Back to school: Dutch only in classrooms and playgrounds, says minister

Flemish Education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) has called for schools to ban the use of languages other than Dutch, De Standaard reports on Wednesday. He also wants to introduce minimum requirements for Dutch for children in the third year of kindergarten.

Just before the start of the new school year, Weyts announced that he wanted pupils to "only speak Dutch in class and in the playground. We need to send out a clear message that Dutch is the language of instruction at school," he said. He said he was aware that this would not be easy to monitor or enforce, "but as more and more other home languages come into school, Dutch is the language of choice".

Language of instruction

In a new circular, Weyts states that Dutch must be the language of instruction, in the playground, in contact with parents and in extracurricular activities. He wants to sign a charter with the school associations to this effect. Together with schools, associations have been giving more attention to other languages in recent years, based on the idea that ignoring a pupil's native language prevents them from learning more.

Koen Pelleriaux, top manager of the Flemish public institution for community education GO!, is not keen on forcing pupils to speak Dutch in the playground. According to him, this would also take away part of the pupils' identity. Lieven Boeve, director of Catholic education in Flanders, says that schools are free to choose their strategy. According to him, it is up to the schools to draw the line.

Action plan

Weyts's proposals are part of a broader Dutch action plan to spend 20 million euros a year on improving the Dutch skills of children whose first language is not Dutch. Primary and secondary schools where more than half of the pupils have another mother tongue will receive an extra 250 euros per pupil. In total, 80,000 children will receive additional support.

Earlier this year, the Flemish government's language screening test showed that children in the third year of kindergarten in large cities spoke Dutch less fluently than toddlers in the rest of Flanders. In schools with many children with a different native language, pupils scored lower in Dutch than in other schools. Fourteen per cent of pre-school children needed additional language support, and 4 per cent needed intensive support.



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