Following independence in 1830, provision of education in Belgium has gone through several phases. Nearly a century and a half of cultural and language strife has ended with constitutional reform and the formation of a federal state. The concomitant introduction of reforms in education have progressively decentralized decision making from the federal government and towards the communities. Throughout the reform, Belgium has maintained the spirit of Article 17 of the Constitution of 1930, now Article 24 of the new Constitution, which guarantees that parents can choose the type of school (secular or denominational) they wish their children to attend, and that education will be financed by government funding. Compulsory education has progressively been extended to 18 years of age, with students given the option of going to school part time after their fifteenth birthday. Traditional secondary education, modeled on the French system and basically providing a transition to universities, has been reformed into Type I (modern) and Type II (traditional) education, greatly increasing curricular specialties ranging from general to vocational and artistic education, and providing opportunity to students to change direction after the observation stage and even between Type I and Type II education. However, completion rates are still only around 65 percent, leaving many young people without a secondary education diploma.
In universities and other institutions of higher learning, curricula and study cycles are becoming increasingly comparable across institutions and across national boundaries. Belgian students show significant participation in the programs organized by the European Commission; the pluralist cultural background and extensive language skills acquired in diverse Belgium helps them succeed in such programs. Belgium must continue to meet the challenge of providing high quality education to its people, as they are the primary resource for a nation of this small size. Despite the fact that education is organized by many different authorities, quality has remained high, and the required courses in the different communities are not diverging drastically over time.
The future holds a number of challenges. Financing a pluralist education system as diverse as that of Belgium leads to high costs per pupil. Although the population is aging, it does not mean that education costs are predicted to decline in the future, since adult life long education is becoming more important and the demands of technology and multimedia education drive up costs. Teachers requiring in-service training also contribute to cost increases. Belgium must continue to facilitate the recognition of diplomas and credentials across its own internal community borders as well as vis-à-vis present and prospective members of the European Union.
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—Brigitte H. Bechtold
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