Mental wellbeing of students at ‘top of the agenda’ in Flanders
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Mental wellbeing of students at ‘top of the agenda’ in Flanders

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Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts has authorised more than €14 million in additional funding for Pupil Guidance Centres, including 307 extra full-time employees who will work on mental wellbeing and other student counseling issues.

“You could call this a positive effect of the coronavirus crisis: the mental wellbeing of our pupils is now top of the agenda,” said Minister Weyts in a press release.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a pronounced impact on education, as students struggle with the long-term effects of school closures during the first wave or part-time distance learning in this past school year.

Weyts’ office said it’s crucial to keep an eye on the mental wellbeing of students and watch for any lingering learning disadvantages or other side effects of the health crisis this year, as classes resume across Belgium today.

The Pupil Guidance Centres (CLBs) that are getting the extra funding are also responsible for contact tracing when it comes to Covid-19.

“Thanks to fast and efficient contact tracing, our schools were able to react more quickly and various outbreaks were contained more quickly,” Weyts office said.

“The CLBs will also remain vigilant this school year, because at the start of the new school year, some of the pupils will still not have been fully vaccinated.”

The coronavirus remains a challenge for schools across the country, not least of all when it comes to measures meant to mitigate the spread, like mask requirements.

In the Brussels-Capital Region, students in Francophone schools no longer have to wear face masks, but it’s still mandatory for some Dutch-speaking groups.

But even without a global health pandemic complicating matters, the education sector in Flanders is facing some obstacles.

In an interview with De Standaard last week, Weyts stressed that he was prepared to take strong measures in tackling some of those issues, namely the teacher shortage and a declining quality of education as a whole.

“The model is completely outdated,” he told the paper.

“What’s more: there is no other company in our country that is organized like this. It is inconceivable that everything is in a linear relationship with the time you spend in front of the class. That hinders schools from pursuing a modern HR policy.”

As one proposed solution, Weyts wants to raise the bar for aspiring teachers.

“Some people think that we will scare off candidates if we raise the bar, but the opposite is true: a strong education can actually attract more people,” he said.

“I want teacher training institutes to produce competent and passionate teachers. In this way, we can also restore social esteem for all teachers.”

Other efforts include increasing the amount of lateral entrants into the field, meaning people who enter teaching from the private sector.

Efforts so far in that regard have shown success, but Weyts think the figures can be improved even further.

There will also be collaborations with universities, like the Universities of Antwerp and Ghent, focused on improving the quality of teacher training.

Various projects will focus on subject knowledge, teaching methods and leadership, in particular when it comes to teachers of French and STEM subjects, where Flanders is experiencing an acute shortage of qualified instructors.