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The Belgium K-12 Education System

In Belgium, the government drafts the main education policy, but putting that policy into practice is the responsibility of the 3 language communities:
  • Dutch-speaking
  • French-speaking 
  • German-speaking
And these language communities are responsible for education in the following regions:
  • Dutch in Flanders
  • French in Wallonia
  • French and Flemish in Brussels 
  • German in the Eastern Cantons
Within each region there are 3 kinds of educational institutions/schools (Dutch: netten; French:reseaux):

Community Schools/Schools owned by the Communities (GO! Onderwijs van de Vlaamse gemeenschap; reseau de la Communaute francaise): The relevant ministry of education is responsible for such schools. 

Subsidized public schools (officieel gesubsidieerd onderwijs;reseau officiel subventionne): These schools are managed and run by provinces and municipalities

"Free" private schools/Subsidized “free” education (vrij gesubsidieerd onderwijs; reseau libre subventionne): These are generally managed and run by an organization affiliated to the Catholic Church and is comprised of mainly Catholic schools. In Dutch community (Flanders) they form the largest group both in number of schools and students and in the French community they are almost equal in size to community schools.

Compulsory Education in Belgium

Education in Belgium is mandatory for all kids between the ages of 6 and 18. 

K-12 Education System: An Outline

As Belgium is split into distinct federal regions, there are separate education systems that work on similar lines for each of the communities.

Flemish/Dutch-Speaking Community

The Flemish education systems comprises of pre-primary, primary  and education. 

The pre-primary education is offered by the nursery schools and kids at the age of 2.5 years may attend it. 

The primary education lasts for 6 years and children at the age of 6 years can begin the education and goes on until 12 years old. 

The secondary education lasts for 6 years. Students begin the secondary education at the age of 12 years and continue until the age of 18 years.  Full-time secondary education comprises of three cycles of 2 years each and after the first cycle, students are required to select between 4 different kinds of secondary education specialization- Technical, General, Arts, or Vocational. 

French-Speaking Community

The French community K-12 education system comprises of nursery education, primary and secondary education.
 
Kids at the age 2.5 may attend nursery schools until the age of 6 years.

Primary education starts at the age 6 years and goes on until the age of 12 years. 

Secondary education starts at the age of 12 years and goes on until the age of 18 years and above. Secondary education-Type I comprises of three consecutive cycles of 2 years each-
  • First Cycle: Called as “Observation”
  • Second Cycle: Called as “Orientation”
  • Third Cycle: Called as “Determination 
Secondary Education- Type II comprises of 6 years divided into two cycles of 3 years each. Just 2% of the students go in for this type of secondary education.

German-Speaking Community

This community K-12 education system comprises of nursery school, primary and secondary education. A nursery school starts at the age of 3 years and continues until the age of 5 years. Primary education begins at the age of 6 years and goes on until 11 years old, while secondary education starts at the age of 12 years and continues until 18 years old. Secondary education comprises of three cycles of 2-years each-
  • First Cycle: Called as “Observation
  • Second Cycle: Called as “Orientation
  • Third Cycle: Called as “Determination" 
In the second and third cycle, general, technical and vocational secondary education is offered. 

K-12 Education Levels in Belgium

Pre-primary Education (Dutch: kleuteronderwijs, French: enseignement maternelle, German: Kindergarten)

Pre-primary education begins at the age of 2.5 years in Belgium. This level of education is not mandatory and focuses on building the foundation for overall growth and development of the child. It develops the intellectual, social, creative and communicative skills of the child and thus lays the foundation for future learning’s. In Belgium, there are a few schools that provide pre-primary education for children with disabilities or other special needs. 
  • Start Age: 2.5 years old 
  • End Age: 6 years old

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

Primary education is free to all and a range of academic subjects are taught, like basic mathematics, religion, history, reading, music, writing, biology, and so on. Major emphasis is put on the language. It comprises of 3 cycles:
  • First cycle: Consists of years 1 and 2
  • Second cycle: Consists of years 3 and 4
  • Third cycle: Consists of years 5 and 6
Duration: 6 years
Age group: 6-12 years old
Start date: Primary school commences on the 1 September of the year in which a child attains the age of 6.
School Timings:  Primary schools generally begin at 8:30 a.m. and ends around 15:30pm.  Lunch break is generally offered from 12:00 to 13:30 pm. 
Credential Awarded: 
For French Community: Certificate of basic education (CEB) 
Flemish Community:  Getuigschrift basisonderwijs (Certificate of Elementary Education)
German Community: Abschlusszeugnis der Grundschule (Certificate of Primary School)

Secondary Education (Dutch: secundair onderwijs, French: enseignement secondaire, German: Sekundare Erziehung)

Secondary education in Belgium is free and comprises of three cycles of 2-years each.
  • First cycle: This cycle is referred to as “Observation”. It encompasses year 1 and 2 and offers general education.
  • Second cycle: This cycle is referred to as “Orientation”. It encompasses year 3 and 4 and provides specific education.
  • Third cycle: This cycle is referred to as “Determination”. It encompasses year 5 and 6 and provides specific education.
During the second and third cycle of secondary education, pupils have the choice to select from the following- Math & Science, Economy & Languages or Latin-Greek. Students have the option for selecting general, vocational, technical or artistic secondary education. 

Duration: 6 years
Age group: 12-18 years old
Compulsory Subjects:  For pupils of ages 13 and 16, at the end of the first and second cycle’s are- human sciences, mathematics, mother tongue, natural sciences, foreign languages, artistic education, and physical education. 
Credential Awarded: Secondary Education Diploma (Diploma van Secundair Onderwijs)

Types of Secondary Education

Different types of Secondary Education Schools-

General Secondary Education (Dutch: Algemeen Secundair Onderwijs; ASO; French: Enseignement Secondaire general)-

This form of education prepares students for higher education and emphasize on theoretical and general knowledge. It lasts for 6 years. Possible Course combinations are- ancient Greek and Latin, Modern Languages with main focus on Dutch, French, German, English, and Spanish-optional; Sciences which includes physics, chemistry, biology & geography; Economy, Mathematics, and Human Sciences which includes sociology, psychology and media.

Technical Secondary Education, or TSO (Dutch: Technisch Secundair Onderwijs; TSO; French: Enseignement Secondaire technique)-

This type of education is split into 2 educational groups-
  • TTK: The TTK courses are more technical-oriented 
  • STK: The STK courses are practical-oriented.
 Both educational groups provide a general education in history, math, science, languages, and geography. After completion of the course, pupils either go for work or for further studies. Students who take up STK courses generally go for jobs, while TTK courses students continue their studies.  

Vocational Secondary Education (Dutch: Beroepssecundair Onderwijs; BSO; French: Enseignement Secondaire professionnel)-

This type of education is profession-specific. It emphasizes on practical education and offers education until seventh and eighth specialization years. After completion of the Vocational Secondary Education, students can enter job market. They are not eligible for higher education. To go for higher education, students must take up seventh or eighth specialization years. After completion of those optional specialization years, a diploma or Certificate of Secondary Education (CESS) is awarded of the same level as a Technical Secondary Education, thereby permitting the students to take up higher education. 

Art Secondary Education (Dutch: Kunstsecundair onderwijs; KSO; French: Enseignement Secondaire artistique)- 

This type of education emphasise on artistic education- performing arts, visual arts, graphical and musical arts, dance, display arts, acting, and so on. 

Students with disabilities or other special needs can go for Special Secondary Education (Dutch: Buitengewoon Secundair Onderwijs; BuSO;French: Enseignement Secondaire special).  

Admission Procedure

Fill out an application form and submit it to the individual educational institution/school along with the required documents. 

Documentation

  • Identity Proof: Passport copy or birth Certificate
  • Residence permit 
  • Medical Certificates: indicating that the child has got the required vaccination. 
** All documents must be translated into Dutch, French, German or English

Special Needs Education

Children with Special Needs are provided education in Belgium. Full-time education is mandatory from 6-16 years old, while part-time education is mandatory until 18 years old. Education is also provided by specialist schools in Belgium.

Specialist Schools (French: l'enseignement specialize; Dutch: buitengewoon onderwijs; German: Vorschul)- Specialist schools are of 8 types and mainly for children with disabilities. 

Admission Requirements: The admissions are done on the request of the family and an entrance exam takes place. In the French and German speaking communities the examination is managed and conducted by the Psychological-Medical-Social-Centre (centre psycho-medico-social, PMS), while in Dutch community, the Centre for Guidance (Centrum voor Leerlingenbegeleiding, VCLB) manages it. The examination committee on the basis of the exam results will decide whether the school is appropriate or not for the child.  Admissions into a special school take place throughout the year. 

Special Needs Education in Mainstream Schools

Many of the mainstream schools in Belgium offer special needs education. They have permanent staff for the same. Children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are taught in mainstream schools with additional help. 

School Academic Year

For Pre-primary, Primary and Secondary Education

 The school year commences on 1 September, or the first working day after it and goes on until 30 June or the last working day before it, when the summer holidays start. 
The school holidays may vary depending upon the communities. 

School Timings

The school timings may vary depending upon the communities, but the school day generally starts around 08:20 am for all age groups and finishes around 15:30 pm for pre-primary and primary schools, and 16:15 pm for secondary schools.  
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