Secondary education in Belgium covers a six-year period, divided in three cycles of two years each, named the observation, orientation, and determination cycles. While a number of subjects are compulsory, students must make curricular choices beginning in the first year of study, ultimately leading to a variety of specializations that generally combine two lines of study. Compulsory subjects for students of ages 13 and 16, at the end of the observation and orientation cycles, generally include mathematics, natural sciences, human sciences, foreign languages, mother tongue, physical education, and artistic activities. The scheduling of compulsory subjects is identical in the French and German communities. While secondary schools in the Flemish community also require the same number of overall hours per year (849 at age 13 and 850 at age 16), they differ from secondary schools in the French and German communities by requiring fewer hours of instruction in the mother tongue, in physical education, and in the natural and human sciences, while requiring more hours in artistic activities, optional compulsory subjects, and other subjects.
A 1971 law drastically reformed the structure of secondary education that had been established during the school wars of the 1950s. It set up a Type I education track that paralleled the traditional education—called Type II—which provided students with very little curricular choice once they had entered lower secondary education in a particular subject area. The traditional education track was heavily influenced by classical languages (Greek and Latin), which could be pursued in their own right or in combination with sciences and mathematics. Type I is a modern education track, divided in three cycles of two years each (observation, orientation, and determination cycles), with a choice of orientation at the end of the first cycle. Although the allocation of school resources varies according to type of education, a single school may offer different orientations or streams. Type I coexists with Type II, and has become more common since its introduction. Of the 18 specialties that can be selected by pupils, eight are combinations with mathematics, six require Latin, and four require Greek. However, modern fields of study have been introduced, such as combinations involving physical education (tracks 7 and 8), economics (tracks 9, 16, and 17), modern languages (tracks 14, 15, 16, and 17), and tourism. Since the number of options and streams available to students has greatly increased with Type I education, so have public expenditures on education. Availability of the two types of secondary education has helped equalize opportunities for pupils from different cultural backgrounds and social classes, an important goal of education reform.
In lower secondary education, students follow a fairly common curriculum during the observation cycle, and then make a choice between general education leading to a university track, vocational education, technical, or artistic education. The option to transfer from one type of education to the other is used more frequently by students wishing to move from general to vocational education. Students in the vocational stream receive the same certificate as those in other streams, although they sometimes have to spend more than six years to obtain the secondary education certificate.
Students can obtain a general lower secondary education certificate after three years, a general upper secondary education diploma after six years in the general, technical, or artistic education streams, and after seven years in vocational education. There are no common examinations and inspectors are utilized to validate adherence to educational standards. The completion rate for the secondary education certificate is 65 percent and approximately one in three adolescents leave compulsory education without having obtained any qualifying certificate at the age of 18.
Education & Technology: Education authorities have begun to promote the inclusion of information and communication technology (ICT) in schools, especially within a national five-year initiative started in 1997-1998. Efforts are not equally aggressive at all levels of education, however. The French and Flemish communities have incorporated ICT in the primary education curriculum since 1997, but with a somewhat different perspective. In the French community, a 1997 decree on missions of the school system stipulated that ICT would be mainstreamed into education using skills platforms, which were introduced in 1999. The most common emphasis by the various education authorities in the French community is to promote ICT as a learning tool. Financing has focused on purchases of equipment, training by pupils and teachers, and use of the Internet. Computer hardware was distributed to all primary and secondary schools over a period of three years. Programming skills do not constitute a curricular objective at the primary level. In the Flemish community, the initiative focuses on acquisition and distribution of software by the Ministry of Education. The ministry also provides the planning framework and time schedule for introduction of ICT, and all pupils are expected to be proficient in the use of ICT and in data processing by the end of primary school.
The German community emphasizes introduction of ICT beginning at the lower secondary level and continuing through the upper level, giving attention to all areas except for computer programming. One hundred hours of compulsory instruction in ICT is incorporated in the curriculum of secondary schools in this community. In both the French and the German community, ICT subject competency must be demonstrated for students to progress to the next year. At the upper secondary level, the Flemish community is the only one of the three that has not yet included ICT in the curriculum, although it is in the process of formulating requirements that students should master by the end of the sixth year. In the German community, ICT is an optional subject at this level of study.
In the French and Flemish communities, basic ICT competency training is a compulsory component of the initial training of general class teachers and for those specialized in certain subjects such as mathematics. In the German community, in-service training is relied upon to achieve teacher ITC competency.
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