Parliament unanimously adopted on Thursday draft legislation which lowers the compulsory school age in Belgium from six to five. The change will come into force from the beginning of the academic year commencing September 1st 2020.
The vote took place following 15 years of parliamentary debates on the subject. In the end parliament voted upon the draft legislation put forward by the leader of the cdH (Centre Démocrate Humaniste), Catherine Fonck. It incorporated amendments by the MR (Mouvement Réformateur), the Open Vld, the CD&V (Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams) and further revisions by the cdH itself.
Compulsory schooling remains one of those rare spheres for which the federal government has responsibility. The view of the various regional communities has been required to move the proposal forward. That of the Flemish community had been long overdue, and ended up being sent a month ago.
Theirs was a positive response with a proviso: the law could only come into force in the 2020-2021 school year owing to an issue of legal certainty. Flanders wanted to avoid the significant change of course during any particular academic year. The Wallonia-Brussels Federation had made the same demand.
The intended objective of lowering the school age is to increase equal opportunities, at the same time as certain pockets of the population, specifically children under six, are missing out on schooling. Some politicians have referred to the need to stimulate cognitive functions from the youngest possible age favouring language learning, especially in those families that do not use any of Belgium’s official languages.