Flexible regulations for Okan reception classes for refugees

Summary

The government of Flanders will allow schools to request funding to start and maintain the Okan integration classes in primary and secondary schools in the coming months

Deadline scrapped

Flemish schools will be able to set up the so-called reception classes for foreign-language speaking newcomers (Okan) later than the usual deadline of 1 September in order to serve refugee children currently arriving in the region in large numbers.

Normally, schools have to apply for subsidies to arrange one of the Okan classes before the start of the new school year, but the children arriving at school now are in need of such classes, said education minister Hilde Crevits. “It’s important that more schools start Okan classes,” Crevits told the Flemish parliament. Schools that already host Okan classes can also request extra subsidies during the year, if the influx of students continues.

In an Okan class, youngsters receive assistance adjusted to their needs, including psychological help to deal with traumatising experiences, lessons in Dutch and homework support. When they are ready, they move from the Okan class to the school’s regular education system.

Social workers who assist traumatised youngsters will also receive extra psychological support – an initiative of the government’s welfare department. Schools and pupil support agencies will also receive more help. 

The Catholic school network announced that there are currently nearly 900 students in Okan classes in secondary schools. Currently, 112 of them come from Afghanistan, 94 from Syria and 64 from Iraq. But schools are expecting many more youngsters from Syria soon. “Our Okan schools are willing to raise their capacity to care for a maximum of refugee children,” stated the network.

Photo: students at the Sint-Guido-Instituut Okan in the Brussels district of Anderlecht
© Sint-Guido Instituut

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