Whilst the state sets the laws regarding education, responsibility for schools lies with the language communities; Dutch in Flanders, French in Wallonia, both in Brussels and in some surrounding communes. As well as state schools there are subsidised 'free' and independent schools, often run on religious lines, though their curricula and certification are recognised equally within the system. Religion plays a part in state education, too and students can opt for Catholic, Protestant or Jewish studies, or a more general secular approach. The compulsory school age in Belgium is 6-18 years, though there is an opportunity for 16+ pupils to study part-time. Education is free, though at secondary level, parents may be expected to contribute to the cost of some text books. All schools are co-educational.
Children start school at the age of six, though they may be accepted at five if they are deemed ready. Before this, nurseries are available for babies and children up to two-and-half years. Priority is given to mothers in full-time work. Kindergartens then take over until the child reaches school age. These are often attached to local primary schools. Children stay at primary school for six years during which time they study the whole range of subjects with an emphasis on languages. Homework is set from early on and there is a strong tradition of parental participation.
Method schoolsThere is a wide range of schools which adopt the methodology of an educational philosophy. In these, children often learn through discovery and the liberal arts, with subjects such as grammar, mathematics and science being taught from direct experience rather than in a formal setting. The Celstin Freinet system follows this approach, whilst the Decroly schools separate out the academic and creative skills in a vertically-streamed organisation, younger children benefiting from the experience of older pupils. The Steiner schools place greater emphasis on the arts. The world-famous Montessori schools are well represented in Belgium and teach children in small focussed groups according to the relaxed self-developmental Montessori method. These schools tend to offer a bilingual French-English education.
International schoolsThese are the choice of parents who wish their children to remain in a system they know, with a language they know and with the option of continuing the system back in the home country.
European schoolsThe European schools are notoriously difficult to get into unless at least one parent works for one of the EU institutions. Education is in mother tongue with a second language being introduced at primary level. A third language is then obligatory from the second year of secondary school with optional additional languages on offer in later years. Courses lead to the European Baccalaureate which is recognised for university entrance throughout the EU.
Montessori schoolsDr Maria Montessori , born 1870, was the first woman in Italy to obtain a medical degree. Working in education and psychiatry, she developed her notion that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed rather than being an empty vessel to be filled by others. Out of this came a method of learning and self development that has become recognised around the globe.
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