IV Concrete recommendations of the Friday Group for breaking down the walls within our schools
Fundamentally overhauling the linguistic identity of education in Brussels along the lines of the Catalan system is a long-term project that would demand to get rid of a number of taboos from the past. That is why the Friday Group is recommending a gradual approach that would remove the taboos little by little and deconstruct the linguistic walls within Brussels schools.
Make some holes in the walls
This first level aims to encourage dialogue between the two sides of the walls and the sharing of certain practices. These recommendations are inspired by practices already followed in some schools. Practically speaking, making holes in the walls could take the following forms:
Recommendation I.1 • Encourage joint pupil supervision and management of premises: Some schools introduced the physical separation of pupils essentially for practical (acccounting and administrative) reasons. For example, in some schools the pupils have separate toilets to make cleaning and maintenance budgets easier to manage. In other schools, joint supervision of break times and joint study sessions are not possible for administrative reasons.
Recommendation I.2 • Allow the organisation of joint extracurricular events: These days very few schools take the step of organising joint events between the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking sections on a single school site. However, this has not always been the case. Although some neighbouring schools, even recently, have organised joint school celebrations and other social events, unfortunately they are only isolated cases. So that a sense of community can be reinstated and people can spend a bit of time meeting their neighbours, it would be worth listing the administrative obstacles to this so that they can be overcome.
Recommendation I.3 • Encourage and reward language teacher exchanges: The presence alongside one another of French-speaking and Dutch-speaking teachers is an asset for pupils in Europe's capital. Unfortunately schools do not work together, though they could. If the legal and administrative framework were to change, Belgium could grant pupils the benefit of being taught their second language by a native speaker. In other words, this measure would enable pupils being taught in French to study Dutch with Dutch-speaking teachers, and conversely, pupils being taught in Dutch could be given French lessons by French-speaking teachers. Schools conducting these exchanges should be given special support by the two communities.
Recommendation I.4 • Turn the bonus for Dutch-speaking teachers into support for accommodation in Brussels: The Flemish government currently pays a bonus to Flemish teachers teaching in Flemish schools in the Brussels region. If this system achieves its objectives, in particular that of safeguarding levels of Dutch-speaking education in Brussels, we believe it would be appropriate to transfer the budget to provide relocation assistance for Flemish teachers coming to live in Brussels. Providing a subsidy for relocation rather than daily travel would foster a stronger sense of identity with Brussels among those teachers, i.e. a better knowledge of the realities of the capital. It should also encourage contact with teachers from other schools, and thus stimulate collaboration.
Recommendation I.5 • Obtain specific data for the Brussels-Capital Region in international surveys of educational performance:At present, major international surveys (e.g. the OECD's PISA study) do not produce specific indicators for Brussels. The data are published for the level at which education is organised, i.e. the communities. Obtaining these data for Brussels would provide a clearer understanding of the challenges of the regional educational system.
Build bridges across the walls
The second level aims to improve versatility in the use of languages within Brussels schools and thus enable bridges to be built across the divide between French-speaking and Dutch-speaking pupils. This could be achieved partly by encouraging the use and learning of the language of the other community but also by introducing a third language into education to acknowledge that the linguistic landscape of Brussels in 2015 has long since left behind the traditional division between French-speakers and Dutch-speakers:
Recommendation II.1 • Introduce pupils' mother tongue (or a third teaching language) for some lessons: The linguistic reality of Brussels in 2015 has moved far beyond the debate between Dutch and French. An increasing proportion of pupils (now nearly 30%) do not have either French or Dutch as their mother tongue. Introducing a third teaching language such as English or Arabic for some subjects could weaken the French and Dutch dualism in schools. In addition, it would better reflect the multicultural identity of young people in Brussels in the 21st century and could reduce educational underachievement in certain subjects (e.g. mathematics and science), where this is not due to a pupil's specific lack of ability but to difficulty understanding the teaching language.
Recommendation II.2 • Offer training that enables bilingual teachers to work in both communities: A region that claims to be bilingual, like Brussels-Capital, should be able to offer training for bilingual would-be teachers and award them teaching qualifications allowing them to teach in both linguistic communities. At present, no such training exists and our teachers, even if they are bilingual, are restricted to teaching in one or other of the linguistic communities.