Children attending pre-school in the Flemish system will be tested on language proficiency when they reach the third class, prior to entering the school system at age five, education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) has announced.
Flanders recently reduced the minimum age for entering normal education from six to five years. The plan is to make sure that children entering formal education have the Dutch-language skills necessary for them to overcome any handicap that may accompany a non-Dutch upbringing.
Regardless of the vehicular language(s) in the home environment, education in the Flemish system – which attracts more and more non-Flemish parents – is legally still in Dutch. Children who do not speak Dutch in the home environment (home, extended family, neighbours, friends) are at a distinct disadvantage on entering primary school.
“If the language delay at the end of pre-school still turns out to be too great, the switch to primary school can be postponed,” said Weyts.
The test will be programmed between 10 October and 30 November in the third year, Weyts said. Before any child can enter the primary section of a Flemish school they must either come from a family where Dutch is the mother tongue, or have spent a minimum number of hours attending a Flemish pre-school in the first and second years, from age two.
So the children being tested will not be beginners.
The timing of the test is deliberately chosen, Weyts said.
“The test will be taken between 10 October and 30 November so that schools are given the freedom to choose the exact moment. For example, a school can choose to test the oldest toddlers in October and the youngest toddlers only at the end of November,” he explained.
“It will not be taken before October 10, because children should be given time to adapt themselves after the summer holidays.”
The timing will also allow school staff to organise remedial action for any child who fails the test in November, allowing them the rest of the school year – and if necessary the summer holiday – to bring the child up to standard to be able to enter primary education in September at the common level.
“If the language delay turns out to be too great at the end of the school year, the class council can advise postponing the switch to primary school,” Weyts said.
“If parents do not follow this advice, the child will be given a compulsory language integration program in the first year. In principle, this will involve a language immersion class or a fully-fledged alternative.”