Of the total population of 10.2 million, 2.4 million are 19 years or younger, roughly evenly divided by sex. The school population was 2,254,000 in the year 2000, with 399,000 children enrolled in preschool, 778,000 in primary school, 779,000 in secondary school, and 298,000 in higher education, of whom 128,000 were in universities and 170,000 in non-university institutions. The rapid aging of the Belgian population is evident in the numbers of school age children. In only five years, compared with the 1995-1996 school year, enrollments have declined from 428,000 to 399,000 in preschool, although higher education enrollments are still rising somewhat. In the following two decades, the pupil-teacher ratio will likely decrease in primary and secondary schools.
The education system is divided in four general parts: preschool education for ages 21/2 to 6, primary education for ages 6 to 12, secondary education for ages 12 to 18, and tertiary education in both university and nonuniversity format averaging four years. The general school year starts in September for preprimary through secondary education and in the second week of October at universities. School holidays and vacations include Christmas and Easter vacations, several single-day holidays, such as Armistice and Labor Days (November 11 and May 1, respectively), and summer vacation starting on July 1.
Owing originally to Article 17 of the Constitution of 1831 (which was retained as Article 24 in the new constitution), Belgium has more private than public schools, and almost all private schools are government subsidized. Federalization of education in 1989 gave the communities authority to organize education with federally provided financial resources and gave them very few areas of decision-making under federal control. The federal government determines the length of compulsory education, the minimum requirements for obtaining diplomas, and pensions and other benefits of teachers. Although at the community level the education authorities can set their own time tables, curriculum, and teaching methods, education has remained fairly comparable across the three communities. Belgian educators are well aware of the need to retain high standards in education, and to maintain its strong position among the world's 15 main trading nations.
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