More than a quarter of Brussels and Antwerp pre-schoolers lack language skills

More than a quarter of Brussels and Antwerp pre-schoolers lack language skills
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More than a quarter of preschool children in Brussels and Antwerp lack the Dutch language skills required for entering first grade.

Across Belgium, 11% of children in kindergarten still need extra language support and 4% need intensive guidance, according to a Language Screening to evaluate language proficiency, carried out by the Flemish authorities for the first time this school year between October and December in every third year of pre-school.

“We cannot allow it to happen that 15% of children have to start primary school with a small or large language deficiency,” Flemish education minister Ben Weyts said.

The language test taken before five-year-old children enter the normal school system showed that, overall, 85% of students tested scored at a level considered appropriate for their age, but that there are noticeable differences between regions and schools, especially in those with many pupils who do not speak Dutch at home.

The situation is the worst in the Brussels-Capital Region, home to large populations of ex-pats, where a third of all children (32%) need extra language support, while in Antwerp city, 28% of the children need more support. In both places, 8% of children need intensive guidance.

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The results are best in West Flanders, where 91% of pre-schoolers have sufficient language skills. Here, just 7% need extra support and 2% are in need of intensive guidance.

Crucial time to intervene

The aim of the Language Screening is to know exactly which children still need a lot of support, so the deficiency in language skills can be brushed up before children go to primary school. In this way, they too can “start primary school with equal opportunities.”

Based on the test results, preschoolers are divided into three colour zones: preschoolers in the green zone have sufficient language skills, while preschoolers in the orange zone are in need of some extra support. Those in the red zone need intensive guidance.

Weyts will invest an additional €12 million per year to provide additional language support and to set up qualitative language programmes. If the delay at the end of the school year is still too great, the class council can advise postponing the transfer to primary school.

“We no longer look away from the language deficits of some pre-schoolers,” Weyts said. “15% is a considerable number of preschoolers. It is crucial that we intervene before the start of primary school to prevent them from lagging behind for years due to a language deficiency.”

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