Pre-schools must test Dutch skills from 2021

Summary

A new regulation will see pre-school teachers assessing children’s Dutch-language skills to decide if immersion classes are needed

Language is key, says minister

Dutch language testing in nursery schools will be introduced in the 2021-22 school year, under legislation adopted by the government of Flanders. The aim, says education minister Ben Weyts, is to catch children whose Dutch skills are not up to the mark before they go on to primary school.

Beginning this autumn, the age of compulsory schooling in Flanders lowers from six to five. This means that, while the first two years of pre-school are still voluntary, the third and final year is compulsory.

The language screening will take place in this third year in November, so that children who fall short have the rest of the school year to catch up. Any that are still experiencing difficulties in Dutch by the end of the school year may then be asked to repeat the year before going on to primary school.

‘We have to act’

Parents who do not want their children to be held back must put them into a language immersion class or some approved alternative in the first year of primary school. Extra resources will be made available in the education budget to support these measures.

“We must absolutely prevent children who have fallen behind from beginning primary school, and so we have to act more decisively,” said Weyts, who has pushed hard for the measure since proposing it last year.

His argument is that language is the key to broader educational success. “Those who fall behind in languages often fall behind in other subjects,” he went on. “Equal opportunities are impossible if there are inequalities at the very beginning.”

The quality of our education starts with Dutch. An understanding of Dutch is the key to understanding everything else

- Minister Ben Weyts

He also sees Dutch languages skills as a factor in the declining international performance of Flemish school education. “The quality of our education starts with Dutch. An understanding of Dutch is the key to understanding everything else.”

The new education law also explains what lowering the school age will mean in practice: all five-year-olds obliged to attend a recognised nursery school for at least 275 half-days each year.

This relatively relaxed level will encourage attendance without requiring every absence to be registered and justified. “In this way we give children extra learning opportunities, without placing an additional planning burdens on schools,” Weyts said.

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