A 2 km-long wall separates Dutch- and French-speaking schools in Brussels
Brussels, February 5th. The Friday Group, a think tank for young people from various backgrounds financed by the King Baudoin Foundation, has deployed a geo-localisation analysis to identify 90 schools in Brussels that are divided by a wall. The school grounds, dining rooms, and corridors are physically divided by walls, fences, or red lines into a section for children who are educated in French, and another section for children who have lessons in Dutch. They estimate that there is a real, but for most people invisible, wall running through Brussels that is more than two kilometres long. About 30,000 children are confronted with these physical barriers on a daily basis. But it’s not only the children that the wall divides into two camps. The regulative guidelines are also not in harmony with each other, and this has an adverse effect on Brussels’ school going children. That’s why the Friday Group has launched a number of concrete recommendations that could improve the situation in the short term. They also call for more radical and structural collaboration between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking education in Brussels.
Tear down this wall
The Friday Group has obtained the geographical addresses of all the schools in the Brussels Capital Region. By means of a geo-localisation analysis, they have been able to identify French-speaking and Dutch-speaking schools that now have different addresses, but were still one and the same school just half a century ago. When they visited these schools, they found that the school grounds, dining rooms, and corridors were physically divided by walls, fences, or red lines. They’ve made a film clip, which can be viewed below.
The Friday Group comments: ‘These walls are a daily reality for about 30,000 children. Almost 10% of adults aged under 45 who went to school in Brussels have been confronted with these community walls, which divide students into two camps and prevent them from experiencing the linguistic diversity in Brussels to the full. We obviously know and appreciate the historical background that has led to segregation in a number of schools, but we’re equally convinced that such practices should be consigned to history. We shouldn’t be erecting walls in Europe, and certainly not in its capital city. It’s precisely the responsibility of our generation to break down the walls that divide communities. Since the onset of devolution, life in Brussels has undergone a radical change, and a major proportion of students in Brussels now come from communities that have nothing to do with our Belgian linguistic cold war. Like Ronald Reagan in Berlin in 1987, Brussels needs a Tear-down-this-wall-moment.’
The report is, however, much more than a pseudo-romantic plea for more solidarity between (school) communities in Brussels. It actually appears from the report that there seems to be an impenetrable wall between the regulative guidelines, which gives rise to absurd situations. The Friday Group comments: ‘If a (Dutch-speaking) school wants to organise its school party together with a French-speaking school in the same street, it loses its subsidies. Anyone who graduates and aggregates in Romance languages from the French-speaking Free University of Brussels (ULB) cannot be appointed to a permanent position in Dutch-speaking education. An aggragated graduate in Germanic Studies from the Dutch-speaking Free University of Brussels (VUB) cannot be appointed to a permanent position in French-speaking education, yet it’s precisely these French-speaking schools that suffer from a shortage of good Dutch teachers.'
Like the Brussels Capital Region, Catalonia has two official languages, Catalan and Castilian. In contrast to the situation in Brussels, however, the Catalan education system ensures that students learn both official languages. The Friday Group comments: ‘The Catalan example shows that it is possible to introduce a bilingual education system in a bilingual region. Following this example, linguistic diversity should not serve as a criterion for separating children from each other, but should create a richness and a common foundation that enables children to become effectively bilingual, irrespective of their community origin, and to thereby improve social life in Brussels. Although the debate about the regionalisation of education in Brussels briefly raised its head once again recently, we realise that such a revolution won’t take place in the near future. However, the regionalisation of education in Brussels is certainly worth debating properly. Furthermore, we’ve also made a number of very specific recommendations in the report, which can be implemented in the short term. In the final analysis, it was realpolitik that triumphed over ideology during the Cold War.'
- Promotion of the joint management of inspections and premises.
- Making it possible to organise joint extracurricular events.
- Encouraging and paying for language teacher exchanges.
- Provision of a training course through which bilingual teachers could work in both communities.
- Introduction of the mother tongue (or a third education language) for some lessons.
- Conversion of the bonus for Dutch-speaking teachers into a subsidy for living in Brussels.
- Obtaining details about school performances in international studies in the Brussels Capital Region.
Brieuc Van Damme, chairman
+32 495 51 33 71