Platform for City Culture and Public Debate


Closing the Gap

w/ Bowen Paulle, Karim Amghar, Ester Gould, and Ismail Aghzanay

Date: 3 November 2021
Location: comprehensive school Hugo de Groot

The place where you are born increasingly determines the opportunities you get in life. Right now, there exists an almost ironclad link between a child’s postal code and her chances of success. And education holds an important key to addressing this. But the engine of emancipation is grinding to a halt. Our education system, traditionally thought of as the chief mechanism to close the opportunity gap, instead too often reflects existing societal inequities. Inequality of opportunity is, next to the shortage of teachers, the most important problem in Dutch education and tends to perpetuate or even reinforce itself: it stops intergenerational mobility.

So what to do? Together with renowned American sociologist Bowen Paulle (University of Amsterdam), award-winning documentary filmmaker Ester Gould (documentary series Klassen), teacher of the year Ismail Aghzanay, writer and programme-maker Karim Amghar, and students and teachers from comprehensive school Hugo de Groot we will analyse and unpack the complex puzzle of educational inequality. And we will look into best practices, scalable solutions and concrete policies to tackle the current divide.


Bowen Paulle

Bowen Paulle (1970, New York) is an American sociologist based at the University of Amsterdam and specialized in urban marginality and educational inequality. In his homeland Paulle experienced what effect inequality of opportunity has on a society and he wants to show us that inequalities in The Netherlands are on the rise, with all kinds of detrimental consequences. But also that we have the tools and programmes to dramatically improve the educational and life outcomes of disadvantaged students.

Ester Gould

Ester Gould (1975, Peterculter, Scotland) is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, director and journalist. Together with Sarah Sylbing, she was winner of the VillaMediaprize Journalist of the Year 2016 for their documentary series Schuldig (Guilty) about people in debt in the Vogelbuurt in Amsterdam-Noord. Their latest groundbreaking documentary series Klassen (Classes) deals with the fight for equal opportunities in education, and is nominated for the Prix d’Europe.

Ismail Aghzanay

Ismail Aghzanay is teamleader and teacher at secondary school Comenius College. He is part of the collective Meesters met Dromen (Teachers with Dreams) aimed at enhancing the dialogue on the future of our education system. He was finalist of cabaretfestival Cameretten in 2018, won the award for best Teacher of the Year in Rotterdam in the same year and is finalist for this years’ national teacher of the year election.

Karim Amghar

Writer and documentary maker Karim Amghar is known for his book ‘From Radical to Amical’ and TV programme ‘Karim Pakt Zijn Kans’ (Karim takes his chance). In Karim Pakt Zijn Kans, he investigates the opportunities for pupils with a lot of potential but few resources. Karim now works as a senior lecturer in pedagogy at the MBO Zadkine in Rotterdam and as a lecturer at the teacher training college of Hogeschool Leiden. He is specialised in the themes polarisation, radicalisation, diversity and other social themes. In November he will publish a new book on Educational Inequality titled ‘Hoor mij! Zie mij!’

Geert Maarse

Geert Maarse is a journalist and programme-maker. Having worked for Erasmus University for over five years, he is specialized in connecting scientific research to public debate. He has a background in Business Administration and Cultural Studies. He is the founder and regular host of Studio Erasmus, a monthly science magazine broadcasted by OPEN Rotterdam. He worked on a documentary and published in a number of online and offline media (de Volkskrant, Vers Beton, Erasmus Magazine).