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There are three different national education systems in Belgium. The French, Flemish and German regions each have their own government-run education system which corresponds with the regional language.
Education in Belgium begins in pre-primary school at age two-and-a-half but is only compulsory from five to 18 years of age.
If only staying in Belgium for a short-term assignment, most expats send their children to a local public school or an international school offering English as a language of instruction.
Public schools in Belgium
Public schools in Belgium offer expat families an excellent opportunity to learn the regional language and culture by immersion. Extra costs associated with school supplies and school outings are kept to a minimum in public schools.
The Belgian secondary education system is highly regarded. In their second year, students choose particular course options, which can be general, technical, artistic or professional in nature.
Private schools in Belgium
Expats will also have the option of sending their children to private schools in Belgium. The teaching philosophies vary within and between all these institutions. Many private schools are religious institutions, and most offer a curriculum that differs from the regional government curriculum, such as the Montessori and Waldorf curricula.
International schools in Belgium
The main allure of international schools in Belgium is that an expat family will most likely find others who speak their home language. This commonality makes the transition to a new country that much easier for the whole family. It also allows students to continue with a familiar curriculum, assuming there is an international school that teaches it.
These schools can also administer non-Belgian exams such as the SATs and International Baccalaureate. Students are also likely to find a wider range of extra-curricular activities than what is offered in traditional Belgian public schools.
Homeschooling in Belgium
Homeschooling in Belgium is another option for expats. Before making this commitment, however, the expat family needs to be aware that the Belgian government has put strict guidelines and inspections in place. Parents who do not comply with these standards can be sanctioned. Proper procedures must be taken to ensure compliance with local laws.
Special-needs education in Belgium
Special-needs education in Belgium focuses on inclusion and equality. The government is committed to ensuring each child exercises their right to education. Each language community has a respective Ministry of Education.
The ministry will first attempt to immerse a child into a mainstream school. If this is not possible or suitable, children would then be enrolled in a specialist school. There are various categories of specialist schools in Belgium. Some schools are focused on physical disabilities and others will focus on learning or behavioural difficulties.
Tutors in Belgium
Whether parents are looking to improve their child's language skills, boost their grades in a problem subject or get assistance in preparing for a big exam, expat families can make good use of the many high-quality tutors around Belgium. There are numerous large and small companies, as well as independent tutors, who can be hired to help. It can be particularly useful to ask fellow expats and the child's school for recommendations.
►For a list of international schools, see International Schools in Brussels
►Cost of Living in Belgium gives advice for balancing the budget to afford international schooling
"School starts early for Belgian kids – a potty-trained three-year-old can expect to go on a daily basis. There is a huge choice in styles too – a school focusing on the medium of music for its classes, Jewish schools (there is a very large Orthodox community), American schools, Steiner schools, Forest schools…" Read more of Nina's Expat Arrivals interview.
Are you an expat living in Belgium?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Belgium. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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