School groups in the Flemish education system have expressed opposition to a plan by the region’s education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) to make children take a language test before passing from pre-school to the first year of primary school.
Children in Flanders are able to attend pre-school from the age of 2.5 years, while primary school starts at age five from the beginning of the next school year in September.
In the past, children from homes where Dutch is not the spoken language had to spend a minimum number of half-days in pre-school before being able to go to primary school. That was reckoned to have given them enough exposure to Dutch to allow them to go forward.
Now, Weyts wants to introduce an actual language test. Children who failed to achieve a pass in the test would not be allowed into the first year of primary school.
A spokesperson for the community education system (GO) – the larger of the two systems ahead of Catholic education – rejected the proposal outright.
The new test proposed would force five-year-olds to repeat a year of pre-school, which might subject the child to more of an educational delay than any language inability. In some cases, remedial Dutch classes would be offered, but not in all cases.
“A sufficient understanding of the language of tuition is crucial in order to begin basic education fruitfully,” the GO said in a statement.
“But where is the pedagogical evidence that shows that the chances of development of the child concerned are at all served by making them wait an extra year?”
“We have serious doubts about the proposal, but I first want to lay out my thoughts for the minister himself,” said Lieven Boeve, director of the Catholic education branch.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for Weyts stressed that the proposal is at an early stage of discussion.
“It still has a long way to go, and has yet to even come to the government table.”