As of next school year, children in the third year of preschool in Flanders will have to take a Dutch test, the Flemish government decided in a decree that was approved on Monday.
Those children who do not master the Dutch language will have to follow a remediation course, and if their level is still not high enough at the end of the year, they may have to retake their third year of preschool.
Upon announcing this test, Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA) was criticised by members of both the Flemish opposition and of other majority parties. For example, the CD&V (Flanders’ Christian Democrat party) commented that “a linguistic test approaches an entry exam for primary school, and this should not be the goal.”
The scientific community was also vocal about this guideline, with UGent researcher Fauve De Backer stating that “testing something like that at one moment can deliver very unreliable results for very young children.”
The approved text does allow parents not to follow the class council’s advice, in which case the pupil will have to follow a special programme to reach the desired level of Dutch.
“We must absolutely avoid that children who are behind start their first year with a language deficiency,” Weyts insisted. “We, therefore, must act firmly.” Weyts points out that children with language deficiencies often also have learning delays in other subjects and that, in order to start on equal footing, children should start with the same level of Dutch.
Weyts is also lowering the required minimum age for attending school from six to five years old, as Het Laatste Nieuws reported.