Differences in development

In a class of thirteen year olds there are major differences in gender, social background, inherited talents and development. The order in which brain functions develop is more or less the same for every child and young person, but there are major individual differences in the pace of that development. Some children develop more slowly than others, while that does not necessarily say anything about the end result.

It has been common practice in the last twenty years in the Netherlands to allow students who do not do well in a certain level to move to a class at a lower level. That absolutely does not do justice to the difference in brain development of adolescents. Moreover, it demotivates students enormously. It is very common for students to do just as bad or even worse at the lower level. They feel that the level is too low for them. This is the case if a student graduates based on work attitude and behavior and not on the basis of cognitive abilities. It also means that they have to adjust their future prospects. Adolescents who live with the idea that they will not be able to progress through school tend to spend less time or even less time on school work. They feel like it doesn't matter anyway and they try to avoid activities in which they might fail. They spend little time on things they are weak at, but also little time on things they are good at. They feel that they don't have to work hard to perform well at this level. The result is that they do not get much further with things they are good at. Repeating a year at the same level can make a big difference. It is very important for students in secondary education to keep the options for transferring between the different levels, or taking a little longer within a level, as flexible as possible.

Homogeneous classes

In secondary education, the problem with regard to cognitive development is somewhat solved by placing students in homogeneous classes. But even in homogeneous classes, the differences between students are still very large. In a second class of secondary education you can find boys of about thirteen years old who prefer to mop the floor with their cars, while a number of girls are already starting to look feminine and are also starting to behave more maturely. This developmental advantage says nothing about cognitive performance.


Early-developed girls can suffer from their physical advantage. They feel unhappy in that new female body and are therefore very insecure. Insecurity that can then express itself in inward-oriented or extremely outward-oriented behavior. Physically early developing boys are often very popular among their peers. They look tough and masculine. Students are not equal. Both in appearance, in gender and in genetic possibilities. There are enormous differences in both their living environment and culture. However, there are not only differences. There are also many important similarities. The question is which differences should you differentiate between adolescents in education? At age and cognitive level as is the case now? Or - regardless of age - on the developmental phase in which the brain is in. An important question is: which differences and similarities go well together and which conflict with each other in such a way that they get in the way of the learning process?