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Test Dutch skills in nursery school, says education minister

20:01 07/11/2019

Dutch-language testing should begin in nursery school, according to Ben Weyts, the new education minister in the government of Flanders. This will enable teachers to catch children whose Dutch skills are not up to the mark before they go on to primary school.

“Dutch is the key to acquiring knowledge,” Weyts said in a radio interview on Monday. “It’s the course that makes all other courses possible.”

His idea is that children should be screened for language skills in the last year of nursery school, when they are five to six years old. Starting in 2020, this year will become the first year of compulsory schooling in Flanders. But the screening would probably take longer to introduce.

The test would be standardised across Dutch-language education in Flanders and Brussels. Children judged to have a language deficiency would then get extra support such as tailored language classes. The worst-performing pupils could receive a full year of Dutch immersion school, said Weyts, before heading on to primary.

This is in the child’s interest, he continued. “Everyone always talks about equal opportunities. A child who does not know enough Dutch does not have equal opportunities.”

The Go! education network welcomed the idea of testing, but not the remedial measures proposed by the minister. “We don’t think separate language immersion classes or a language immersion year are a good idea,” spokesperson Nathalie Jennes told Bruzz. “We prefer an inclusive approach, where all class activities involve language immersion.”

To this end, Go! would support lowering the age of compulsory schooling to three. “Then an immersion class would no longer be needed.”

Fauve De Backer, a researcher at Ghent University who specialises in multilingual education, also had concerns. “Testing very young pupils at a single moment produces unreliable results,” she told VTM.

Meanwhile, separating out pupils for immersion classes can be counterproductive, she said, since they learn just as much from interacting with children who speak Dutch well.

Photo: Education minister Ben Weyts visted a pre-school in Flanders this week
(c)Courtesy VRT

Written by Flanders Today