Bilingual schools project is Dutch cricket's big opportunity
The decision of the European Platform – internationalising education, which co-ordinates the 120 bilingual secondary schools in the Netherlands, to develop a cricket project may be the most important initiative in the Dutch game since the ICC introduced its High Performance Program, and may in the end prove to be even more significant for the sport’s long-term future.
The bilingual sector is the fastest-growing area of Dutch secondary education, and currently has more than 25,000 pupils across the country. One of the requirements is that the foreign language, which is almost without exception English, spreads across the whole curriculum, and that includes physical education.
The Platform already conducts national contests in public speaking, debating and mathematics, but the cricket project will be its first venture in the sporting field.
One of the architects of the idea, Christel Medema-de Jong, has been running a cricket programme at her school in Assen for the past three years, helped by clinics given by Dutch international Eric Szwarczynski.
When the group convened by the Platform first came up with the scheme they were unaware of the project in Deventer which is based upon co-operation between the bilingual school in Epe and the Salland club, but that now provides a model for the national programme, with Bas van Beek, who teaches PE in Epe, co-ordinating the scheme with support from Medema-de Jong.
The proposal has been enthusiastically welcomed by the KNCB’s cricket development officer, Marike Dickmann-Wijnand, who is also a member of the steering committee, and incorporated in the Bond’s youth plan.
Limited to 32 schools in the first year, the project will be officially launched with a national training day on 3 February, and before then the participating schools will be linked to the nearest available cricket club in a series of clusters.
It has reportedly been greeted with enormous enthusiasm by PE teachers throughout the country, with the available places heavily over-subscribed. The prospects for expansion after the initial year are therefore very encouraging.
After the February clinic, teachers in the participating schools will provide cricket lessons for pupils in Year 2, who are normally 14 years old, and will continue to receive support from their local club during this crucial phase.
There will then be four regional tournaments in May and June, with eight schools participating in each. There will be clinics for the teams in the morning, followed by three rounds of matches in an eight-a-side format based on the ECB’s Inter Cricket programme.
Two teams from each regional tournament will qualify for the national finals day, which will be held after the start of the new school year in September.
‘Cricket is an ideal sport for our purposes,’ Onno van Wilgenburg, senior projects officer at the European Platform said this week, ‘because it can be enjoyable both for pupils who are naturally athletic and those who are a bit less talented.
‘Because it is played across the English-speaking world it adds a truly international dimension to our programme, and it can feed into almost every area of the curriculum.’
Van Wilgenburg added that he was delighted both by the enthusiasm of the PE teachers and their schools and by the response of the Dutch cricket community, which had been quick to take up the idea and offer practical support.
That enthusiasm was echoed by Dickmann-Wijnand.
‘What is particularly striking about this project,’ she said, ‘is that the idea came from the schools themselves, from PE teachers who have chosen cricket as the most suitable sport to embed in their English-language programmes.
‘The Bond and its member-clubs have been given a tremendous opportunity, and we aim to grasp it with both hands.’
The prospect of up to 1000 Dutch 14-year-olds being taught the basics of cricket as part of their school curriculum would have been unimaginable a year or so ago, and the bilingual schools project is bound to put additional wind in the sails of the KNCB’s new youth plan.