All schools in Belgium will suspend lessons from Monday as part of a new federal action plan to curb the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in the country.
Ramping-up measures against the virus, the caretaker federal government suspended all school lessons and recommended universities and higher education institutions to turn to distance-learning as much as possible.
No lessons, but schools remain open
While, from Monday 16 March, pupils will no longer be required to show up, teaching staff will not be put on leave, as schools will remain open to provide child care for parents who need it.
"We are not talking of school closures, but of suspending lessons," Interim Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said in a radio interview on Friday. "Schools will remain open for parents for whom its impossible to take care of their children, with priority given to parents working in the health sector."
The announcement saw language community and regional authorities convene to discuss measures to ensure students do not lag behind and to offer solutions for parent categories who have no choice to but to continue working.
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"I am particularly attached to offering solutions to parents who will be on the frontlines of this sanitary crises," Bénédicte Linard, Childhood Minister for the Brussels-Wallonia Féderation(BWF), said, referring not only to health workers but also transport and food retail employees.
"We will assess the situation and adapt according to the number of pupils present, the Minister-President of the BWF, the authority charged with Francophone cultural and educational affairs in Brussels and Wallonia, said.
In Flanders, Education Minister Ben Weyts said that the regional government was looking into alternatives to ensure pupils do not lag behind, as the measures will mean school will be out until at least the end of the Easter holidays, which begin on 3 April, the last day the measure is set to be implemented.
"These should not be lost weeks," he told Het Nieuwsblad, adding that digital platforms could be useful and that "even [public broadcaster] VRT would have to its part."
"The Flemish government is examining whether it can broadcast teaching programs," Weyts said.
For Francophone Belgium, its own public broadcaster RTBF is reportedly studying adjusting its programming to better suit the needs of those most impacted by the measures, including children, the elderly and isolated persons.
Day-cares remain open
Day-cares, or crèches, were not included in the shutdown measures, which Wilmès said were based on the recommendations of scientific experts and on their knowledge of how best to stop the virus' spread.
"The difference in measures between crèches and schools can be explained because we are not talking about the same kind of public," she told RTBF.
"Day-care centres are smaller places, which look after young children and toddlers who are extremely contagious (sic) but which do not develop complications linked to the illness," Wilmès said.
Children have been reported as a potentially contagious but low-risk group for the new coronavirus. Experts have said that there is overall insufficient evidence to determine the extent of infection among children, the role they play in transmission, according to a preliminary assessment of the outbreak in China.
The Brussels Times