Education, International Journalism and PR, Interviews: Limburg, Limburg

”Deliver flexibility, customization and show guts!”

Interview with Sabine Koopman, member of the Dutch regional parliament of Limburg about challenges education, youth, entrepreneurs and our post Covid society face and about women empowerment.

Beata Bruggeman-Sekowska: Madeleine Albright once said: “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” You are a member of the regional parliament of Limburg and have decided to take part in regional parliament elections in March. So you are not going to be silent, either. What are the main fields you want to work on?

For me, the most important areas that I will focus on are health/care, safety, low literacy and the business climate for companies/entrepreneurs in Limburg. When it comes to health, for example, I would like to concentrate on our young people who are still struggling with the consequences of the COVID pandemic. In addition to a learning delay, they may also have developed depressive symptoms, for example. I see chances in solving this challenge through developing awareness among parents / youth / teachers by professionals from the care sector. But also, for example, an item such as diploma flexibility for this border region in the shortage of professions, such as in healthcare.

Being able to grow up safely in Limburg is also a priority for me. There are many (drug) criminals who want to lure our young people with quick money. There is already a program that is deployed at one of the MBO (higher secondary vocational education) umbrella organizations; I would like to see a broadening of the rollout of this program.

It is also important that you can enjoy living in Limburg; we all want a home, in an environment where you can enjoy culture, sport, nature. And there must also be enough work. And that is where the importance of entrepreneurship and companies which intend to start their activities in Limburg comes into play. But also the social quality of life for example, catering for the small centers and villages entails. Everything that is related with all these points can count on my commitment and attention.

You are well – acquainted with the issues related to education and youth.

Indeed, I know the world of education very well. I have worked as a teacher and a dyslexia specialist together for 26 years.

I also have many contacts in the international education system. We compared our systems and I learned a lot about the international schools and the opportunities children get there, and the commitment and involvement of the teachers, I think it was fantastic.

I also completed my master as an M SEN dyslexia specialist during my teaching career. Unfortunately, it turned out that I could not be employed in the school as a dyslexia specialist. There was a vision that this was possible, but thinking outside the box with regard to other tasks for a teacher was not yet a reality. In fact, you can see the ‘box thinking’ everywhere in society. I think that it is a shame; because by cooperating with various disciplines and departments you achieve better results. Deliver flexibility, customization and show guts!

Dyslexia and dyscalculia are still labeled as something negative. Kids are labeled as kids with deficiencies but these children have just so many other talents? What does your experience say about it?

Previous week I got annoyed when I saw an item on national television, in which a member of Dutch national parliament described dyslexia as ‘having extremely little talent for reading and spelling’. It is so extremely irritating taking into consideration that after watching it some people maybe will believe it. And what does such a statement do to a child who has dyslexia and has heard it?

Dyslexia and dyscalculia are examples of learning disabilities. That doesn’t mean a child can’t do it, but it means you have to find what works for that child. Accept that the child often progresses in small steps and that this progress is a top achievement! It is important to look at what a child is good at and to be able to use those talents. For example, I often find children with dyslexia very creative in coming up with solutions, they have enormous perseverance and are hard workers! Make sure your child knows this, knows his / her talent and make sure that his/her self-esteem will develop.

Limited is only the one who thinks in limitations.

You also want to draw attention to the health issues of youth. Covid 19 and 42 weeks of lockdown led to serious problems for children and their families and the results are still felt and will be felt. Compare it to the train which leaves a few hours later and has to arrive at the same destination with no delay. Can we expect that children who do not feel emotionally and psychologically fine will deliver expected school results in shorter amount of time? Can we put so much pressure on them?

No, as far as I’m concerned, we shouldn’t expect this. School performance can only be optimal if you feel good about yourself. It is important that the environment learns to recognize what the signals are. It is also important to coordinate, for example, what you ask of a student. There must be room in your head to learn. A teacher realizes this and acts accordingly. But even this teacher should not be bound by the final objectives of a school year. What would it be like if work could be done in phases? If school year could be divided in phases so that the teaching material could be spread over a longer period. There is extra money for municipalities up to and including the 2024-2025 school year, with which they can take measures in cooperation with schools, day care, after-school care, (youth health) care, libraries and other parties to improve the skills of students on a cognitive, executive, social and emotional level. See if it is realistic for that student to catch up by means of tutoring, for example. Compacting of school subjects and, for example, also after-school lessons. But also activities that contribute to social-emotional development, for example. That combats loneliness among young people. The level of customization is of importance, here too. And we have to face the dilemma with parents, teachers, and government whether it would be so bad to take longer than the allotted time? Do we have to stick to that subject matter, within a set period of time? Or could it be done in stages?

Also the safety of youth is your priority. Can you elaborate on it?

Young people are being lured into crime (at an increasingly younger age). Dealing, transporting, cutting drugs, handing over their bank account, being on the lookout for the police, lover boy problems, participating in human trafficking. It often starts with simple chores, or as ‘protection’ against bullies or under duress. How do you get out of that as a young person? As a parent, for example, you can talk to your child through the site by means of statements and questions. Do you suspect that your child is involved in criminal activities? Then contact the GP, talk to your child’s mentor at school or the community police officer. The role of the province here, for example, is to stimulate awareness-raising activities among parents, school and youth.

Entrepreneurs faced many problems in Covid times, some went bankrupt others try to recover, which is a long and difficult process in which the support also of local government is essential. What is your opinion and what is the priority?

The priority is that the centers in the cities start to live again and are no longer the same in almost every city center; focus on experience. You don’t just do this by (wanting to) have a diversity and mix of shops/catering. You will have to be attractive with regard to the business climate, make it clear that keeping a building empty is not an option (for example, in that case, have the owner pay a higher contribution to a biz fund, encourage it to be converted into homes, easily allow pop-ups/start-ups). Do not hinder the entrepreneur with rules, but ask what is needed to make recovery easier.

The quality of social life is extremely important. After lockdowns we missed the social contacts and many of us experience loneliness.

In Limburg, social organizations, sports clubs and associations are the beating heart of society. They are in the DNA of Limburg. It is also something that makes Limburg unique compared to many other provinces, how we are organized / involved with each other. It is important that we keep an eye on social quality of life; if, for example, the local pub/hall in the village has to close, many clubs/associations will no longer have a place in the village. As a province, we will also have to continue to contribute to top sport, culture, associations, clubs that contribute to the spirit of Limburg and honor our traditions. Unfortunately, loneliness is still there, even after Corona. But with these organizations we can ensure that loneliness will diminish.

One of my favorite quotes is this one by the American politician Shirley Chisholm “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’’ How important is for you the empowerment of women? And can you relate to this quote?

I l-o-v-e this quote! It shows the practical, solution-oriented attitude of a woman who knows how to take her place and who is not dependent on it from someone else. In practice it is sometimes difficult if you do not know where that table is, for example, or if you do not know when people are sitting at that table. Knowledge is power; make sure you are always prepared, do not depend on what someone else grants you, but determine your own course. Women’s empowerment is very important to me.

What else would you like to add at the end of the interview?

I would like to take the opportunity that if there are people who would like to visit a committee meeting, or would like a tour of the Government Building on Maastricht, they are most welcome to contact me.

Author: Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska is an award-winning international journalist, TV correspondent, author, chief editor of international journalism centre, Central and Eastern Europe Centre, president of the European Institute on Communist Oppression and a sworn translator. She was born in Warsaw, Poland and has also Armenian blood and roots in Lvov, which is part of Ukraine. She has been living in Heerlen, the Netherlands since 2005.

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