Flemish education, anywhere in the world, courtesy of Ghent start-up


D-Teach provides hundreds of Flemish children who live abroad with online lessons and exercises that keep their Dutch up and help them readjust once they return home

School away from school

Thousands of Flemish people go abroad to work every year, many taking their families with them. This can be an adventure for the kids, but also a challenge when they return and rejoin the Flemish school system.

D-Teach, a start-up company from Ghent, is here to help. “When children go abroad they adapt very easily,” says Lieselot Declercq, who set up the company in 2012. “In the first year, they still speak their language, but after a while they stop – and that’s good; they are very flexible. But if they have lessons regularly in Dutch, and stay in touch with the language, reintegration goes much more smoothly.”

D-Teach works with 35 accredited freelance teachers to provide their services over the internet at pre-, primary and secondary school levels. So far 330 children have followed its lessons, from the UK and Eastern Europe to as far away as the United States, Australia and China.

Some 145 pupils are currently involved each week, the costs usually being met by the parents or by their employers. The lessons can begin before the families set out, for instance with language classes to prepare the children for their destination and enrolment in either local or international schools.

Often that means learning English. “In Flanders, they don’t get English lessons in primary school, so this is a hot topic,” says Declercq. “But we also help prepare them for French, for example, or for Chinese.”

A virtual classroom

Most of the teaching, however, consists of lessons in Dutch for the children while they are abroad. This keeps them in touch with their mother tongue and covers the essentials of the Flemish school curriculum.

D-Teach uses the same teaching materials that are used in Flemish schools, apart from the topic of Flanders itself, where it has designed additional lessons. “It is important that they learn about the culture where they are, but also that they learn a bit about our history and our cities, such as Ghent and Bruges and so on,” says Declercq.

The teaching method is online, blended learning, a combination of contact with a teacher and learning with the computer. So, a child might have a one-to-one hour a week with the teacher, and then be given exercises to complete on their own online.

It must be very interactive, and it must be personalised to their level, so they can go at their own speed

- Lieselot Declercq of D-Teach

“It must be very interactive, and it must be personalised to their level, so they can go at their own speed,” Declercq explains. “Motivation is also very important, so we can learn what their interests and hobbies are; then we can use this in the lessons.”

The virtual classroom that appears on the computer screen includes video panels in which the pupil and teacher can see one another, a little like Skype. Alongside is a white board where the teacher posts texts, quizzes and other exercises, and on which the pupil can give answers, receive comments and corrections. The kids can also share material of their own, such as pictures or videos. 

Each lesson is recorded for quality control and, after each session, the teacher sends an email to parents and pupils saying what has been covered, what went well and scheduling the next lesson.

Top of the class

While most of this teaching complements what the children learn at their schools abroad, a small number of pupils get all their schooling through D-Teach. Sometimes this is because their families move too frequently for regular schools, sometimes because they live in countries where local education is not possible or acceptable to the parents.

One such family lives in Dubai. “Each week the children have four or five hours of lessons, one hour a day, and for the rest they learn independently,” Declercq explains. “And we work together with the Flemish department of education to give them online exams, so they can get a certificate.”

Finally, D-Teach also helps when children return to Flanders by providing  tutoring when necessary. In mathematics, for example, differences in teaching methods or the curriculum can sometimes make re-integration into education tricky.

It also helps when returning pupils may be far ahead of their peers and therefore get bored going over old ground. One example is a girl who returned from China speaking English very well, and has been allowed to follow Chinese lessons online instead.

“She is being encouraged to stay in touch with what she has learned abroad, and she is still learning something new,” Declercq says. “And that’s in co-operation with the school here and the parents.”

While D-Teach is entirely digital, there is an opportunity each year for real-life interaction. D-Teach at the Beach is a week-long summer school in Ostend.

“The kids can meet each other and their teachers,” explains Declercq. “And the parents can meet each other.” Last year 33 children attended, working together in Dutch on projects, games and excursions.

Photo: Reynermedia/Flickr