‘Through CarE, we want to empower our Caribbean-Dutch students’
Inclusive education. It’s something we talk about a lot. Because we want to offer all our students equal opportunities for study success. Yet there is one group of students that, for years, has been starting classes with a disadvantage compared to their peers: the Caribbean-Dutch students. And that’s not only at THUAS – it is an area in need of attention all across the Netherlands. Cateleine de Jong, Senior Lecturer in the Facility Management programme and member of the Inclusive Education research group, feels a deep desire to help these particular students. Together with Karym Leito and Nadège Heyligar, she has launched the CarE project. De Jong is pleased that the Faculty of M&O has decided to spend the study advance funds on this project.
They have the papers they need to study here, as well as the talent. They’re bursting with ambition and speak four languages: Papiamento, Spanish, English and Dutch. Yet every year, half of the Caribbean-Dutch students drop out in their first year. And only a handful succeed in graduating with a degree. Cateleine de Jong, Karim Leito and Nadège Heyligar felt it was high time for concrete steps to do something about it. With the CarE project, they hope to empower these students. Their efforts are meeting a clear need, as second-year student Paola Huiberts explains below.
What is going wrong?
Cateleine de Jong: “Caribbean-Dutch students come to us with a diploma from senior general secondary, pre-university or senior secondary vocational education. Because they have Dutch passports, they are logically considered to be Dutch students – and the work they do in degree programmes taught in Dutch is judged in part on their Dutch-language writing skills. That’s not fair to them. Because the Caribbean islands that are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands are not the same as the Netherlands itself. You’re dealing with an entirely different context there than the one on the European mainland. The islands are also home to different cultures. People there speak a variety of languages, including Dutch.
Whereas THUAS facilitates a soft landing for its international students, those facilities are not being made available to Caribbean-Dutch students. The Dutch language presents a major hurdle. Caribbean-Dutch students who enrol in English-language degree programmes tend to do much better. Yet they, too, must deal with cultural differences, the lack of a social safety net and homesickness. They, too, must get used to an educational system that’s different than the one at home.”
Paola Huiberts is a second-year student in the Facility Management programme and is active in CarE. She’s from Curaçao. “What I miss most is the warmth of the sun back home, but also the emotional warmth. The Dutch are much more individualistic than people on Curaçao. We are accustomed to sharing. Here, it’s more like ‘every man for himself’. Dutch people are also much more direct, which I do like. And on Curaçao, it’s weird to call your lecturer by their first name.
I feel right at home at the meetings, which we normally have every other week at the campus. There, I get a chance to meet other Caribbean-Dutch students who I never knew were studying at THUAS, too. Our get-togethers are very casual and relaxed; there are often drinks and snacks. And then we all talk about the problems we run into. For me, the CarE meetings are a kind of safe haven, as well as a place to practice my Dutch with no pressure. I hope we’ll be able to start organising these meetings again really soon and with no limitations.”
Why has a university of applied sciences that promotes inclusiveness chosen to focus on a specific target group? Cateleine: “We don’t refer to this as a target-group approach, but as a community-led approach. Target-group policies are handed down from above, whereas a community-led approach works based on the perspectives and experiences of the students themselves. It’s also a way for them to think about their individual identities. The community is much more fluid than a target group. Students can determine a lot of the parameters for themselves, based on their own needs and context. And the CarE approach is applicable to other communities as well.
There’s more to promoting inclusiveness than just giving a lecture on the subject. It has to be part of your DNA if you want to really practice what you preach. I’m a member of the Inclusive Education research group and I can see how all of us at
THUAS are struggling with this theme. Through this community-led approach, we want to provide a softer landing for Caribbean-Dutch students at THUAS. So that they feel like a part of this community, and know they are not the only ones struggling with the aforementioned problems. That experience will enable them to enhance and increase their participation in the THUAS community.”
CarE is more than an empowerment project. It has resulted in a study conducted by the Inclusive Education research group. Cateleine: “Research is being conducted into themes such as the sense of belonging, study success and social success among Caribbean-Dutch students in order to learn how CarE might contribute to promoting these things. Together with the Executive Board, the research group and the EK&C Service, we have formed a knowledge coalition aimed at connecting the various stakeholders within THUAS in order to prevent fragmentation. Other players connected with this issue are the politicians in The Hague, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science and the Representation in Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten.”
Because this problem exists at every university of applied sciences in the Netherlands, the knowledge coalition wants to join forces with other universities of applied sciences in order to develop an integrated strategy for helping this group. Such a strategy might entail the creation of an academic transfer year. When you live in the Caribbean, it can be difficult to make a well-considered choice regarding a degree programme and university of applied sciences in the Netherlands. During the academic transfer year, we want to give Caribbean-Dutch students time to try out different degree programmes in the Netherlands, without any credits being at stake. After that year, they’ll be able to make a deliberate choice for a specific degree programme.”/p> Starting at a disadvantage is an unacceptable situation. Luckily, things are changing. Cateleine: “But for me, the CarE meetings are the most amazing thing. That’s where you see our Caribbean-Dutch students acting as a social safety net for each other. In the THUAS Quality Agreements, we formalised our explicit intent to use the study advance funds to enhance the feasibility of our education – in other words, to benefit the students themselves. I think it’s really great that my faculty, M&O, is using these funds to give the CarE project a boost.”