Religious schools in Belgium are a popular academic and spiritual choice for expat parents with young children.
One of the first things which strikes expats recently arrived in Brussels is its ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. For parents of young children, there is also a thriving community of schools, catering to religious and spiritual needs, to choose from.
A deputy administrator of an independent bilingual school for children aged two to 11 in Brussels, says modern faith-based education eschews strict religious teaching in favour of character-building and the instillation of values and ethics in young people, regardless of background.
The diversity of Belgium’s religious education
Belgium has a long tradition of religious (predominantly Catholic)-based education, but as the country’s demographics have changed over time, so has the provision of schools which cater to different faiths or worldviews.
A 2014 study on religious education at schools in Western Europe noted that in Brussels private schools, Catholic religious education remained dominant (92.7% to 99.6%). In the city’s public school system, meanwhile, most (43%) primary students now attend Islamic religious education, followed by moral education (27.9%) and Catholic religious education (23.3%).
There is also a growing demand for the teaching of other world faiths in Belgian schools. For example, the Hindu Forum of Belgium has a stated aim of “developing a curriculum for teaching Hinduism in Belgian schools” in consultation with Hindu academics in India, the UK, the USA, France and elsewhere.
“Belgium’s religiosity is a patchwork tapestry woven together out of traditional Catholic church-related elements, new religious experiences introduced by immigrant communities and an undefinable complex set of late modern world views of younger generations,” the report stated.
Religious education in Belgium embraces other views
A patchwork tapestry it may be, but religious education in Belgium has also moved on from the pure catechesis – or instruction – of old. Today, many religious schools in Brussels, whether private or public and regardless of denomination, reference other religions or philosophical worldviews. Belgium’s national curriculum, furthermore, requires every student to spend at least two hours per week, for 12 years, studying ‘morals’ – either non-confessional or religious.
“Modern, forward-thinking religious schools in Belgium create a link between faith in the community and the daily life experiences and needs of young people.” “They are inclusive places which draw in elements of non-confessional moral education for pupils in a pluralistic society.”
The advantages of attending a Catholic school in Belgium
One of the most important choices a parent will ever make is that of schooling for their children. For expat parents, considerations will range from location to language medium, curriculum, academic and spiritual environment.
Private Catholic schools in Belgium can offer not only an excellent academic grounding, but also establish good habits and virtues as well as a sense of individuality in young people – elements that are “integral to a child’s future happiness”.
“For example, tutorials are tailored for each child, and we also seek to establish a collaborative relationship with parents. Ultimately we have a shared goal with them to develop the child’s character while enabling them to reach their academic potential.”
“For example, teachers, as well as being highly qualified and competent educators, are humane and empathetic. We seek for our pupils a freedom which enables them to live a more complete life. It is not simply about acquiring technical skills or knowledge.”
One of these philosophies taught at some religious schools in Brussels is so-called ‘liberal arts education’ which, for example, teaches students to respect and use words responsibly, and recognise and appreciate everything that is good, true and beautiful.
A liberal arts education offers a broad understanding of reality, clarity of thought, excellence in writing, and effective speaking skills, which are valued in many professions and management roles.
Muslim, Jewish and Protestant schools in Brussels
As a federal state, Belgium guarantees freedom of education, which allows other religions and worldviews to organise their own schools. In Antwerp, for example, there are 30 Jewish schools catering to the city’s large Orthodox community. The Protestant community runs seven schools in Flanders, the so-called “Schools with the Bible” (scholen met de bijbel), while there are a number of Islamic primary schools in Brussels.
There are also many non-confessional schools in Belgium. Fourteen schools are led by free-thinkers (vrij onderwijsplatform) and most schools that offer alternative education are non-confessional as well.