Curaçao is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In October 2010, the Netherlands Antilles fragmented into two countries, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, and three municipalities. The Charter of the the Kingdom of The Netherlands grants autonomy to Curaçao to develop its own internal laws in accordance with Kingdom rules and regulations. However, international treaties and conventions are signed by the Netherlands on behalf of the islands. The education system of Curaçao is modeled on the Dutch education system. The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport is the highest authority governing education in the island.
The National Ordinance on Compulsory Education introduced compulsory education in 1991 for 5-to-16-year-olds. The law introduced free education for all children and mandatory tuition for secondary and higher education. In 2008 the ordinance was replaced by a new law which extended compulsory education to 4-to-18-year-olds. According to UNDP, Curaçao and Sint Maarten have the lengthiest compulsory education system of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The 2011 UNDP First Millennium Development Goals report for Curaçao and Sint Maarten indicated that universal access to primary education had been achieved in both countries. However, some vulnerable groups, such as migrant undocumented children and children with disabilities, remain out of school. UNICEF’s 2013 report The Situation of Children and Adolescents in Curaçao reported that secondary school enrolment was 77%, with high repetition and dropout rates for boys. In response to the high dropout rates, the Mandatory Social Training Act was approved in 2005 with the purpose of providing 16-to-24-year-olds who have left school with qualifications and training to access the labour market. At the higher education level, girls outperform boys. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in 2013 the gross enrolment ratio in Curaçao was 29.59% for females and 13% for males.
Children with disabilities are not integrated into the regular education system. Instead, they are referred to special schools. UNICEF reported three special schools for severe disabilities, eight special schools for ‘medium range’ intellectual disabilities, one special school for children with physical disabilities and one school for deaf children in 2013. In addition, there was a centre for the blind that prepared children for being mainstreamed into regular schools. The lack of specialized training for teachers is one of the biggest challenges for the education of persons with disabilities in Curaçao. Although there is a bachelor’s degree in special education, courses and training on education of persons with disabilities are not available.
Curaçao is a very diverse country home to over 60 different nationalities. According to UNICEF’s report The Situation of Children and Adolescents in Curaçao, the main immigration flows from Latin America and the Caribbean are from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Venezuela. In the context of the current Venezuelan crisis, the Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V) reported that 16,500 migrants and refugees from Venezuela had arrived to Curaçao as of 31 January 2020. Only 1,291 Venezuelans had a regular status including resident permits in 31 December 2018. The R4V situation report for Aruba and Curaçao of March 2020 estimated that by the end of 2020, 44,500 refugees and migrants would arrive to Aruba and Curaçao. Education support was provided to 22 Venezuelan children through afternoon school programmes focusing on Dutch language tutoring.
Another significant challenge in Curaçao according to UNDP is brain drain. Approximately 300 to 400 young people move to the Netherlands on an annual basis to pursue their studies and only 5% of them return to the island after obtaining their degrees.
Curaçao is a multilingual country. According to UNICEF’s 2013 situation report, Papiamento is the main language spoken at home by 78.6% of the population, followed by Dutch, which is spoken by 9.4% of the population. Spanish and English are also widely spoken: 6% of the population speak Spanish at home while 3.5% speak English. Many children speak more than one language. Although Papiamento is spoken by the majority of the households, Dutch is still vastly used in the education system, especially at the secondary level. A law was approved in 2003 to use Papiamento as the language of instruction at the primary level. However, after a series of protests, schools were given the authority to decide their own language of instruction. According to UNICEF, most primary schools teach the first years in Papiamento and then switch to Dutch. For immigrant children the language of instruction is the main obstacle to integration as they often do not speak either Dutch or Papiamento.
Although a large percentage of the state budget is allocated to education, education in Curaçao is not entirely free. According to UNICEF, parents need to pay a monthly stipend because state financing does not sufficiently cover infrastructure and school materials. Some of these books are purchased in the Netherlands and are expensive. The high cost of learning materials represents a serious challenge for parents and students.