in total, of which 80 hours are dedicated to ethics
National exam in philosophy
Part of the philosophy curriculum (HAVO)
15-17 years old
60 HAVO schools (10% of the total number of schools nationally)
2 years, 320 hours in total, of which 80 hours are dedicated to ethics
National exam in philosophy

In The Netherlands, ethics is part of the philosophy curriculum. Philosophy is taught at the pre-university level (VWO) and at the pre-higher vocational level (HAVO). In 2018, the number of schools offering philosophy as an exam subject has stabilized at 60 HAVO schools and 160 VWO schools (10% and 25% of the total number of schools nationally).

Like other school subjects in the Netherlands, philosophy in the upper grades of HAVO and VWO has a program which includes both internal and external assessment. The HAVO curriculum consists of three main domains: philosophical anthropology, ethics and social philosophy. The VWO curriculum has four main domains: philosophical anthropology, ethics, theory of knowledge and philosophy of science.

The ethics courses at HAVO and VWO level are broadly similar, focussing on value theory, utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics.

For the elements that are internally assessed, teachers have a certain amount of freedom to shape their own program, as they can choose between six different textbooks and find their own ways to examine their subject matter. This freedom does not extend to the preparation for the external examination. Teachers have to adhere to detailed demands which are centered around a specific theme. This theme is laid out in a textbook that consists of a general introduction by academic specialists as well as primary sources from representative philosophers. Examples of these themes at HAVO level are: Utopia, Philosophy of emotions, Global justice, and Personal identity. Examples of themes at VWO level are: Virtue ethics, Reason and religion, Free will, Scepticism, and The good life and the free market.

Dirk Oosthoek describes the Dutch philosophy curriculum in more detail in a country report, published in the second issue of the Journal of Didactics of Philosophy.

An important aim of teaching philosophy in Dutch secondary schools is to learn about philosophy (i.e., the great philosophers) by doing philosophy. Dr. Natascha Kienstra has developed a conceptual framework of a philosophy lesson wherein the relation of teacher behavior with doing philosophy by students has a central role. She categorizes student behavior into five distinct and hierarchically ordered activities: (1) rationalizing, (2) analyzing, (3) testing, (4) producing criticism, and (5) reflecting. These activities form the basis for a model of doing philosophy, which Kienstra has called the Pearl Model.

The Pearl Model is further described and implemented in Kienstra’s 2015 paper ‘Doing philosophy effectively: Student learning in classroom teaching’, published in PLoS ONE. A follow-up paper was published in the same journal in 2018.