No evidence of classes taught in Arabic in Brussels schools, Rousseau comments unfounded

No evidence of classes taught in Arabic in Brussels schools, Rousseau comments unfounded
Flemish socialist leader, Conner Rousseau. Credit: Belga

There is no evidence children in Brussels schools are taught in Arabic, and it is not legal under Belgian law. On Wednesday, the fallout following Flemish Socialist leader Conner Rousseau's inflammatory comments about Molenbeek continues, with many having come out to defend both Molenbeek and Brussels.

Conner Rousseau, President of the Flemish Socialist party Vooruit, has been making headlines after claiming he “does not feel like he is in Belgium when driving through Molenbeek”. He also claimed teachers are using Arabic rather than French to teach in Brussels schools.

“In Brussels, because of the teacher shortage, there are people in the classroom teaching in Arabic because they do not speak French. Unacceptable,” he said in an interview with Humo magazine. “But what does the Flemish government do? Raise the price of language courses to shorten the waiting lists.”

French-speaking Education Minister Caroline Désir took to Twitter, calling Rousseau’s declaration “false and contemptuous”.

The tweet by Désir read: "The shortage of teachers is a reality in all regions of the country. The Wallonia-Brussels Federation (FWB) fights it by different means but certainly not by putting in front of the classes people who do not know the language of learning. False and contemptuous declaration of Conner Rousseau."

Teaching in Arabic not legally allowed

Rousseau based his statement on Arabic-speaking teachers on one anonymous testimony, and there is no evidence for his claims, Knack reports in a fact-check. Minister Caroline Désir (PS) also referred to the law that prescribes that teachers must be able to demonstrate a certain language level.

Teaching in Arabic is not legally allowed, according to Article 13 on the language regime in education, which states that education providers may only recruit staff members who have demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the language in which the school is taught.

Rousseau's spokesperson, Niels Pattyin, said that the Flemish Socialist leader had a “long conversation” with a woman who works in French-speaking education in Brussels last week. According to the anonymous source, there are several Brussels schools where teachers do not speak enough French and switch to Arabic on a regular basis during their lessons.

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“They can do that because most of their students also speak Arabic," Pattyn said. It is not about lessons that are structurally given in Arabic.

While basing his claim on just one anonymous source, Rousseau’s spokesperson said he considered it an important issue to raise. Meanwhile, they contacted the woman to ask her to speak out with her story, which she declined in fear of losing her job.

Strong anti-racist reaction

The Socialist leader has been heavily criticised by fellow leaders. Flemish Minister for Brussels, Benjamin Dalle, said Rousseau’s statements are “not only beneath contempt, but also categorically false,"“Language courses and civic integration are free (!) in Brussels. And teaching in Arabic? He can take me to that school of the Flemish community,” Dalle continued his tweet.

Mayor of Molenbeek, Catherine Moureaux, who said she felt “angry and disgusted” by his remarks and calling them racist.

Even within his own party, alderman Jef Van Damme, called it a “very misplaced remark."

He told Conner Rousseau that the next time he is Molenbeek, he should get out of his car and walk around the neighbourhood, with Van Damme volunteering himself to show Rousseau around the year 2022.

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