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Education System of Belgium

Belgium, also known as Kingdom of Belgium is located in Western Europe. Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern part of Wallonia, are the two largest regions of Belgium. Brussels, the capital of Belgium houses the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union. 

Belgian Educational Background: Snapshot

Education in Belgium is regulated by the first constitution of 1831, by the constitutional reform of 1993 that formed cultural and linguistic communities, and by several other school laws. Compulsory education came into existence with legislative action of May 1914. In 1983, 12 years of mandatory education from the age of 6-18 was introduced.  The 1959 law recognized two types of schools- primary and secondary. Along with French, Dutch was also recognized as an official language by the legislation of 1898. In 1932, a law was passed that required the medium of instruction in primary and secondary education schools to be of that region, i.e. French in Wallonia, Dutch in Flanders, and German in the municipalities of the eastern part of Belgium. Later in 1963, teaching of second language in the third grade was introduced in Brussels region primary schools, while in the fifth grade for Wallonia and Flanders primary schools. Finally, by constitutional reforms between 1970 and 1980, three separate geographical location were formed as Flemish region, Walloon region and Brussels region with three cultural linguistic communities with German, Dutch and French and respectively.

Belgium Education System Profile

Education in Belgium is managed, controlled and financed by one of the 3 communities-
  • Flemish
  • French
  • German-speaking
Each community’s education system operates as a district federal region around the language of that community- French in the Federation Wallonia & Brussels, Dutch in the Flemish Community, and German in the German-Speaking Community. 
These 3 communities- French, Flemish and German-speaking have an integrated school system with minor variations from one group to another. The federal government determines the age for compulsory schooling and also indirectly finances the communities.

Compulsory Education

Education in Belgium is mandatory between the ages of 6 and 18 or until one graduate from secondary school.

Levels of Education

All the three communities have the following levels of education with slight difference:

Basic Education (Dutch: basisonderwijs; French: enseignement fondamental)

The Basic Education encompasses-
  • Preschool education (kleuteronderwijs; enseignement maternel)- This form of education is for children upto the age of 6 years
  • Primary school (lager onderwijs; enseignement primaire)- Children from the age of 6 years until 12 years attend primary schools.
Secondary Education (In Dutch: secundair onderwijs; French: enseignement secondaire)

The duration of Secondary Education is for students aged 12 years old to 18 years of age. 

Higher Education (Dutch: hoger onderwijs; French: enseignement superieur)

The Higher Education in Belgium comprises:
  • University (universiteit; universite)
  • Polytechnic/Vocational university (hogeschool; haute ecole)

Understanding Belgium Education System 

Pre-School

The pre-school education in Belgium is free. The pre-schools work towards the development of the kids cognitive, communication and creativity skills, in a playful manner. 
  • Start Age: 2 years 6 months

Primary Education (In Dutch: lager onderwijs; French: enseignement primaire; German: Grundschule)

Primary Education in Belgium is free and focuses on reading, basic mathematics, writing, and also covers a few topics of history, biology, religion, music, and so on
  • Duration: 6 years
  • Age: 6-12 years old
Primary education in Belgium is split up into 3 cycles (Dutch: graden; French: degres):
  • First cycle: Comprising year 1 and 2
  • Second cycle: Comprising year 3 and 4
  • Third cycle: Comprising year 5 and 6

Secondary Education (In Dutch: secundair onderwijs; French: enseignement secondaire)

During the Secondary Education in Belgium, students are required to select a course they would want to take up, depending upon their interest and skill level.  
  • Age: 12-18 years old
  • Duration: 6 years
Secondary Education in Belgium encompasses 3 cycles- (Dutch: graden; French: degres):
  • First cycle: Comprises of year 1 and 2
  • Second cycle: Comprises of year 3 and 4
  • Third cycle: Comprises of year 5 and 6

Higher or Tertiary Education

Higher education in Belgium is regulated by the two main communities-
  • The Flemish Community  
  • The French Community
The German-speaking community generally enrolls in French community higher education institutions or in Germany.

Higher Education Institutions: Snapshot

In Belgium, there are a various types of Higher Education Institutions. These institutions are separated community-wise  into French and Flemish Community. Principally there are two types of higher education institutions in Belgium- Universities and Colleges (In Dutch:Hogescholen; in French: Hautes Ecoles). Additionally, specialised architecture and arts institutes also exists. 

Flemish Community Higher Education Institutions

The Flemish Community in Belgium is also referred as the Dutch-speaking Community.  It is blended with one of the 3 Belgian federal regions - Flanders, located in the North.

Flemish or Dutch-speaking community Higher education institutions in Belgium are-

Universities: The Universities offer academic Bachelor programmes that focus on continued learning. Also, a Master programme, advanced Master programme and a PhD programme are offered at the Flemish community Universities in Belgium.

University Colleges: The University Colleges in Belgium provide vocational professional Bachelor programmes and advanced Bachelor programmes that concentrate on a particular professional field study. The advanced programmes include profession-oriented courses.

Registered Institutes of Higher Education: These are accredited institutions that offer courses on specialist degree subjects.

French Community Higher Education Institutions

The French Community in Belgium comprise of French-speaking Belgians, its parliament and government. The higher education is divided into- University Institutions and Non-University Institutions, which consist of:

Universities: The Universities offers bachelor, Masters Degree and a doctorate degree. The bachelor degree lasts for 3 years, Masters for 2 years, and after completion of Masters Degree, students can opt for a Doctorate. 

Colleges (In French: Hautes Ecoles): These institutions are similar to Flemish university colleges and provide practical as well as academic education. Students graduating from these institutions can directly go into professional work. Such institutions provide 3 years and 5 year courses that include subjects such as translation, teaching and economics. 

Ecoles Superieures des Arts (Graduate School of Arts): These institutions provide courses in artistic field of study, which last for 3-5 years.

German-speaking Community

The majority of German-speaking community people in Belgium take admittance in either Flemish or French higher education institutions. 

Higher Education Qualifications: Outline

Following the Bologna process, the Belgium Higher Education Qualifications has been significantly reformed and follow the below mentioned degree levels:

Bachelor's Degree: The bachelor degree in Belgium is of 3 years duration , with two types of programme choice: of the professional bachelor and the academic bachelor.

Master's Degree : The Master degree in Belgium is of 1-2 years duration. After successful completion of a Master’s degree, students can go for doctorate degree programmes.  The Universities as well as the Colleges in Belgium offer Bachelor and Master Degree programmes.

Doctorate Degree: The doctorate or PhDs are awarded only by the Universities.

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements in Belgium vary depending upon the community and level of education.

General Admissions Requirement-

Students must possess a diploma of secondary education in order to apply to all Belgian higher education institutions. 

Flemish/Dutch-Speaking

Primary Education: The Flemish or Dutch-speaking primary schools in Belgium determine the age of the child's admission to primary school. 
Secondary Education:  The Flemish or Dutch-speaking secondary schools in Belgium begin a process of the declaration of equivalence of the foreign certificate of studies and then decide the grade in which the child can take admission. 
Higher Education: The university or colleges in Belgium determine the admission requirements and have their own selection process. 

French-Speaking

Primary Education: The French-speaking primary schools in Belgium determine the grade in which the child can take admission. 
Secondary Education:  The French-speaking secondary schools in Belgium begin a process of the declaration of equivalence of the foreign certificate of studies and then decided the grade in which the child can take admission. 
Higher Education: In the French-speaking higher education, pupils themselves are required to put together a file of necessary certificates and declarations, and send it to the “Obligatory Education Equivalence Department” (Service Equivalence de l’enseignement obligatoire) in time.

Admission Requirements- Exceptions

Few of the fields of study have different admission requirements. They are- 
  •  Medicine or dentistry
  • Arts
  •  Management Science 
  • Engineering Science
Students who want to study Medicine field are required to sit for an entrance exam that is organised by the government, for admittance to arts field- practical tests is conducted at the individual colleges. Students who want to pursue Engineering Science or Management Science are required to sit for an entrance exam. 

Language Tests

To enrol for higher education institutions in Belgium, you need to prove understanding of academic content in language of instruction by taking up language proficiency tests. The tests mentioned below are accepted by many higher education institutes in Belgium.

Proficiency in Dutch

Certificate of Dutch as Foreign Language (Certificaat Nederlands als vreemde taal, or CNavT): It tests the Dutch language proficiency of the students and is accepted by many higher education institutions in Belgium.

Proficiency in French

DELF, or Diplome d'etudes en langue francaise (In English: Diploma in French Studies) B1 Level: The DELF B1 Level is referred to as an independent user and confirms that the candidates possess a good knowledge in French. 
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