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Too few workers continue their education, says National Bank

11:22 15/03/2018

Very few workers in Belgium follow lessons or get additional training outside of the workplace, according to the National Bank in its annual report. This has a detrimental effect on the economy, it says.

Some 6.8% of working adults take classes outside of work in Belgium. This is half the average figure among the rest of the EU15 countries (first 15 member states). In Sweden, Denmark and Finland, the number is one in four.

According to education expert Ides Nicaise of the University of Leuven, the reason lies within Belgium’s educational system itself, particularly the “waterfall” phenomenon in secondary school. This is when a pupil chooses a track, doesn’t do well right away and gets bumped to another “lower” track.

“When you go through school like that, you are not motivated to ever go back into the education system,” Nicaise told De Standaard. “Secondary education is also much too competitive; passing tests and exams is much more emphasised than the joy of learning. So when graduates start working, they never consider going back to study.”

The National Bank is concerned about the situation, calling adult education “an essential component” of a healthy labour market. Continued education helps prevent burnouts or “boreouts” and also motivates employees to work with employers on innovations.

It’s a “waste of human capital if workers opt for an early retirement because they cannot keep up with the latest developments in their sector,” says Nicaise. He says that the solution is to allow secondary school pupils to wait to choose their track until they are 16 so as to “eradicate that demotivating waterfall system”.

Stijn Baert, professor of economics at Ghent University has another suggestion: “Reward workers when they follow trainings. Salaries in Belgium are usually based on seniority. In other countries, they tend to look more at continuing education and productivity.”

Written by Flanders Today