“Every student is entitled to the same opportunities”
Interview about education to Ward Milissen
Ward Milissen is a student at the Association Of University College PXL and University Hasselt. Since 2013 he is a member of the Student Council and internal auditor. Last year, he was the president of this Student Council. He has also been a member of the “big” Council who takes care of debating important issues and taking decisions in the university. So he is quite a busy man.
In this interview he has responded to several questions regarding Belgian Education. Here is a review of what Ward thinks about it.
First of all, it is necessary to start off by saying that Belgian education is divided by the three official languages, Dutch, French and German. These languages establish at the same time communities, and each one of them decides separetely from the rest how to organize.
The Flemish education is a task of the government, who takes care of the global aspects in the Flemish area. An important matter that has been discussed is languages. According to Ward, the general language level in Flemish schools is going down, especially in the last few years. However, it is not simple for universities to keep the level up. To understand this better, he gives us an example of what happens in his studies: as he studies a bachelor of Belgian Law, English becomes a struggle since it is a very specific science and the vocabulary is quite difficult. It becomes almost impossible to teach law in English. However, some measures are starting to be developed, so more degrees can have “an English version”
With regard of how well prepared he thinks students are after college, he thinks that they do have a certain level of English, but does not believe they are prepared for international environments since it is not enough.
From this point, we start with the second part of the interview. We asked Ward what are his biggest concerns and he replied that Belgian schools have a big problem with students coming from other countries.
There is a big problem with Dutch. A lot of people come from other countries seeking for a better life and also a better education. The big issue is that these people normally do not speak the language, and are not well prepared to be in the same class together with Belgians. Ward believes this needs to change. “Not everybody is equal, everyone has different talents and it is not an effective measure to put everyone together ignoring personal circumstances. Kids and also teenagers that are doing well in class and getting good grades are experiencing a decline in their performance because standards are getting lower and lower. Teachers do not have the time or the capacity to treat every student the way they need and can not teach well enough. Furthermore, there are also cultural and religious aspects that make it even harder.”
“If you do not speak the language, it is impossible to function in a community. How are you going to ask for indications for the town hall? Or buy tickets to the train station?” Ward thinks integration is necessary and it is a big matter in education.
Moving on to the next subject, Ward also gave his opinion about PISA, The Programme for International Student Assessment. It is a worldwide study in member and non-member nations of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading.
Ward thinks this test should be obligatory for students to take it and schools should adapt to the results and needs of the students. The goverment should also offer aid to those schools with worse results in order to stimulate the students. He feels that in Belgium, this test is nonsense because the average results do not reflect reality, as the Flemish get better results than the rest of Belgium.
The last matter that has been discussed in the interview is educational reforms.
He is skeptical about these reforms because he looks back to his high school stage and feels like there haven’t been good changes. People in charge are coming up with new things that are not useful. “Not every change is good. Now they focus more in skills and forget about the theory. Teachers are evaluating according to this system, which is not effective.” He believes that in order be successful, both parts should be taken seriously.
The reforms in Belgium should take more into account teachers and listen to them since they are the professionals in the area. “They are not familiar with the actual situation in schools and dont listen to the people working in the field.”
It has been certainly a good experience to talk to Ward. In my opinion, Belgian education is doing well in comparison with other European countries. However, there is still work to be done, especially nowadays with all the incoming students from other countries. Everyone has the right to receive the same opportunities and treatments and it is a goverments duty to fulfill their educational needs.