In the Dutch education system, pupils move on to one of three types of secondary education after completing primary school: pre-vocational secondary education (VMBO), general secondary education (HAVO) or pre-university education (VWO). Secondary education prepares pupils for secondary Vocational Education and Training (VET, MBO in Dutch), universities of applied sciences (HBO), or university education (WO). In the lower years of secondary school, pupils follow a broad curriculum. At the end of the second year (for pre-VET) or third year (for pre-university/university of applied sciences), they opt for one of four fixed subject combinations:
- In the pre-VET secondary education, pupils choose a sector preparing them for further vocational education and training, and their future jobs. The four sectors are Agriculture, Technology, Care & well-being, and Economy. They also choose one of four “learning tracks”, ranging from very practical to more theoretical, to suit their aptitudes and abilities.
- In the pre-university (or pre-university of applied sciences) education, pupils choose a ‘profile’: Nature & Technology, Nature & Health, Economy & Society, or Culture & Society. STEM subjects are usually only taught in the Nature & Technology and Nature & Health profiles.
The choice of a sector or profile is very important, since it determines the pupils’ range of options in higher education study programmes: e.g. STEM study programmes are only accessible for pupils who chose a natural science & technology profile in high school.