The present Dutch education system has its origins in the Batavian Republic which was constituted after the French Revolution. The role of education gained importance in the Civil and Constitutional Regulations of 1789, and the first legislation on education was passed in 1801. After 1848, the municipalities, supported by state funds, were responsible for managing the schools. Private schools were not originally supported by the government. However, after 1917, private and state schools received equal state funding. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.9% of GDP.
Illiteracy is virtually nonexistent in the Netherlands. School attendance between the ages of 5 and 18 is compulsory. Apart from play groups and crèches (which do not come under the Ministry of Education), there are no schools for children below the age of four. Children may, however, attend primary school from the age of four. Secondary school is comprised of three types: (1) general secondary school, with two options, the four-year junior general secondary school (MAVO) and the five-year senior general secondary school (HAVO); (2) preuniversity—the athenaeum and the gymnasium—both lasting for six years, prepares the children for university education; and (3) vocational secondary school is of three kinds—junior (LBO), senior (MBO) and higher (HBO).
Special education is provided to children with physical, mental, or social disabilities at special primary and secondary schools. Whenever possible, these children are later transferred into mainstream schools for continued education.
Facilities have been opened in various municipalities for adult education. Open schools and open universities have also been introduced. Vocational and university education is provided at the eight universities and five institutes (Hogescholen), which are equivalent to universities. These are funded entirely by the government. There are also seven theological colleges.
In 1997, there were 7,287 primary schools with 84,900 staff and 1,230,987 students. At the secondary level in the same year, there were 69,000 teachers and 1,415,712 students. As of 1999, virtually 100% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 92% of those eligible attended secondary school. All institutions of higher learning had a combined enrollment of 468,970 students in 1997.