Half a Century of Islamic Education in Dutch Schools

Marjoke Rietveld-van Wingerden & K H Ina Ter Avest. British Journal of Religious Education. 2016.


From 1960, workers for north European labour-intensive factories were recruited from countries like Italy, Spain, Morocco and Turkey. They were called ‘guest workers’, because the host countries as well as the labourers supposed that their stay was only for a short time. Most of them were Muslims, a rather new phenomenon in the Netherlands. The majority of these workers, however, stayed. Due to a policy of family reunion, their children entered the Dutch educational system after 1975. The success of their integration into schools and society depended on a lot of factors, like an inclusive attitude in which diversity is considered as an enrichment of the dominant culture, or the opposite, an exclusive stance towards ‘the other’ and ‘Islamophobia’ (Shadid and van Koningsveld 2006; Skeie 2001) and without any doubt the history of culture and education in the host country (cf. Berglund 2015; Geurts, ter Avest, and Bakker 2014). Sometimes, national educational policies on integration, intending inclusive outcomes, resulted in exclusion or even expulsion of Muslim children (see Sassen 2014). Below, we focus on Dutch schools and their efforts to meet the educational, religious and cultural needs of Islamic children entering the Dutch schools after 1975. We address the following questions: In what way did state and denominational schools on the one hand and the government on the other hand try to include Islamic pupils (and their parents) and facilitate their integration into the Dutch educational system and by consequence into Dutch society? And, the reverse, how did these new comers adapt themselves to the Dutch educational system, and did they stimulate directly or indirectly reflection on religion and values? These questions are related to attitudes towards the importance of the children’s identity development. Did government, Islamic communities, Dutch society and schools acknowledge the educational need for the cultural and religious identity development of all pupils, including Muslim children, as preconditional for integrative processes in the Dutch society? To answer our question, we first focus on the Dutch perception and reception of Islamic newcomers. Subsequently, we investigate how Muslims explored the typical Dutch ‘pillarized society’. We describe how Muslims found their way in the educational system—exploring the possibility of Dutch education for Islamic children.

Islam in Dutch Society

Islam was not unknown in the Netherlands before the ‘immigration boom’ of guest workers in the 1960s and 1970s. There was a four-century-old reflection on Islam, due to the Dutch colony of the East Indies, nowadays, the Republic Indonesia, a country having the largest Islamic population in the world. In the seventeenth century, Leiden University started with a centre for studies in Arabic culture and language, including Islamic religion and culture, a centre that reached worldwide fame and where Christian theologians discussed the differences between Islam and Christianity (Rietveld-van Wingerden, Westerman, and Ter Avest 2009).

In the first half of the twentieth century, East Indian Islamic students went to the Netherlands for high school and university education. Their families stimulated the foundation of the first Islamic organisation and a mosque in The Hague (Rath et al. 1996, 3). Shortly after the one-sided declaration of the independence of Indonesia (1945) and the following Dutch military actions, soldiers of the Dutch East Indies Army came with their families to the Netherlands because they were considered to be collaborators in their homeland. Neither the academic discussions at Leiden University nor the experiences with East Indian students and soldiers reached out to ‘the man in the street’, and, by consequence, Islam was in the 1960s and onwards, perceived and received by the Dutch population as a new religion, brought in by ‘guest workers’.

Most of the migrants of the first ‘immigration boom’ arrived in the Netherlands in the 1960s and 1970s because of economic reasons. In the post-war industrial expansion, they did the jobs the Dutch themselves did not apply for, like line work, garbage collecting and spinning and weaving in the textile industries. These migrant workers came from countries in the European-Mediterranean area; most of them, especially those from Turkey and, Morocco were Muslims. Initially, the intention of the migrants was to return to their home country after having earned enough money to build a family house or start a small enterprise. Therefore, they were called ‘guest workers’. As a result, neither the Dutch hosts nor the migrants themselves saw any urgency for integration in the Dutch society, and, by consequence, they lived rather isolated from society. However, many of them stayed; a governmental policy of family reunion in the 1980s resulted in the arrival of their wives and children to join them in the Netherlands. For the sake of their children, they started to reflect upon their cultural and religious heritage (Shadid 2006, 14-16). During the 1980s and 1990s, the Muslim population increased and became more diverse with regard to its ethnic, cultural and religious composition due to a second immigration wave, now from the former Dutch colony Suriname and refugees from African, Asian and east European countries. Nowadays, Muslims are the largest non-Western religious minority in the Netherlands, a group that is diverse regarding their country of origin and ethnicity and linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Nearly all Islamic law schools and ethnicities are represented in the Islamic communities. Adherents originate from, amongst others, Albania, Turkey, Kurdistan, Iraq, Palestine, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Surinam and the former Yugoslavia. This is an important difference compared to other European countries. In Germany, for example, the majority of Muslims are from Turkish origin, adhering to the same school of Islamic law. The Islamic community in the Netherlands grew rapidly after 1970, from 50,000 in 1971 to 628,000 in 1995 (Rath et al. 1996, 4-5) and from 850,000 in 2006 (Shadid and van Koningsveld 2008, 33) to probably almost one million in 2014 out of a total number of inhabitants of 15-16.5 million.

Initially, the Dutch society was not that much interested in the religious background of the immigrants, nor did Dutch teachers pay much attention to the cultural and religious background of their new pupils, except for their language acquisition. This changed after the Iranian Revolution (1979) and Khomeini’s fatwa in 1989 concerning the novel writer Salman Rushdie. A public debate started about Islam. Neglecting the generally accepted Islamic perception and interpretation of the Qur’an, as well as shared values like tolerance and respect, the discussion polarised, focusing on possible dangers and extremist tendencies of Islam (Shadid 2006, 16). This negative perception was further stimulated by ‘9/11’, an event in 2001 of international importance and with far-reaching consequences. On a national level, in 2001 the murder of the right-wing and anti-Islam politician Pim Fortuyn and in 2004 the murder of the publicist Theo van Gogh accelerated the developments. In those days, right-wing politicians more and more profiled themselves by opposing the ‘intrusion’ of Islam and Islamic values in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders being a trendsetter. Another aspect contributing to the negative perception of Muslims is the way in which Dutch media report about increasing criminality, in particular amongst Moroccan youth. In Sassen’s view ‘times, they are a changing’: from a time wherein integration was understood as preserving homeland cultural and religious identity, to an era in which integration is seen as an equivalent of assimilation prioritising Dutch cultural values, norms and regulations—a development that might result in expulsion, as coined by Sassen (2014).

The Dutch Pillarized Educational System

The reunion of migrant workers with their wives and children in the 1970s made Islam more visible in the Dutch society, especially in schools. Schools became the ‘laboratories’ for the multicultural and multi-religious society (Westerman 2006, 205-206). For Islamic parents, the schools formed an introduction into the educational system as an exponent of one of the most typical features of the Dutch society, so-called pillarization. It means that religious and non-religious groups (‘pillars’) organised their own presses, trade unions, political parties, sport clubs, libraries and broadcasting companies. So, Protestants and Roman Catholics separately founded their own (private) schools, next to the state schools, after 1917, fully subsidised by the national government. ‘Pillarization’ is seen as the typical Dutch way of coping with diversity, living in peace together but separated into groups according to religious dividing lines. The result is that, as early as in 1934, two-thirds of Dutch children attended a private (religious) school; this situation remained unaltered despite the process of secularisation from 1960 onwards (Kuyk 2007; Rietveld-van Wingerden, Sturm, and Miedema 2003, 104-105; Ter Avest et al. 2007).

For Muslims, the system has been confusing. Initially, some parents sent their children to state schools on the advice of municipalities when registering their newly arrived children. Soon, most Islamic parents preferred private denominational schools, Protestant or Roman Catholic, because of discipline and a positive attitude towards religious and moral values. But there is also a pragmatic reason. Because these schools form the majority, it is more likely to find a Christian than public school in one’s own neighbourhood (Rietveld-van Wingerden, Westerman, and Ter Avest 2009; Van Rijsewijk 1984). Initially, these Protestant and, to a lesser extent, Catholic schools were not pleased with the arrival of Islamic pupils in their classes because of religious reasons (Kraan 1987, Krann 1990). But gradually, nearly all these schools accepted children with other religious backgrounds, including Islamic pupils. A few of them developed into forerunners of interreligious education (Gerritsen 1990, 12-14; Ter Avest 2003).

State schools and municipal authorities were rather reluctant regarding the arrival of Islamic pupils. Although state schools are not permitted to teach religion, they are free to offer optional extra-curricular lessons on religious and non-religious world views using an external teacher. Many state schools used this opportunity but ignored the presence of Islamic children. Only few started with Islamic Religious Education (RE) in the period 1980-2008, but they experienced a lot of opposition prompted by fear of raising fundamentalism in children’s minds. To counteract this perceived threat, right-wing politicians required extra qualifications for Islamic teachers, like perfect pronunciation of the Dutch language and a Dutch qualification as teacher (Westerman 2009a). In the meantime, a teacher training college in Amsterdam, the IPABO (Interconfessionale Pedagogische Academie voor Basis Onderwijs—Inter-Confessional Teacher Training for Primary Education) developed a curriculum to train students to teach about Islam. For further qualifications, the Inholland University of Applied Sciences and VU University, both in Amsterdam, started a Bachelor and a Masters programme in Islamic Religious Studies respectively, including the introduction of a variety of Islamic law schools.

Schools As a Vehicle for Integration?

Dutch schools were confronted with an increase in Islamic pupils, from a few per cent in 1980 to 13% in 1995/1996 and 15% in 2004/2005 (Shadid and van Koningsveld 2006, 77). The government tried to force schools into an intercultural and integrative approach by means of a new primary Education Act (1981) that introduced, for all primary schools, a compulsory subject ‘Geestelijke Stromingen’ (‘Spiritual Movements’), intended to objectively inform about religious and ideological movements. This was distinguished from religious education (RE) as meaning teaching into religion (Westerman 2001, 207-221). Due to a lack of motivation on the side of schools and the poor quality of educational materials, most schools have not included this subject in their curriculum. Moreover, textbooks presented incomplete and, above all, incorrect information about Islam (Westerman 1994). Some 20 years later, the subject seems to have been forgotten. Only recently, aspects of this subject re-entered in a new and compulsory subject ‘Burgerschap en Sociale Integratie’ (‘Citizenship Education and Social Integration’), introduced in 2006 (Bron, Veugelers en, and van Vliet 2009).

The subject ‘Spiritual Movements’ was aimed at integration by inducing understanding of ‘the other’ culture and religion. But on the side of the immigrant pupils, there was a more fundamental problem, the lack of language skills. Therefore, the government started to support schools with extra financial aid for more teachers, extra teaching facilities and the development of programmes for language acquisition and cognitive socialisation in the 1980s (Leeman and Pels 2006, 65). One of the programmes was ‘Onderwijs in Eigen Taal en Cultuur’ (OETC; ‘Mother Tongue and Homeland Culture’) in which the child’s mother tongue and native culture were taken as the starting point for learning the Dutch language. For these extra lessons, schools recruited teachers belonging to ethnic minorities (Extra and Yağmur 2006). In 2004, the programmes stopped because both language and culture became problematic issues (see above) and most migrant children, born in the Netherlands, did not have a thorough mastery of their mother tongue. Moreover, there was a tendency to consider native languages and cultures as hindrances for successful integration into the Dutch society (Shadid and Van Koningsveld 1990, 108). Citizenship education for all pupils was put on the political agenda as a way to stimulate integration and, by consequence, social cohesion (Leeman and Pels 2006, 70-71).

A third initiative came from some Christian schools. They developed the educational concept of interreligious education in which differences like those between Islam and Christianity are not considered as a threat, but as a challenge. In the 1980s, they were stimulated by a worldwide discussion amongst Christian theologians in their search for new theological positions towards other religions (Gerritsen 1990; Kraan 1987, 1990; Westerman 2001, 78-83). They took pupils’ Islamic background as a starting point and developed programmes to promote mutual understanding between pupils with a (secularised) Christian or Islamic background (Bierlaagh 1988). The first example is the Protestant primary school ‘Juliana van Stolberg’ in Ede that decided to give Islamic RE classes during school hours on the request of Islamic parents. Starting in 1989, a committee of Christian theologians, a psychologist, representatives of parents, teachers, a priest and an imam deliberated on the interpretation of religious narratives and their implementation in RE. The RE lessons took as their starting point pupils’ existential life themes, like the beauty of creation, the birth of a brother or sister and farewell sayings with sorrow and pain. The underlying motivation for this model of interreligious education was the acknowledgement of the positive significance of religion for an individual’s life view in a multicultural society. Next to these separate RE lessons for Islamic and Christian pupils, taught by an imam and the class teacher respectively, the latter organised ‘Lessons of Encounter’. Both types of lessons were fine-tuned to the psychological developmental phases of the children, in relation to shared stories in the Bible and Qur’an, like the narrative of Joseph/Yusuf and Moses/Musa, and to different articulations in Christianity and Islam, like fasting and the position of Jesus/Isa. The pupils learned from the authentic way their classmates experienced the rituals of their religion as meaningful. The Juliana van Stolberg school served as an example for other private Christian schools but had to close its doors in 2002, due to socio-demographic reasons like the ageing of the population in the school’s neighbourhood (Ter Avest 2003, 2009).

A similar and more extensive project started in the city of Rotterdam in 1999. A group of 24 Protestant primary schools started a process with a focus on possible ways to structurally include Islamic pupils. Cue events were team meetings, coined as ‘Structureel Identiteits Beraad’ (SIB; ‘Structural Identity Consultation’—SIC), to discuss the teachers’ commitment to the Christian school identity in relation to the predominantly Islamic school population. Exploring the differences and commonalities between the Christian and Islamic religious tradition and the cultural aspects of these traditions, these conversations made teachers more aware of their own position and challenged them to reflect on each other’s perspectives. In SIC processes, the concept of ‘interreligious education’ is highlighted as situated ‘practical wisdom’ in the classroom, for example, by a teacher allowing her Islamic pupils to pray in their own way during morning prayers or inviting the pupils who consider themselves to be Muslims to inform their classmates about the ritual of breaking fasting at the end of each day during Ramadan and show them how this is practiced in their families (Ter Avest and Bakker 2009a, 2009b; Ter Avest, Bakker, and Miedema 2008).

A third ‘example of a good practice’ of interreligious education is three primary schools in the Amsterdam Bijlmer district, a liberal Roman Catholic, an Islamic and a state school that started their joint inter-religious enterprise in 2007. The main purpose is preserving and strengthening the religious and cultural tradition children are socialised in at home while, at the same time, stimulating encounters between both teachers and pupils by working and playing together. RE classes are given in their own school context, according to each school’s identity, or example, Bible stories in the Roman Catholic school, reciting sura’s from the Qur’an in the Islamic school and articulating individual responsibility as a core aspect of the humanistic world view in the state school. Next to this, there are joint activities like festivities on the King’s birthday. The schools follow their own lines of thought in the fields which require a tradition-related approach, like Christmas for the Roman Catholic school and the performance of the sacred duty of Ramadan in the Islamic school. Islamic pupils are invited to participate in the celebration of Christmas; the other way round, pupils of the state school and the liberal Roman Catholic school are invited to participate in the festivities at the end of Ramadan. Chance meetings in the schoolyard are structurally transformed into encounters between parents and teachers, exploring commonalities and differences in pedagogical strategies for learning to live together amidst cultural and religious differences. Central in the mission statement of each of the three schools is that they wish to prepare their pupils for a future in the diverse Dutch society by ‘Learning to Live Together’. The motto of the three schools together is: ‘Het meervoud van samen is toekomst’ (‘the plural of togetherness is the future’) (Ter Avest and Clement 2008).

Islamic Schools and the Adjustment to Dutch Society

During the same era that the first interreligious school developed its ideas, Islamic schools were founded. It took a long time before Islamic parents became familiar with the complexity of the pillarized Dutch society and its educational system (Van Bommel 1990). On the one hand, they perceived processes of secularisation, and, on the other hand, they noticed that most schools were based on Protestant or Roman Catholic principles. Initially, some were so confused that they did not send their children to school at all, not being aware of compulsory education. Some Amsterdam Christians noticed this and informed the Amsterdam municipal officials. Because the council did not respond, they founded the Bouschrã School, based on Islamic principles but with a Christian school board, in 1978 (‘Good News’ School, Westerman 2009b). The school provided instruction in Arabic language and culture and Islamic culture and religion, next to the general Dutch school subjects. Actually, this school was the first Islamic school in the Netherlands. After some very successful years, the Bouschrã School had to close because of opposition from the local authorities, who considered the religiously neutral stateschools as most ideal for the integration of Islamic pupils (Hagen 1988). In the meantime, most Islamic children received religious and Arabic lessons in mosques after school hours. Some mosques also provided homework classes (Karagül 1987).

As soon as Muslims became more familiar with the Dutch pillarized society, they set up their own organisations, like Islamic broadcasting stations, social work centres and schools (Rietveld-van Wingerden, Westerman, and Ter Avest 2009; Waardenburg 1997; Wagtendonk 1997). These local and even national initiatives made Islam and its adherents visible in the Dutch society. Moreover, Muslims became active in liberal, socialist and Christian political parties and were elected in municipal governments in the 1980s. Recently (2008), this development was brought to a peak with the appointment of the Rotterdam mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb born in an Islamic Moroccan migrant family.

The first school built by Muslims was the Al Ghazali primary school in Rotterdam (1987). In 1994, there were 29 primary schools, and, in 2012, there were 44 primary schools out of a total of 8139 primary schools (Rath et al. 1996, 64; Shadid and van Koningsveld 2006, 77) next to one secondary school. The state school practice of a strict neutrality concerning religions in general, awoke Islamic parents’ wish to have schools based on Islamic principles for their children. How important the state school’s attitude is, shows the Belgium example where Islam was officially recognised as a religion and allowed to be taught in state schools in 1974. As a consequence, the need for Islamic schools did not have as great an urgency, as it did in the Netherlands (Karsten 2006, 26-28). The dream about Islamic schools was intensified when the subject OETC was abandoned. However, it was not only for purely religious and cultural reasons that Muslims wanted to have their own schools. It was also due to experiences of neglect and discrimination, according to Hoesein Nanhekhan, principal of an Islamic primary school. Moreover, he emphasised that his school paid more attention to language acquisition and cognitive development, adjusted to the situation of children with an Islamic background, to stimulate entering into higher levels of secondary education. According to Nanhekhan, Muslim parents choose quality first and then an Islamic school identity (Nanhekhan 2002).

Initially, the founding of Islamic schools hardly met resistance due to the Dutch people being familiar with their pillarized educational system. That changed when political adherents of public schools, like the alderman for education in the city of Utrecht, uttered their objection that such schools might stimulate the segregation of ethnic minorities (Sikkes 1989). The public opinion about the desirability of Islamic schools was and still is strongly divided. In 1992, for instance, 57% of the Dutch population was in favour of such schools, but this percentage then dropped due to an increased fear of radical Islam (Rath et al. 1996, 58; Shadid and van Koningsveld 2006, 258-260).

To improve quality, Muslims started with organisations on the national level like their Christian counterparts to assist individual schools. The first and largest is the Islamitische School Besturen Organisatie (ISBO; Organisation of Islamic School Boards), founded in 1990. The main aims of ISBO are the advocacy of the interests of Islamic schools and the provision and stimulation of favourable conditions for Islamic education in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunna (Shadid and van Koningsveld 2008, 245-247). Next to the ISBO, other comparable organisations were founded. They are a necessary help for starting a school board to find ones way in the complexity of the Dutch educational system. Due to a strict separation of state and religion, one of the requirements is that the school board should not consist of the same people as the board of the mosque. Another difficulty was that school boards are not allowed to appoint a teacher of its school(s) as a member. Moreover, there was and still is the practical problem of finding enough qualified teachers. That is the reason why, until today, many non-Muslims work as teachers or principals in Islamic schools.

Inclusive Education and Islamic Schools

Islamic schools have to cope with a wide variety of interpretations of traditions and their own religion, just as Roman Catholic and Protestant schools. So, there are different ideas concerning ‘good education’ (Biesta 2012) and the educational needs of Muslim children in a Western society. As such, they must have a liberal stance towards the various interpretations within the Islam and cope with a lot of ethnic diversity within the schools. They are not as uniform as opponents would lead us to believe. One of the opponents’ reasons for distrust is that these schools might preach radical Islamic fundamentalism, notwithstanding that a school inspectorate reported that nearly all Islamic schools have chosen for an open attitude towards the Dutch society (Inspectie van het Onderwijs 2002, Inspectie van het Onderwijs, 2002b). Moreover, Islamic educators are consciously exploring and reflecting on an Islamic pedagogy in accordance with the requirements of the Dutch educational system.

In 2008, some Islamic schools initiated a new foundation with the aim to explore the tension between Islamic values and the secularised Dutch society. This Stichting voor Islamitisch Onderwijs in Midden en Oost Nederland (SIMON; Foundation of Islamic Education in the middle and the eastern part of the Netherlands) is functioning as the board of nine Islamic primary schools. The presence of Christian and secular teachers in the schools articulated both the possible discrepancies and commonalities between religious world views. SIMON organised consultations with principals and stimulated their nine schools to form ‘Identity Committies’. This resulted in inductively achieved information and discussion material, which has been informative for the description of the SIMON school profiles in official documents, including the mission statement and the drawing up of the rules and regulations for its nine schools. Taking their starting point in Islamic values, these documents seek to incorporate local Dutch habits, like birthday celebrations, but also governmental decisions on aims for primary education. Moreover, these SIMON schools and the board discussed the subject ‘Spiritual Movements’, physical education and official documents on human and children’s rights (Aktaran 2010).

The starting point for the SIMON foundation is ‘respect for differences’, being aware of diversity as an authentic characteristic of Islam with its distinctive law schools (fiqh) and interpretations (aqidah). Pupils come from conservative as well as confessional and secularised Islamic families. The board of SIMON decided to explore in what way Dutch Muslims can respond to differences within Islam and the diversity in opinions on how to be a ‘good’ Muslim in the Dutch society (cf. Ramadan 2004).

‘Diversity’ is the leading principle in SIMON’s mission statement and serves as a framework for each of the participating schools to develop their own ‘practical wisdom’ in relation to their own context and specific population of pupils and parents. ‘Unity in diversity’ serves as a catchword. However, a goal description like ‘pupils learn to respect the generally accepted values and regulations’ is a cause for extensive deliberations within the SIMON board. What is ‘generally accepted’? What is acceptable and tolerated within the Islamic value system? Are there contrasting and conflicting values within this system? For such issues, sensitive to Islamic interpretation, the board consulted several Islamic scholars. They reflect upon a variety of themes in which Dutch values and Islamic interpretations are at stake and might cause tensions (Aktaran 2010).

Conclusion and Discussion

Although the Netherlands had the world’s largest population of Muslims until 1950 (due to the fact that Indonesia with a large Muslim population was part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands), and although the Netherlands had a century old centre for Arabic and Islamic studies in Leiden (due to the colonial relationships with Indonesia and Surinam), in general Islam itself remained rather unknown for ordinary Dutchmen. The Netherlands was not well prepared for the immigration of large groups of Muslims after 1960. Muslims became visible as adherents of a non-Western religion only after the family reunions in the 1980s when their children entered Dutch schools. To improve their integration, the government introduced a new subject, Spiritual Movements; knowing about other religions would promote mutual respect, integration and the formation of a Dutch identity. A problem was, however, that many Muslim children who did not speak Dutch came to schools. Therefore, the government forced schools to provide extra lessons in mother tongue and native culture with the idea that a new language (Dutch) can be best learned from one’s own language.

Gradually, there came a bottom-up movement in schools. Some started to experiment with interreligious education, getting pupils acquainted with each other’s religious world view as part of integration and the pupils’ identity formation. The initial initiatives came from Protestant schools in cooperation with Muslim parents. In the meantime, Muslim parents, becoming aware of the constitutional right of freedom of education, established their own schools. With respect to these rights, the Muslim communities became rather integrated. But also there evolved a process in which the newly founded Islamic schools were in search of identity formation against the background of their own traditions, Dutch culture and the Christian teachers at the schools.

In general, in exploring possibilities for inclusion of Muslim children in the Dutch dual educational system, in particular in Protestant and Catholic schools, the focus has been on shared values, shared and familiar narratives in holy scriptures and the shared aim of teachers and parents in education—that is: to stimulate the development of children as future citizens, respected and respectful participants in the Dutch society. Until now, less attention is given to the fundamental ‘otherness’ of ‘the other’, and the right of parents to educate their children according to their own cultural and religious tradition. Additional research is needed in the plural context, like the north European societies, with regard to the rights (from the part of the parents) and the specific responsibilities from a pedagogic point of view (from the part of the teachers) for the development of an own and authentic world view of all pupils. Education, and in particular religious education should not ‘look away from the hindrances the late-modern society poses when people wish to tune their actions to what is finally of importance.’ (Geurts, ter Avest and Bakker 2014). Taking this into account, we see a pivotal role for teachers in their reflection on shared or conflicting experiences with respect to beliefs, world views, religions and values. A dialogue with parents on (religious) world view and life orientation is preconditional. A teacher is the gatekeeper of the ‘place of encounter’ in-between the micro system of the family and the macro system of the public domain. A school is a meeting place, this being true in primary schools not only in the Netherlands but also all over Europe.