Programmes for disadvantaged pupils get much-needed boost

Summary

Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits has announced extra funding for projects that help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

Educational overhaul

Last month, Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits announced a slew of extra funding for projects that help disadvantaged pupils. More than €4 million, she said, will be rolled out over the next two and a half years.

With backing from coalition partners, Crevits (CD&V) has put the issue at the forefront of her budget concerns. The cross-party support is a surprising move in the right direction, she said, as it has not always been supported by N-VA, who felt that education funds were being misspent.

The vast majority of the money will go to the pupil support agencies CLBs, organisations that offer counselling services and preventative health care for youngsters from vulnerable backgrounds.

Under the current guidelines, the vulnerable backgrounds include children who don’t speak Dutch at home, who come from families living on low incomes and whose parents haven’t completed school themselves.

In recent years, the CLB tasks have multiplied, and there are now 72 centres across Flanders, with 3,000 staff members. Crevits wants to widen their reach even further.

Wider reach

Under the current system, CLBs that support pupils who attend technical or vocational schools receive more funding than those that support youngsters in general education. This will soon change, Crevits said, as the latter group will also receive a financial boost.

The extra cash will go towards hiring more staff and comes as part of a wider overhaul of the system, which will see at least one centre in each province remain open during school holidays. There will also be a greater focus on collaboration with schools.

The tutoring programme creates room for interaction between learning at home and learning at school

- Corry Hermans of Artevelde University College

The funds given to the CLBs will go towards more preventative care, while the rest of the available grant will be given to programmes that help students who are already struggling at school. The remaining €110,000 will fund schemes that partner vulnerable children with university students who are training to become teachers.

There are currently seven such tutoring programmes in Flanders, providing assistance to 2,100 primary and secondary school children. The programmes also support parents, showing them how to help with homework and how to create a good learning environment at home.

Like the children who use the CLBs, many of the youngsters who benefit from these programmes don’t come from a Dutch-speaking home and have parents who have struggled financially.

Teaching the teachers

The tutoring programmes are usually attached to universities and university colleges. The student tutoring programme at Artevelde University College, in Ghent, for example, will receive €20,000.

According to tutoring co-ordinator Corry Hermans, the programme pairs pupils and student teachers for one-to-one guidance to address the pupils’ specific educational needs. The student teachers also visit the children’s homes to help parents create a positive learning environment.

Those involved are keen to stress that the teachers-in-training gain as much from the experience as the pupils. Hilde Meysman, Artevelde University College’s educational director, says that “the student teachers come directly into contact with home situations that they are not familiar with”.

The social commitment of the student teachers makes these projects even more powerful

- Hilde Crevits

Under the university college’s guidance, she continues, “they learn to assess these situations more accurately and take this experience into their teaching later on”.

The schools also benefit from the collaboration, adds Hermans: “The tutoring programme creates room for interaction between learning at home and learning at school. The project aims for an open communication between all those involved.”

According to Crevits, this is what makes the tutoring programmes so vital. “The social commitment of the student teachers makes these projects even more powerful,” she says. “They’re provided with learning experiences, and become more familiar with issues of poverty and diversity.”

The funding for the tutoring projects will be rolled out this school year. The €4 million for the CLBs will be provided starting next year.