Little multicultural education in mostly white schools


A team of researchers from UGent and UvA have determined that little attention is paid to the teaching of multiculturalism in schools with few students of foreign origin

Lessons mainly Eurocentric

Although attention to multiculturalism is an obligatory part of education in Belgium and the Netherlands, it is mostly taught in schools with many students of foreign origin. That is the principal conclusion of a research project by Ghent University (UGent) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA), for which more than 700 teachers participated.

“It may seem logical that there is more attention to multiculturalism in more multi-national schools, but it isn’t,” said Orhan Agirdag of the UvA. “Students with no foreign background also need sufficient knowledge about a multicultural society and racism – maybe even more than their counterparts of foreign origin.”

The research also demonstrates that teachers mostly focus on religious diversity. “They mostly explain about Islam and activities of Muslims during, for example, the Feast of the Sacrifice or the Sugar Feast,” said Mieke Van Houtte of UGent. “Other important elements of a multicultural society, like multilingualism, receive less attention.”

The researchers also ascertained that multiculturalism is only remotely present in the curriculum. “Publishers of school books have sometimes replaced typical names like Jan and Leen by Rashid and Ahmet,” says Michael Merry of the UvA, “but the lessons are still mainly Eurocentric, and the staff is, for the most part, white.”

There is a big difference, however, among cities, according to the study. Teachers in schools in Ghent and Genk, for instance, devote more attention to multiculturalism than do schools in Antwerp. According to the researchers, this situation can be linked to the political background of these cities.

The researchers suggest that mostly-white schools search for teachers and interns of foreign origin. They also feel that teacher study programmes could integrate multicultural education structurally in their curriculum.

Photo courtesy Het Belang van Limburg

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.

million school-going children in 2013


million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013


percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma