Preventing crime and inequality : Filling your kid's lunchbox with social capital

Preventing crime and inequality : Filling your kid's lunchbox with social capital

Changes within the ‘cito-toets’ limit the possibilities for primary school pupils in the Netherlands. This can cause or perhaps even further intensify inequality in society which might be important in criminal justice.

The ‘cito-toets’ is a posttest in the Netherlands used by primary school teachers to give the parents of pupils advice concerning their next school period. In 2012 some changes were made to the ‘cito-toets’. Instead of one central test, there are now two tests. One is called ‘The Basic End of Primary School Test’, the test that is normally used for every pupil in primary school education. The other is called ‘the Levelled End of Primary School Test’ which is easier and is used as a test for pupils with learning difficulties. In practice, this means that two years before this test is made by primary school pupils, they are divided into two groups and they receive different education in order to prepare them for the test. Which test the pupil is going to make depends on the outflow perspective expected by the teacher and their opinion of the student. Research shows that teachers are not always objective. Allowing teachers to decide which test a pupil will take, could limit the possibilities of pupils. This can cause or perhaps even further intensify inequality in society which could be significant in the field of criminal justice.


Jaap Dronkers, professor of educational research at the University of Maastricht, is critical of this development. The introduction of a second test will intensify inequality in social classes. The consequence being that children of highly educated parents will do the ‘The Basic End of Primary School Test’, while children of poorly educated parents will do ‘the Levelled End of Primary School Test’ even though they perform just as well in school. The key question is: Can we expect teachers to be objective? Research shows that the social background of pupils weighs heavily in the advice regardless of the capabilities of the pupil. From this, it can be concluded that children who are expected to do less well at school, are already limited by putting them in the lower group. In society a certain division already exists between the rich and the poor. Logically, this new testing system will only increase this division.

Social underclass and social capital

Social inequality in schools is universal. Belgian, German and French studies show that social inequality begins in kindergarten. In the Netherlands, about half of the children of highly educated parents go on to HAVO or VWO education (preparatory education for college or university), compared to one tenth of the children of poorly educated parents. The expectation whether a student will do less well at school has to do with their cultural capital. Cultural capital is the material and immaterial resources that individuals and families are able to access through their social ties. When children have a family with social and cultural capital, they will learn specific skills, attitudes, tastes and preferences. Social institutions such as school will reward the children for possessing these developments. Take note however - this only concerns the developments associated with the middle class. Potter & Roksa used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten cohort (ECLS-K) and conclude that children from different social backgrounds are exposed to different levels of educationally beneficial family experiences year after year, leading to differential levels of accumulated experiences over time which increases the inequality.

Delinquency & inequality

So what has this to do with delinquency? With some of the criminological theories at the back of our minds, we can say that being part of the social underclass increases the fact that the person might offend. Merton’s strain theory explains this phenomenon: The culture determines people’s needs and goals in life. But the social structure of society determines whether someone is able to achieve this. As we have seen, not everyone has the same resources available to achieve their intended goals. When a goal seems unattainable because of the inaccessible sources, this can lead to criminal behaviour, and this produces strain which can lead to criminal behaviour.


Even though the Lower House of the Netherlands has approved the law , in my view this law supports the existence of the vicious circle of the social underclass. Teachers will decide which test pupils take with cultural capital at the back of their minds. This intensifies further inequality between the upper and lower class. With the knowledge we have, being a member of the underclass increases the chance of exhibiting criminal behaviour.


Add a comment