Age for compulsory education to lower from six to five

Summary

The federal education committee has voted unanimously in favour of a bill that would require children to begin education at the age of five

Tackling the language issue

Starting with the 2020-21 academic year, children aged five in Belgium will be required to start school. Children who are home-schooled will also have to begin at the age of five.

Currently, the age when children must start school is six. Children can, however, start pre-school as young as three. Pre-school is voluntary, so the new law will essentially make the current third year of pre-school into the first year of formal education.

The federal parliament’s education committee voted unanimously in favour of the bill this week, and now it must come before the full parliament, where it is expected to pass with little controversy.

In Flanders, 99% of children already go to the third year of pre-school, so the change will not have a major effect on many children. But according to Flemish authorities, it will have an effect on the region’s most vulnerable pupils: those with migration backgrounds.

Children who do not speak Dutch at home offer perform less well in the first few years of school in Flanders, and it is hoped that if they start school earlier, these differences will disappear. “The number of five-year-olds in pre-school across Flanders is at 99%,” reads Flanders’ official statement, which was required from all the regions. “In some areas, such as urban centres, that percentage is lower. Bringing the age of compulsory education down to five will send a strong signal that young children are better off participating.”

Flanders has one demand if their politicians are to vote in favour of the change: Religion should not be compulsory in this new first year. Currently, children must choose one of many religious or ethics classes in every year of education. Flanders wants this requirement waved for five-year-olds. This would require a change to Belgium’s constitution.

Photo courtesy Flanders Architecture Institute