Walloon education minister looks to make Dutch compulsory in school

Walloon education minister looks to make Dutch compulsory in school
Credit: Belga/ Kurt Desplenter

In response to the Dutch language growing increasingly unpopular among Walloon pupils, the region's education minister is looking to make the language compulsory at school.

Last school year, one in three pupils chose Dutch as a second language in Walloon schools – a drop of almost 7% compared to the 2019-2020 school year.

While learning Dutch is already obligatory in Brussels French-speaking schools from the third grade, as well some schools on the language border with Flanders, this is not yet the case in the whole region. This became the subject of criticism from the Christian Democrats CD&V party and could be set to change in the coming years.

Ditching Dutch

Caroline Désire, the Minister of Education of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, is now looking to harmonise rules across the language community by making Dutch compulsory from the third year of primary school. The changes would apply from the 2027-2028 school year onwards, La Libre Belgique reports.

Language courses are currently only compulsory from the fifth year of primary school. Furthermore, this is not compulsory but pupils can choose between Dutch, English or German. Increasingly, pupils can choose English as their first additional language and Spanish as their second, which often sees Dutch being dropped completely.

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While the popularity of Dutch is declining, English is increasingly being the second language of choice despite not being an official language in Belgium, figures by the Department of Education of the French Community showed.

The number of pupils taking Dutch falls considerably at the start of secondary school; more than a quarter of Walloon pupils enrolled in the sixth grade of secondary schools in the 2020-2021 school year had never had a single hour of Dutch during their schooling.

It will take several years to fully integrate Dutch teaching into the curriculum in order to give schools and parents a chance to prepare for the changes.

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