Flemish MP wants action plan for Limburg schools

Summary

A Flemish lawmaker has proposed a five-point action plan to remedy the ills at the heart of Limburg's failing school system

Back on track

According to Flemish MP Vera Jans, it is five minutes to midnight for Limburg schools. In a note she recently presented to the Flemish parliament, Jans listed all the difficulties currently besetting the province’s education system and pointed out that the situation is especially alarming in the former mining municipalities of Beringen, Heusden-Zolder, Houthalen-Helchteren, Maasmechelen and Genk.

The problem begins as early as birth. In Houthalen-Helchteren, 27% of children are born into underprivileged families, while the regional average is 10%. Toddlers in Limburg are also less likely to go to pre-school than the average Flemish child.

A quarter of children in the former mining municipalities don’t speak Dutch at home – a major contributor to children’s poor school performance in Jans’ view. “Academic experts often argue that it’s better for the development of children to speak their home language well than to mainly work on their Dutch, but I think that in practice the lack of Dutch-language skills causes children to fall behind in way that hinders them in their school career and later life.”

The average youngster in Limburg is also less likely to graduate from secondary school. One in 10 Limburg youngsters doesn’t finish secondary school, compared to the Flemish average of 7.5%. Limburg also has fewer adults with higher education degrees than the rest of Flanders.

The employment figures for Limburg are equally troubling. In the former mining districts, for instance, one in four young adults is unemployed.

An inspiring example

To get Limburg schools and youngsters back on track, Jans suggested five action points to Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits when she presented her note in the parliament. They were: reducing students’ language deficiencies, supporting the development of campus schools, stimulating dual-learning education, improving students’ orientation toward higher education studies and keeping students in school by, among other things, battling truancy.

I’m offering the impetus, but we need to work on this with all partners

- Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits

“The secondary education reform provides an important opportunity for Limburg through the establishments of so-called campus schools where students can follow general education, technical education and professional education,” Jans explains. “The success of the dual-learning system in Germany and in Belgium’s German-speaking community is also very inspiring.” In the dual-learning education, lessons in school are combined with practical experience in a company.

Jans wants the government of Flanders to develop a coordinated approach to address Limburg’s education problem, as promised in the SALK recovery programme for Limburg. SALK was launched after carmaker Ford announced it would close its factory in Genk in 2014 – a huge economic blow for the region.

Still, Jans does value the government’s €6 million investment in the launch of the Technology & Talent (T2) campus at the Waterschei former mining area in Genk. This T2 campus will be a knowledge and learning platform that will house science and technology study programmes.

The government has also invested €3 million in the four-year project Kind en Taal (Child and Language), which was rolled out in 13 Limburg municipalities. From September, experts will also involve parents more in the development of their children’s Dutch-language skills, and at the same time separately assist the children in their progress. 

All hands on deck

Crevits has in fact already created a basic plan for Limburg, one that more or less includes the same action points Jans listed and one that should form the basis for discussions between experts and Limburg administrators in an education platform. This platform is expected to lead to a concrete action plan.

According to Het Belang van Limburg, Crevits asked Limburg governor Herman Reynders to provide an in-depth analysis of the situation in the different regions of the province by September 1. “I’m offering the impetus, but we need to work on this with all partners,” Crevits said.

In that same interview, Crevits pointed out that she expects more initiative from the province’s administrators.

But Limburg province’s deputy for education, Jean-Paul Peuskens, told Het Belang van Limburg that he had received little information from Crevits’ cabinet. He further explained that the province had set aside a budget of €3 million, spread over four years, for its own education plan.

Peuskens has already launched one concrete project as part of that education plan, at a cost of €1 million. This initiative aims to pique primary-school children’s interest in technical subjects, through lesson kits that were developed by Limburg’s university colleges and that use Lego education materials. “These materials are not the simple Lego cubes to build miniature houses, but more sophisticated parts like motors, sensors, ventilators and additional software,” Peuskens explained.

Photo courtesy GO! education network

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