Equal opportunities in education in Brussels, a fight far from won

Equal opportunities in education in Brussels, a fight far from won
Equal opportunities in education in Brussels, a fight far from won

A column “I assume” by Hajar Oulad Ben Taib, historian (UCLouvain Saint-Louis Brussels), former teacher

At the age of 20, freshly graduated and driven by strong ideals, I began my teaching career in a school classified as positive discrimination (D +). At the time, it was explained to me that this classification meant that the school received additional resources to offer appropriate support to students considered more “fragile”. In theory, this system seemed beneficial. However, as I continued my studies at university with a view to obtaining the Agrégation in history and as I began observation internships in other schools, I became aware of a much greater disparity between Brussels establishments.

Our Belgian education systems have long been marked by profound social inequalities. From the reputation of schools described as “ghettos” to those touting excellence, the quality of education varies considerably. Some schools seriously prepare their students for high aspirations, while others encourage more “realistic” dreams. I remember a student who confided to me her desire to become a doctor, while keeping this project secret for fear of being ridiculed. These realities show that disparities go beyond financial resources.

The result of the June 9 elections is already known

Inequalities within Belgian education even seem to be increasing, favoring “between ourselves” where students from well-off backgrounds do not attend the same establishments as those from poorer families. It is therefore not surprising that recent international studies, such as PISA, point to our education system as one of the most unequal. Thus, schools tend to group students according to their socio-economic origin, making academic success dependent on this status. School is not just about the transmission of knowledge, but plays a crucial role in society. As an educational institution and social actor, it should promote social mobility instead of reinforcing inequalities.

Social segregation within establishments, by limiting the professional opportunities and personal development of the most disadvantaged, also affects the motivation of teachers. The latter can, especially at the start of their career, feel disillusioned by the colossal challenges that await them. The shortage of teachers is already a major challenge for our Brussels institutions, further exacerbated by these environmental disparities.

Let’s stop hiding from PFAS

However, I believe in the possibility of promoting diversity and inclusion, reducing socio-economic gaps between schools and encouraging the mixing of students from different backgrounds. Numerous studies have proposed ways to break this cycle of inequalities, in particular by reducing class sizes, by initially regulating the assignment of students to establishments and by raising teachers’ awareness of more inclusive teaching practices. But beyond concrete measures, it is a collective change of mentality that must take place, a common desire to make education the lever of a more egalitarian society.

”I assume!”, the Tuesday lunchtime meeting

With “I assume!”, The Free offers a new opinion meeting every Tuesday noon on its site. Six columnists, coming from different and complementary horizons of thought, offer their arguments week after week on controversial and social questions.

Everyone speaks in a personal capacity. Their ambition is to invigorate an impertinent but quality debate alongside the major interviews, opinions, columns and carte blanche that The Free publishes daily. As with all opinions, the content of the texts is that of the authors and does not belong to the editorial staff of the journal.

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