'Dutch is the key to all other knowledge': Flanders to tackle kids’ language delays

'Dutch is the key to all other knowledge': Flanders to tackle kids’ language delays
Credit: Belga

Flanders will start screening for language earlier this school year, hoping to catch any Dutch-language deficiencies in students sooner.

Students in the third grade of preschool, generally those aged five to six, will be screened for proficiency in Dutch.

Flanders’ Minister of Education Ben Weyts has established a practical guide to help schools set up language programmes for pupils with language deficits.

“We don't ignore language deficits anymore,” said Weyts. “After all, Dutch is the key to all other knowledge.”

The new practical guide provides clear guidelines for designing language integration programmes.

“Someone who has a language deficiency will often also lag behind in many other areas,” Weyts said.

“Pupils will simply not have equal opportunities if we do not tackle this problem. From this year onwards, schools will be given extra instruments to combat language deficiency: extra budget, the instrument of language screening and now also the substantive basis for setting up language programmes.”

Weyts has promised to tackle an array of issues when it comes to Flemish education, including the teacher shortages for content areas like French and STEM subjects.

In terms of Dutch-language deficiencies, he says the guide his office created for schools was created from concrete tips and inspiring examples from home and abroad.

“Schools are offered a range of possibilities because every child is different and situations differ. There is no ready-made path that works for every pupil, but there are many good practices that have already proved their worth,” reads a statement from his office.

The practical guide aims to provide a solid basis for setting up intensive and sustainable language programmes in schools that need them.

One-off reading projects, single language games or one extra vocabulary lesson a month are not enough to help children with real language deficits, Weyts’ office says, adding that “a sustained and thoughtful approach is needed.”

Among the suggestions in the practical guide is the conducting of language lessons in small groups or even individually for children from non-native speaking families.

The guide points out that children from disadvantaged backgrounds or non-native speaking families can benefit from this in addition to the language stimulation provided in the regular classroom environment.

Schools can also choose to offer children extra language support in a language immersion class for a few hours a day.

The practice guide recommends schools work with a fixed routine and helps to develop a step-by-step approach, building up the level of difficulty.

There are suggestions regarding everything from the layout of the classroom and the use of study materials to the role of teachers.

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