Coronavirus: no more than 10% of pupils show up on day one of Belgium's school shutdown

Coronavirus: no more than 10% of pupils show up on day one of Belgium's school shutdown
Credit: Caroline Désir/Facebook

Belgium's first day of a weeks-long school shutdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic saw a vast majority of parents in the country heed recommendations and keep children at home.

Last Thursday, all schools in the country were ordered to suspend lessons for three weeks, from Monday until the start of the Easter holidays on 3 April.

Throughout the weeks-long closure, the government nevertheless said that schools would remain open in order to offer a child care alternative to parents who have no choice but to work, or whose only child care provider would be a grandparent.

Francophone education

While Belgium's Francophone schools in Brussels and Wallonia opened as normal on Monday, the education minister for the Brussels-Wallonia Federation, Caroline Désir said pupil attendance did not surpass 5%.

"This morning, less than 2% of children showed up in schools," Désir wrote on Facebook, noting that the low numbers had facilitated a "cautious and serene" reception across school grounds.

The Minister-President of the Federation also celebrated the low attendance numbers, saying that they showed that parents had correctly registered the message.

"An immense thank you to all principals, teachers and other school staff for their commitment and solidarity," Désir wrote on Facebook, also thanking parents for their "civism and responsibility" in the face of the pandemic.

In Evere, one teacher told BX1 that only 56 of the 122 pupils that been signed up for daycare showed up on Monday, amounting to just under 4% of the 1,500 students registered in the Brussels municipality.

While confirming an overall low attendance number, the teacher, identified as Jérôme, expressed concern over the fact that only two schools in the municipality opened to welcome the students, noting that the decision clashed with the official social distancing advice.

A municipal official told the outlet that the measure was an "exceptional response to exceptional circumstances," and that the organisation would "evolve little by little."

Dutch-language education

Schoolyards were just as deserted in Flanders, with Education Minister Ben Weyts reporting that attendance had been limited on day one of the shutdown.

Weyts said that primary schools had reported average attendance rates of around 10% and secondary schools of around 5%, according to an online statement.

The Flemish minister said that it remained to be seen whether the low attendance numbers would continue throughout the entire school shutdown, set to last until the start of the Easter holidays, which run from 3 to 17 April.

"The first day is not a good indicator for the next 3 weeks," Weyts said, adding that many people had doubtless met special efforts to abide by the government's recommendations but that it was "too early" to draw conclusions for the period to come.

While the decision to keep schools open was taken as a way to provide support for employees in the health and other first-necessity sectors, Weyts dismissed the possibility of the Flemish government mimicking a move by the Netherlands and drawing up a list of such professions.

"The Netherlands' list is very broad, but still excludes children," Weyts said. "We don't want that in Flanders."

Ahead of the coming into force of the shutdown, Flanders said that it was looking into rolling learning alternatives to ensure children do not lag behind, citing the possibility of cooperating with the public broadcaster VRT, an option which Weyts said was still in consideration.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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