Language matters


Teachers in Flemish primary schools are increasingly confronted with pupils who don’t have any knowledge of the Dutch language. Now experts are creating an educational kit to help teachers deal with the issue.

New kit will offer primary school teachers advice on working with non Dutch-speaking kids

Teachers in Flemish primary schools are increasingly confronted with pupils who don’t have any knowledge of the Dutch language. For the first time in the region, experts are creating an educational kit consisting of a movie and manual with hands-on tips and examples of good practices. Part of the movie follows the first months at school of a Romanian girl who recently moved to Flanders.

One out of seven pupils in primary school don’t speak Dutch at home, according to figures from 2012 released by the Flemish government. For teachers, it’s a challenge to integrate the non-Dutch speaking children into the class group.

In Antwerp province, the organisations DoorElkaar and docAtlas are specialised in assisting these teachers. DoorElkaar is a department of the training centre Hivset with expertise on intercultural issues and non-native speakers, while docAtlas is the provincial centre for documentation on these subjects.

Experts Lieve Lenaerts of DoorElkaar and Yasmine Wauthier, a former staff member of docAtlas, are now co-operating to make the life of teachers a little easier. “During our research, we discovered that there is a real need for easily accessible and applicable tips,” says Wauthier. “There is so much info available on these issues, and many teachers have established creative initiatives. But teachers simply don’t have the time to plough through all this material, and there is not enough exchange of knowledge among colleagues.”

Panic questions

Their new educational kit, which provides teachers with concrete help, is called pANiek, or Panic. The capital letters AN refer to Anderstalige Nieuwkomers (non-native speaking newcomers).

There is so much info available on these issues, but teachers simply don’t have the time to plough through it all

- Yasmine Wauthier

Since last summer, the duo has been contacting schools to search for good practices and arrange interviews. To visualise the daily reality at primary schools, a director is filming several episodes of life at a fifth-year class between 1 September and Christmas, with the focus on the Romanian girl Elena, who recently arrived in Flanders.

The film will include interviews with the 11-year old Elena, her parents, classmates, teachers, and the headmaster of school De Smiskens in Turnhout. In the film of about forty minutes, experts of other schools and associations from Antwerp Province will also speak about their experiences.

The first shooting of the film took place on Elena’s first day of school, after arriving in Flanders only one week before. “Still, it went quite well,” says Lenaerts, “because she already had a cousin at the school and received help from another classmate of Romanian origin who speaks Dutch well.”

Many other children, however, arrive alone at school, with classmates who only speak Dutch. In some cases, it’s the first time they’ve ever even been to a school.

In their manual, Lenaerts and Wauthier offer background information and tips on 14 concrete topics, related to bridging both the culture and language gap. Teachers are often worried about how to welcome foreign students, involve parents, teach the language and deal with problematic behaviour such as aggression.

The authors also summarise the latest trends concerning teaching methods. At the end of each chapter, they offer tips by highlighting a good practice out of the scientific literature or discovered at a school in Flanders, Brussels or the Netherlands.

At the school De Vlinder in Baarle-Hertog, on the border with the Netherlands, for example, a teacher accelerated the integration of foreign students by showing considerable interest in their culture. Pupils could bring a photo that symbolises an important aspect of their background to hang on the wall of the classroom.

During a cooking workshop, pupils prepared a dish that was typical for their country. To teach foreign children basic vocabulary, many teachers assemble their own files with visuals of objects or encounters that are essential in daily life. Another method is teaching Dutch by using sign language.

The hope of the authors is that the kit will be used during workshops for the current generation of teachers but also as study material for the next generation. “It could be useful for the students in teacher education at university colleges,” says Wauthier. “To prepare them from the start of their career on.”

Wauthier and Lenaerts have received about €4,000 in subsidies from different sources, including Antwerp Province and the regional fund of the Cera co-operative financial group. They also receive support from educational teams at Turnhout, Mol and the city of Antwerp. The film and manual should be ready for publication by next spring. The Flemish educational publisher Garant Uitgevers will design and distribute the kit.