Toddlers in big Flemish cities speak Dutch less fluently

Children in the third kindergarten class in big cities speak Dutch less fluently than toddlers in the rest of Flanders. This emerges from the Flemish government's second Language Screening, several media reported on Tuesday.

The Language Screening or KOALA test is taken annually among five-year-old preschoolers in the third kindergarten class. The test consists of seven activities or tasks. These tasks, partly individual and partly group-based, start from a classroom situation recognisable to preschoolers, such as a story, a craft activity or gymnastics, and should assess whether they understand what is expected of them.

The most recent results show that 14 per cent of preschoolers need extra language support, and 4 per cent need intensive guidance. These results are similar to the first screening last year when 15 per cent of preschoolers had a language delay for Dutch.

Regional differences

The significant regional differences are striking. For instance, big-city school children score below the Flemish average. In Antwerp, 29 per cent need extra guidance. In Ghent, it concerns 23 per cent of pupils and in the Brussels Capital Region 25 per cent.

In schools with many children with a different home language, pupils score lower on Dutch language skills than in other schools. As a result, the percentage needing intensive support there rose from 7 to 8 per cent compared to last year. Overall, 25 per cent of preschoolers at those schools need extra language support. That is slightly less than last year when that group comprised 28 per cent of preschoolers at those schools.

"If one in four pre-schoolers does not understand enough Dutch, it is detrimental for all children in that class"

For education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA), extra measures are essential in cities or regions where pupils score below the Flemish average: "If one in four pre-schoolers does not understand enough Dutch, it is detrimental for all children in that class. Therefore, we need to take additional measures, such as stricter commitments from parents to introduce their children to Dutch after school."

The minister wants to put more effort into parental involvement. "On the one hand, we can try to encourage parents. On the other hand, however, we should also think about repressive measures. We must consider ways to intervene when parents are blatantly avoiding their parental responsibility, for example, by intervening in the growth package or government premiums."

No repressive measures

Weyts' colleague Benjamin Dalle, Flemish Youth minister, is not enthusiastic about his proposal. "We need to encourage parents and children to learn Dutch, for example, by lowering thresholds to leisure activities," Dalle responded on Tuesday. "Those who impose punishments will reduce rather than increase children's opportunities. This is not in the interest of the child."

Opposition party Groen is also not in favour of repressive measures. "Every child in this country has a right to child allowance. The minister should not start making up his conditions for that," says Green co-chairwoman Nadia Naji. According to Naji, the minister is shirking his responsibility and shifting the consequences to the parents. "Instead of providing the necessary support for children who need extra support, the minister is now looking for a stick to beat the parents. Outrageous."





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