Education sector wants reception classes for toddlers of refugees

Summary

Three educational organisations have asked the government to extend the Okan programme – introductory classes for newcomers – to young children not yet in primary school

Should the government extend Flanders' special reception classes to pre-school age children of asylum-seekers?

Language and counselling

Small children with parents seeking asylum in Flanders should receive lessons in the so-called reception classes (Okan) for foreign language-speaking newcomers, according to the Catholic education network, the community education network GO! and the Education Secretariat for Cities and Municipalities (OVSG).

Flanders will this year receive about 7,000 underage asylum-seekers. Youngsters older than five will be placed in Okan classes for primary school and secondary school students. Okan classes serve as an introduction to the Flemish education system for foreign youth who’ve just arrived. They provide Dutch lessons and psychological counselling to help youngsters deal with traumatic experiences and the transition to living in another country in general.

When students are ready, they are mainstreamed into the regular education system. The Flemish education networks are now asking the government to also provide Okan classes to children younger than five. There are currently about 500 children younger than five living in asylum centres in Flanders.

Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits has promised to address the issue but did not immediately agree to extend the Okan programme. “There is agreement in the Flemish government to take a suitable measure,” she told VRT. “I am convinced we can soon come to a consensus.”

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.
1

million school-going children in 2013

30

million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013

11

percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma