Out There, Right Now

Integrating into a Non-Existent Country

Arieke van Liere
Thu 27 Sep

This article was published in Dutch on OneWorld's Movement platform

Pictures from the seventies dominate the integration education books. Our integration education is pretty old-fashioned if you look at the mock exams. What is the use of knowing how to transfer the rent by an acceptance giro to the nowadays bankrupt Fortis Bank?

If you want to know about the status of our current identity politics, opening an integration textbook would be enough. Stereotypes and stigmatising images are dominating integration education for years, and although the responsible ministries are aware of the state of affairs, the outdated photos and videos have never been replaced.
The meaning of integration, according to Van Dale is 'forming one whole with something or becoming a part of a greater whole.' But it seems more likely that the present integration course is designed in order to keep newcomers at a distance, to deter and to confuse them.

The pictures left are images from current integration books. The pictures right are how I want them to be.

For those who are not yet familiar with the integration country: all citizens between 18 and 65 who move to the Netherlands from the countries outside the European Union should 'integrate'. In other words: learn to speak Dutch and to get to know the Dutch community. The exam 'Knowledge of Dutch Society' (KNM), one of the five exams that newcomers must pass within a period of three years, falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. If you do not pass this exam, you are not eligible for Dutch citizenship.

It seems more likely that the present integration course is designed in order to keep newcomers at a distance.

There is no such thing as the integration book of all times. Method developers and publishing houses make educational material based on the 'Learning Outcomes of the Dutch Society' defined bySocial Affairs and Employment Minister Koolmees. But there are no image guidelines. As a result, libraries are filled with books with images from the Netherlands in the 70s.

Spokespersons of Uitgeverij BOOM and ThiemeMeulenhoff, who develop integration didactic material for the practice exams, explain that photo material in integration books is subordinate to the text. Which is surprising. Because to someone who does not speak a language a picture is worth a thousand words.

Astonished by the ridiculous images of the poor quality in the mock exams on the DUO website and wanting to learn more about this, I have contacted Ivar Noordenbos (Minister Koolmees' spokesperson). To my surprise, he confirmed that these mock exams are similar to the official KNM exam. But the questions, as well as the images, are ludicrous. How could the story about the removal of the statue of Mother Mary from Ali's neighbours' garden ever be approved by a responsible committee?

"Ali's neighbours are Catholic and have a statue of Mother Mary in their garden, what can Ali do best?", One of the answers to this question, a pixelated image of Ali removing the statue, comes from the official KNM mock exam.

There is no education inspection or complaints committee for integration education.

European law allows integration requirements before granting residence if they contribute to integration. The images from the official KNM exam show that this is clearly not the case. For those who are baffled by this, here is bad news: there is no education inspection or complaints committee for integration education. Welcome to the Netherlands of the KNM integration exam.

White Is Leading

The Dutch are almost always depicted as white. The low-quality images confirming this can be found on the Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs (DUO)website.

To begin with, it is striking that there is no trace of a multicultural society in the official KNM practice exam. From minute-taker to a politician: the Dutch are nearly always depicted as white. If a newcomer, for example, aspires to become a general practitioner, the dream will be crushed immediately. The illustrations emphasise that a newcomer is a guest and will not achieve anything. Wrongful, because in the Netherlands in 2018 about 20 to 30 % of medical students have a non-Dutch background.

If someone with a migrant background is depicted in the mock exam, the figure will always mean the person who is integrating. A caricature we can laugh about mainly because he does not yet understand how it works in the Netherlands.

By giving politicians a camera I motivate the government to think practically about how civic integration can be done differently.
Members of the parliament (D66 and SP) are making new pictures for the Dutch integration course in The Hague.

Gender Equality

The woman supports the man in his work. The man is depicted as someone holding high functions.
Gender roles and professions are also presented in an old-fashioned way in the official KNM exam. A receptionist or a secretary, the woman supports the man in his duties as director, doctor or dentist, and is only shown in high positions by exception. We see the woman more often with the children than the man but luckily the responsibility for upbringing is shared. The household, on the other hand, is all women's kingdom; there is not a single picture of a man with a toilet brush or vacuum cleaner in his hand.
There is no question of homosexual or transgender persons in the official practice exams. This can hardly be the intention, as minister Koolmees in 2017 still publicly criticized anti-gay violence by a Monday morning hand in hand with Alexander Pechtold to the formation talk to run. The images from the practice exam as shown in this article are a dent in the Dutch image as a free-thinking country, and a slap in the face for anyone who has fought over the past fifty years for equal rights and acceptance of the LGBTQIA community. In this Netherlands, where white men are the boss and freedom of love is not yet accepted, I would not want to live.

Outdated services

According to Minister Koolmees' spokesman, the entire question bank of the exams is screened annually for current events and adjusted where necessary. How is it possible that in the exams there are still outdated passports, paper driving licenses and forms for rent allowance from 1975?
Services are outdated: here a giro collection slip for a bank that no longer exists, a paper driver's license and a housing allowance form from 1975. Minister Koolmees has indicated that the integration system will be revised. He will inform the House about this before the summer break. This will also make it clearer about the civic integration examination and the associated integration course. I sincerely hope that he deletes the KNM exam in its current form of the integration program. It is fundamentally wrong that we permit residence permits to depend on examinations that test questionable norms and values. Let us work towards large-scale buddy systems and practical assignments. Less ideology and more practical thinking. You do not gain the knowledge of Dutch society from books, but by seeing and doing. I am for integration, but against integration into a country that no longer exists.

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