The idea has not yet attained the status of a government proposal. According to reports, Smet has been carrying out consultations in recent months with the education sector on career matters, and the idea of extending teacher training arose out of that. Other countries in Europe have already introduced the change, but some questions the results.
Supporters of the project believe that extending the studies of teachers will lead to more professionalism, higher status and higher earnings, as well as attracting more young people into the profession and reversing the chronic shortage of teachers in Flanders’ schools. A more academically oriented training, it is believed, could also help attract more men to teaching.
Critics argue the longer study period will in fact turn prospective teachers away from the profession, making the deficit worse. In addition, quality will suffer, with teachers coming out of training as educational theoreticians rather than dedicated teachers of children. Roger Standaert, professor of comparative educational science at the University of Ghent: “France recently extended its training, but the fourth year turns out to be more of the same. And four-year training in Germany and the Netherlands also demonstrate very little added value compared to the three-year bachelor’s we have.”
But he says that there is certainly room for improvement. “French in primary schools cannot any longer be taught to the standards required without an additional training,” he said. “In particular, the competence of teacher trainers could be a lot higher.”
Among the other ideas being considered by Smet’s office is the creation of schools of education, which would group together various forms of training (primary school, secondary school and technical school), as well as carrying out research, training school directors and taking care of continuing education for working teachers.
Meanwhile, the Agency for Education Services last week sent out letters to more than 15,300 parents of schoolchildren in Flanders, warning them that they could lose their education allowances as a result of their children’s persistent truancy.
The children – about evenly split between primary and secondary school – have been absent from school without a valid excuse for more than 30 half days during two consecutive school years. Families on low incomes are eligible for education allowances of up to €400 a year for each secondary school student and €120 for a child in primary school. In some cases, allowances already paid out could be recouped. “A few too many parents shove the responsibility for their children’s upbringing off onto the schools,” minister Smet told VRT radio.
The last time such a letter was sent out – to 4,000 homes in 2010 – only 351 parents had their allowance withdrawn. “We don’t go into it blind,” Smet said. “We warn the parents; we show them what could happen, and hopefully that’s enough to get them to take responsibility.”