LETTER FROM BRUSSELS
A classroom at the Olfa Elsdonk primary school in Edegem, in the province of Antwerp (Belgium), January 7, 2022. DIRK WAEM / AFP
With the tremendous energy it sometimes deploys to caricaturize itself, Belgium has just innovated again. For the first time, pupils in primary and secondary education are experiencing the Easter holidays at different times depending on whether they are Dutch-speaking or French-speaking. The first have just completed their two weeks of vacation, the second will still wait until the beginning of May to breathe.
In question ? The entry into force of a French-speaking project which modifies the school rhythms on the basis of an observation: the children were too tired, less concentrated and experienced more learning difficulties during too long school periods. And they often lost what they had learned during the summer and its eight weeks (often nine or ten, in reality) of vacation. The government of the French-speaking community (or Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles) has therefore defined an alternation of seven weeks of lessons and two weeks of vacation, repeated throughout the year, while the summer vacation is shortened.
The rules of the federal state allow each of the three communities (French-speaking, Flemish, German-speaking) of the country to manage various matters, including education, as it sees fit. And Flanders has decided to maintain its old calendar. No question for the Neo-Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which leads its government and holds the education portfolio, to give the impression that it was following suit: autonomy first! Flemish schools, according to the nationalists, also have other concerns, including a severe shortage of teachers and a general drop in the level of pupils, confirmed by the International Program for the monitoring of learning.
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And then neighbors such as Germany and its Länder, France with its leave by zone or the Netherlands with its three regions (North, Center, South) have they not also introduced leave periods? differentiated? Without a doubt. But many Belgians have discovered that, for them and their small territory which has three official languages and where the communities are very intertwined, things would not be so simple.
In the bilingual region of Brussels, the desynchronization of the school holidays inevitably had the consequence that the Dutch-speaking schools were closed and the French-speaking ones open. However, Francophone couples convinced of the benefits of speaking both languages have often enrolled their children in an institution in the “other” community. Dad and mom at work, the children on leave: we had to call the grandparents to help, or improvise. Flemish parents convinced of the virtues of “linguistic immersion”, very popular a few years ago, will have to show the same imagination in May.
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