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The Belgian school enters “code red”

Loss of skills and learning: several studies show that confinement can be detrimental to children’s education

Max HELLEFF

Loss of skills and learning: several studies show that confinement can be detrimental to children’s education

From our correspondent Max HELLEFF (Brussels) – The start of the school year on Monday is seen as the start of a risky period by the Belgian authorities and by the educational world as a whole. Everyone is worried that the return of the children to school after two weeks of leave exceptionally granted for All Saints’ Day could revive the pandemic. The first positive results of the containment could be lost, as the number of contaminations and hospitalizations drops.

On paper, kindergarten, primary and secondary students make their re-entry in “code red”. Wearing a mask is compulsory for staff and for children over 12 years old, classes must be ventilated, outdoor sports are encouraged. A different course from the last measures announced, on the Grand Duchy side, by the Minister of Education.

In Belgium, the French-speaking Minister of Education, the socialist Caroline Désir, is staying the course. All primary and secondary school children return, she recalls, with the exception of those over 14 who will alternate face-to-face and distance education so as to reduce contact. “We need a certain presence at school to keep the link (…) to re-fuel the educational relationship between students and their teachers.”, Explains the Minister while specifying that schools are free to organize themselves as they wish in the imposed framework.

This argument was quickly seized by Courcelles where the wearing of a compulsory mask is imposed on all schoolchildren from the age of six. The measure raises the question of whether the authorities of this Hennuyère commune are fueling psychosis. Or if, on the contrary, their approach is not the most responsible thing in the face of a potential resurgence of the pandemic.

These are the contours of a true mantra: school must remain open. Politicians, pediatricians and psychologists repeat that it is necessary for the development and socialization of the child.

Several university studies add to this conviction the risk of losing or not acquiring knowledge and learning. They objectify the “damage” of the first confinement, when schools were kept closed last spring.

“The disparities between students have widened. The lockdown obviously didn’t help those who were already struggling. The family environment also seems to have played a role, explains in the columns of the Evening psychologist Karin Verlinden. In children from privileged backgrounds, the damage is limited and the material has been recovered. On the other hand, teachers had more difficulty maintaining the link with vulnerable families. ”

The French-speaking Ministry of Education objects that it has released 17 million euros for personalized support for children who need it most. But this remains insufficient for professionals in the sector.

According to a study by the Belgian University KULeuven carried out among 6th grade pupils from 402 schools, an average academic delay of six months would be observed after the schools were closed last spring. Leuven researchers also observe a substantial increase in inequalities within the establishments themselves (from 17 to 20% depending on the subject).

These conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt, however, say other scientists. For the latter, the KULeuven figures are skewed because the pupils hardly had to show their knowledge since they knew that the risk of repeating a year was zero due to the measures taken to deal with the health crisis. It would therefore be premature to conclude that there has been an educational debacle.


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