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Belgium considers compulsory schooling from three years old

09:51 02/06/2023

Belgium's upper house of parliament, the Senate, has approved a draft resolution asking the federal government to lower the compulsory school age from five years to three.

Only the far-right Vlaams Belaang (VB) and the Flemish centrist party CD&V voted against, while the ecologists Ecolo/Groen abstained.

The Mouvement Réformateur (MR) party, which wrote the text, said this proposal reflects the results of scientific literature that unanimously supports attendance at school from a very young age.

“Studies show that children will then find reading, writing and understanding mathematics easier,” said senator Philippe Dodrimont.

Previously fixed at six years, the age of compulsory education was decreased to five in 2019.

For the MR’s Gaëtan Van Goidsenhoven, lowering the age further “would make it possible to provide a common framework, and offer everyone the same chances of succeeding in school. Between three and six years old, the child develops essential skills to use in primary school.”

In Belgium, a very high proportion of children already attend school from three years old, with 93% doing so in Wallonia and Brussels.

The resolution received strong support from the French-speaking side of the house. The Socialists (PS) said it fitted the “Pact for an education of excellence”, launched by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation in 2015.

Socialist MP Fatima Ahallouch said, however, that while lowering the school age was important, “we must work in parallel on the conditions for success of this measure, notably a guarantee that every child will have a place in a school near their home”.

The green parties added that while the idea of making school compulsory from three years old was good in principle, they worried about the possible sanctions families might receive for not respecting the new rule and called for a more thorough study to assess the opportunities of the measure.

The Flemish parties were far less keen. The CD&V argued that instead of lowering the age of compulsory education, the government should invest more in the quality of pre-primary education.

Written by Liz Newmark