II How did we get here?

The current structure of the education system organi- sed by Belgium's communities (Gemeenschappen in Dutch, Communautés in French) and the resulting phy- sical segregation of Brussels schools is the outcome of a long process of devolution of the powers of central government in Belgium.

Historiquement, la francisation des masses populaires bruxelloises tout au long du 19ème siècle et dans la première partie du 20ème siècle, par le biais, entre autres, de l’enseignement, a soulevé une inquiétude réelle auprès de la population flamande de perdre son identité linguistique et culturelle. Un enseignement néerlandophone a dès lors progressivement émergé à Bruxelles, souvent au sein d’institutions déjà existantes. Cette dualisation linguistique de nombreuses écoles a renforcé le sentiment d’une appartenance communautaire distincte, parfois réelle, parfois ténue à Bruxelles.

Education in Dutch gradually emerged in Brussels from then on, often within existing schools. This linguistic dualisation of many schools has intensified the feeling – sometimes real, sometimes less definite – of belon- ging to a separate community in Brussels. The back- ground of the federalisation of the Belgian institutions and the handover of responsibility for education to the communities has divided schools in the Brussels region definitively according to their linguistic identity. That has led to physical barriers being put up in many schools where infrastructure had previously been com- munal/local. There were few protests at the time since this separation reflected the prevailing community-ba- sed policy approach. A romantic vision of pupils railing against the separation would be completely wrong. In other words, the policy of division, which is still appa- rent today in the physical barriers in some Brussels schools, was in part a response to a significant sociolo- gical reality at the time. In the meantime, the sociology of Brussels has drastically changed since the communi- ty-based approach was introduced.

Significant numbers of pupils at Brussels schools come from new communities outside this Belgian 'Cold War'.

Mother tongue
Mother tongue of the population of Brussels
Source : http://www.marnixplan.org (VUB – Taalbarometer)

Within a single neighbourhood, communities that sometimes have much in common in terms of linguis- tic community identity find themselves on opposite sides. In other words, those pupils, living in the same neighbourhood could be either in the French-speaking or in the Dutch-speaking section of the same school. The choice of type of education these days is often more related to parents' educational concerns than it has to do with their identity as Dutch or French-spea- king. Reproducing Belgium's community divisions in the current reality of Brussels now seems to many to be completely outdated. Applying an outdated approach to a modern situation is not recommended. So let's change it!

III breaking down the walls:
the Friday Group's vision for turning
multilingualism into one of Brussels' strengths

At a time when Brussels is seeking to strengthen its position as the central crossroads of a multicultural Europe, it is quite clear to the Friday Group that its model of education based on linguistic differentiation has to change. Dividing pupils according to the educati- on system they are in, belongs to the past. Education in Brussels needs to be reinvented to reflect in its essence the region's "multilinguism".

There are various international experiences that could be studied and adapted to the situation in Brussels. Of these, the Catalan system stands out as a potential inspiring model. Like the Brussels-Capital region, Cata- lonia has two official languages, Catalan and Spanish. However, unlike Brussels which has two single-langua- ge education systems run by the communities (a French-speaking system and a Dutch-speaking system), the Catalan education system guarantees that pupils learn both official languages:

"The presence of Catalan and Spanish must be guaran- teed within curricula so that all children, regardless of their usual language when they start school, are able to use both official languages fluently and correctly by the end of their compulsory education[i]". The law also states that, to achieve this objective[ii], "pupils must not be put into separate schools or sub-groups accor- ding to their usual language[iii]".

The case of Catalonia demonstrates that it is possible to define a bilingual education system in a bilingual region where linguistic diversity is not used as a criteri- on for setting up divisions between pupils but is viewed as an asset and a common basis for enabling all children, regardless of their community of origin, to achieve effective bilingualism and thus improve the sense of community in Brussels.