Project NIEUWSgierig

For children who recently arrived in the Netherlands, going to school and studying can be harder because they can’t speak Dutch yet. NIEUWSgierig ('curiosity') aims to assist these children in mastering the Dutch language while nurturing their interest in science, research skills, and presentation abilities.

"At Erasmus University Rotterdam, we think equal opportunity is very important.” says Rowan Huijgen, the project’s lead. “Every child has talent and that should be used. That is why we set up the NIEUWsgierig project, part of our science hub that supports children in primary and secondary education.”

Children taking part learn to ask curious questions and conduct research on a topic of their choice. “That ranges from football to neighbourhood safety, or from healthcare to monsters” says Huijgen.

Students in the programme include young people who have fled wars in Syria and Ukraine, or came with their parents from Morocco, Curaçao, South Africa, or beyond.

“Newcomers go into transition classes, where learning Dutch is the top priority. This means that the fun things often pass them by. Especially these children, who have already experienced intense things at such a young age, we want to offer more.”

More than language

Learning Dutch is an important goal, but the project does much more to help these children develop themselves and integrate in the Netherlands. “Children enjoy being seen so much.” says Huijgen. “They receive intensive, personal support from student teachers. They have their own teacher together with a fellow student for seven weeks. We see the children grow during the lessons."

One such student teacher is Ronja Ponsteen who, alongside her criminology degree, has helped the project for almost two years. She was inspired to take part after she met a Ukrainian teacher in her village shortly after the start of the Ukraine-Russia war.

“The worldview of children who have not been in the Netherlands for so long is really refreshing.” she says. “The simplest things are suddenly very valuable. They are full of questions and with NIEUWSgierig we teach them to ask those questions and also get them answered. For example, they ask "How does a car drive?", "What is inside a laptop?", "How does a windmill generate energy?" or "How do you train a service dog? Very basic things, which you yourself don't always have a comprehensive answer to.”


Personal support

“Some students have significant problems and in regular education they don't get the personal attention and guidance they really need.” thinks Ponsteen. “With us they can take their first steps in a foreign country at their own level and in a safe environment.”

This personal attention creates a unique bond, which is evident from the children’s reactions. According to Huijgen: “One girl who came to the Netherlands as a refugee wanted to share her story with her student teacher and made a drawing of her boat trip.

“That does show some of the bond of trust that students and teachers build with each other. We offer the children a listening ear. At such moments, I think: we are really doing the right thing."

“That is why it is so important that we can continue to do this and that our donors continue to support us” says Ponsteen “. With NIEUWSgierig we invest in the talent of the future”.

You can make a difference today

We hope that – like us – you have been inspired by this story. With your support, Rowan and student teachers like Ronja can help many more young minds flourish and integrate into their new environment.

Thanks to the generosity of our community, more than 100 students per year are already helped by the programme.

Your donation can help us to train new student teachers, who often have to help young arrivals work through the problems they have experienced in their journey to the Netherlands.

We can continue to provide materials, spaces, and time to help hundreds more students next year.

And with enough support, we can even expand the programme to more schools in Rotterdam.

Together, we can help to inspire and support a new generation of Rotterdammers.

Do you want to make a difference, please make a donation to NIEUWSgierig.

Feeling inspired? Read Ronja's full interview here.

This project is supported and the donations for this campaign are processed by the Erasmus Trustfonds.