Living in Belgium?
Education in Belgium
The Well-Organized Belgian School System
Preschool education starts at the age of 2½ in Belgium; it is not compulsory, and no formal lessons take place there. However, 98% of Belgian children are enrolled in formal childcare or preschool. Parents can enroll their children at a preschool of their choice, although they are not always guaranteed a place.
Education is compulsory between the ages of six and 18 and it starts with primary school. In fact, you must enroll your children at a school within 60 days of your registration in Belgium. Primary school consists of six years of basic education in reading, writing, and mathematics. Classes are held in the community language; learning a second language begins during the next-to-last year of primary education for most children.
With regards to language classes, an exception is made for students in the Brussels-Capital Region, who start learning the second official language, i.e. French or Dutch, in their third year of primary school. Some primary schools also offer language immersion classes, i.e. certain subjects such as history or geography are taught in a second language.
Secondary education starts at the age of twelve. It is divided into four branches: humanities, technical, artistic, and vocational. Apart from the latter, all these branches prepare students for university. The technical and artistic branches differ from the general humanities branch insofar as they offer students the possibility to specialize earlier on in their academic career. The vocational path in secondary education helps students qualify for a particular occupation.
A Fair but Competitive School Enrollment System
Schools in Belgium don’t have a strict zoning system. While this allows parents and children to choose their school freely, it also means that a school often cannot accept all children from a specific neighborhood. If there are more applications than places, some kids may be rejected. If this is the case, the applicant will be referred to the Enrollment Commission for further assistance.
Due to the decentralized educational system, it is difficult to make general statements on the subject of enrollment. School enrollment periods vary according to language community: in the Francophone regions, it is usually a two-week period in March or April; in the Flemish regions, enrollment is possible all year round, but no earlier than the first day of the preceding academic year. Further information and useful links are available on Portal Belgium.
Documents required in order to enroll your child at a Belgian school include: proof of identity, a residence permit (if applicable), proof that all standard vaccinations have been administered, proof of address, and any previous academic records.
An International Country Means International Schools
In a country hosting so many intergovernmental organizations, there are, of course, plenty of international schools catering to the expat community. Most of them are located in and around Brussels, but Antwerp and Mons are also home to a few international schools. Educational institutions registered with the European Council of International Schools can be found via a search function on the ecis website.
Other private schools are often affiliated with a religion, usually Catholic. If these schools receive public funding, they charge little or no tuition fees, but the state also controls their curriculum. Private schools without state funding obviously have much higher tuition fees. It is advisable to check whether they offer internationally recognized qualifications before you enroll your child.
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