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A guide to alternative education in Belgium
Choosing a school in Belgium is an important step in setting up a life here for your family, whether it’s for one year or for twenty. But it is especially important for children and adolescents who require extra support or alternative approaches than the conventional school system.
There are several options for non-conventional education that welcome students with different learning styles and needs, but you need to know what is available. Some are entirely private, others subsided. Some follow a single educational method, others compile approaches from a broad spectrum and apply them individually to the child. Here is a look at some of the options for alternative education available in Belgium.
Montessori education is one of the oldest and most widespread forms of alternative education in Belgium. These are private schools whose curricula focus on self-directed, independent learning and the development skills that go beyond the focus on logical and mathematical intelligence in conventional schools, including decision-making, creativity, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence and linguistic abilities.
Developed at the end of the 19th century by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori, these schools can be found all over the global including several in Brussels. Most provide bilingual English-French education. Many, such as the Montessori House Brussels on Avenue de Tevuren and the Montessori Children's House in Uccle, only teach early primary school for children from 2.5 to six years of age. Others, like the European Montessori School, welcome children from 15 months to 13 years old.
There is little in the way of Montessori education for secondary school, as it was not part of Dr Montessori’s original design. However, the International Montessori School in Tervuren transitions students from Montessori education into an International Baccalaureate programme from ages 11 to 18.
Like Montessori, Steiner schools, also called Waldorf education, are part of an international network of schools based on the educational approach and theory of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
Steiner theory takes a humanistic approach to education, holistically blending intellectual, practical and artistic development and underscoring the role of imagination in learning. Early primary school focuses on hands-on activities and creative play, while later primary develops artistic expression and interpersonal abilities. Secondary education then hones in on developing critical reasoning and empathic understanding.
There are some two dozen Steiner kindergartens and elementary schools in Belgium, both Flemish and French-speaking. Brussels Steiner School is a Flemish-speaking school in Anderlecht.
Other alternative schools
Beyond Montessori and Steiner schools, there are a number of other schools throughout the country that adopt certain methods or approaches to education that are seen as outside of conventional schooling. In Ghent, the Sudbury School is a Dutch-speaking school for children ages four to 18 that uses the Sudbury model coming out of the US. In this approach, students take responsibility for their own education and the school is run by direct democracy with staff and students set as equals.
In Laeken another so-called “method school” is the Freinet School, which is subsidised by the Flemish government and teaches from the perspective of the child learner.
Likewise, one of the oldest alternative schools is De Weide (“the meadow”) in Erpe, East Flanders, which has existed since 1973. This Dutch-speaking experiemental nursery and primary school focuses on dialogue between children, parents and teachers to define the rules and terms of education.
Then there are schools like Ecole du Bois Sauvage in Ixelles and Le Labo in Schaerbeek, both French-speaking, which are specialised in supporting supports who require alternative learning structures to prepare for and pass their high school diploma assessments and university entry examinations. Le Labo, in particular, focuses on student athletes who want to develop in their sport while completing their required education.
A last option is homeschooling. While education is compulsory in Belgium from ages six to 17, the Belgian Constitution offers parents “free choice” as to how their children are educated. Therefore, you can choose to teach your children yourself. Homeschooled curricula must meet certain requirements and standards of the French, Flemish or German-speaking community, based on where you live. This is assessed through yearly evaluations based on exams that children must pass in order to meet their compulsory education requirement.
Parents must also sign a document promising to respect rights outlined in the UN Convention on Children’s Rights, a requirement which has upset some parents in the past.
Find full details of alternative schools in the Bulletin Newcomer magazine. An education guide is published each year in the spring issue