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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.7 “Learning to participate” through formal, non-formal and informal learning

Last update: 28 November 2023

Policy Framework

Formal learning

The legislation refers to the decree of 24 July 1997 on the missions of school and which organises the structures to implement them. It is also called decree Missions (Décret du 24 juillet 1997 définissant les missions prioritaires de l'enseignement fondamental et de l'enseignement secondaire et organisant les structures propres à les atteindre).

One of the school’s mission is “to prepare each pupil to be responsible citizen, capable of contributing to the development of a democratic, pluralist society showing solidarity and receptive to different cultures”.  

Non-formal learning

Learning to participate is the fundamental value of youth policies.

The legislation refers to 4 decrees:

  1. Decree related to Youth Organisations

The decree states that one of the objectives of Youth Organisations is “to contribute to the development by young people of their responsibilities and personal skills in order to support them to become active, responsible and critical citizens within the society”.

  1. Decree related to Youth Centres

The decree states that one of the objectives of Youth Centres “is to foster the development of a critical, active and responsible citizenship mainly for young people aged between 12 and 26 thanks to:

  • the awareness and the understanding of society’s realities,
  • responsible attitudes and participation to social, economic, cultural and political life, 
  • the implementation and the promotion of socio-cultural and creative practices”.

    3. Decree related to Youth Holiday's Centres

One of the objectives of Holidays Centres is “to learn about citizenship and participation”. 

       4. Decree related to Homework Schools

One of the missions of Homework Schools is “to learn about citizenship and participation”.  

Formal learning

There are various education networks in the French-speaking Community, all of them funded by the French-speaking Community:

  1. the official education system
  2. the free confessional education system. 

In the official education system, the French-speaking Community has introduced recently citizenship education as a separate subject.

The legislation governing this decision is the Decree related to the organisation of a separate subject for citizenship education (Décret relatif à l'organisation d'un cours et d'une éducation à la philosophie et à la citoyenneté).

This new compulsory subject will be implemented in the official education system and in the non-confessional education system which already provides the choice between a 2 hours lesson of religion or moral:

  • since the 1st September 2016 in primary schools
  • from the 1st September 2017 in secondary schools.

The taught time is from 1 to both hour(s) per week. It replaces one of the 2 hours of religion subject or non confessional moral subject already taught in schools

1 compulsory hour of philosophy and citizenship + 1 hour of philosophy and citizenship OR 1 hour of moral/religion. 

In primary school of official education system, the main learning objectives are:

  1. To build an autonomous and critical thinking
  2. To know yourself and to open yourself to someone
  3. To act in a socially responsible manner
  4. To act democratically.

School programmes will be available in September 2017 for secondary school.

In the free confessional education system, citizenship education is a theme taught through a cross-curricular approach.

The main general aims of citizenship education are defined in the decree on the missions of  school. They are common for primary and secondary school:

  1. To promote self-confidence and self-development of each pupil
  2. Bring pupils to appropriate knowledge and acquire skills to be capable of learning ant to take an active part in the social, cultural and economic life
  3. Prepare every pupil to be responsible citizens, capable of contributing to the development of democratic, solidarity, pluralist society receptive to others cultures
  4. Ensure for every pupil equal chances for social emancipation. 

Non-formal and informal learning

Participative structures within formal education settings

The decree of 12 January 2007 organises the setting up of participative structures for pupils within their educational institution. A class delegate is elected by his peers at its class level.

Every class delegates of the same education level are grouped to constitute the Council of class delegates. They analyse issues related to their educational institution. They centralise questions and opinion and relieve them to the School Participation Council and the Headmaster. 

All Councils of Class delegates meets once a year to debate about main subjects and, if needed, to elect their pupil’s representatives to participate at the School Participation Council.

The decree of  24 July 1997 "on the missions of school" sets out the composition and the missions of the “Participation Council”. It is composed of the Headmaster and representatives of the Municipality, representatives of teachers, psychological, medical and social staff, representatives of parents, representatives of pupils and a representative of school’s administrative or worker staff.

Measures to encourage student participation in the local community and wider society

National curricula is only based on the school time. Schools are free to organise, or not, extra-curricular activities. So, these kinds of activities are part of the school’s project (projet d’établissement).  Activities are different from a school to another.

But the decree of 12 January 2007 encourages this kind of initiative. According to the European report on Citizenship education in Europe,

In Belgium (French Community), for example, there are various decrees for the promotion of civic and democratic principles within school. The Decree of 12 January 2007 recommends that school heads in primary and secondary education organise an interdisciplinary activity at least every two years.

Partnerships between formal education providers, youth organisations and youth work providers

  • The decree related to Youth Organisations plans a specific support (dispositif particulier) for youth organisations organising actions in cooperation with schools.

  • The “Plateforme Jeunesse Enseignement” (the platform on Youth and Formal Education) is exploring the possibility for youth organisations to use schools and their rooms for the development of their activities outside school time. This is a dialogue platform between education and youth sector which does not involve funding. This is currently in standby.

  • Partnerships between school and civil society's organisations are encouraged to contribute to citizenship learning outside school. For instance, activities are organised in cooperation with the local powers:

​1. At primary school's level and at the 2 first years of secondary school level

The cooperation is about projects regarding environment, activities to foster social inclusion and peace, to foster intercultural dialogue or activities related to political life. For instance, municipal council for children, the day of the tree, etc.

2. At the last 4 years of secondary school level

The cooperation concerns the same kind of projects, volunteering linked to local community or foreign exchanges to foster intercultural education. For instance, volunteering in a retirement home.

  • Cooperation between the Administration of Education and the High Council for Media Literacy (Conseil Supérieur de l’éducation aux médias) is also organised.  

  • The Democracy or barbarism Service (Démocratie ou barbarie) is the public council for remembrance. Partnership is also organised with the Adminsitration of Education to support extra-curricular activities to contribute to citizenship education.

Supporting non formal learning initiatives focusing on social and civic competences

  • Education

Schools are free to organise events, plays related to learning citizenship. Each school have an individual project (projet d’établissement) which defines the main learning orientations choices of the institution.

School are invited to do activities through, for instance, ministerial circular. For instance, the circular related to “UNICEF Belgium" invites every classrooms of second and third degree of secondary school to receive the label “worldwide classroom”. Teachers would then receive learning tools from UNICEF Belgium to learn about this thematic.

  • Youth sector

The Youth Department recognises and funds youth associations. They are the main and closest actors which work with young people to develop social and civic competences. See section 1.4 Youth Policy Decision-Making.

However, decrees related to Youth Centres and Youth Organisations plan specific support to youth centres or youth organisations working with disadvantaged public. See section 4.4 Inclusive Porgrammes for Young People.  

Quality assurance/quality guidelines for non-formal learning

Homework schools and hosting structures for young people under 12 years old 

For structures hosting young people under 12 years old, it exists a “quality code” instituted by the French-speakinh government’s order (arrêté du gouvernement) of 17 December 2003. It defines a number of common objectives for structures which host regularly young people under 12 such as homework schools. 

The objectives address 5 fields of action: 

  1. Psycho-pedagogical principles ;
  2. Activities and health activities ; 
  3. Access ; 
  4. Supervision ; 
  5. Relations between the structures, the persons who entrust the child and the environment. 

The structures are invited to submit a project. The Birth and Childhood Office decides then if a quality certificate may be delivered or not according to the quality criteria addressing the 5 objectives defined by the code. 

Youth Centres 

Youth Centres are recognised and funded by the Youth Department of the French-speaking Community. In order to receive the recognition and the financial support from the administration, Youth Centres must submit a report of their activities every 4 years and get the approval from the department.

This report must refer to several qualitative and quantitative criteria defined in the decree of 20 July 2000 related to youth centres. 

The government’s order of 5 December 2008 provides evaluation grid in which qualitative and quantitative criteria are identified. 

It exists 3 categories of recognition depending of the criteria met by the centres. 

Financial support depends of the category in which the centre belongs to. 

Quantitative criteria address: 

  1. The age of the public ; 
  2. Participation of young people under 26 in the board of directors ; 
  3. Hosting time per week (from 10 to 18 hours per week) ;
  4. Socio-cultural activities (from 10 to 26 activities per weeks) ;
  5. The total number of hours (activities + hosting time per week) ;
  6. Collectives actions (from 1 to 3 minimum) ;
  7. Opening to local environment.

Qualitative criteria address: 

  1. Public ;
  2. Citizenship action ;
  3. Form of participation (consultation, information, involvement of young people in the conception and project’s making, form of delegation of power for young people, etc. ; 
  4. Hosting ; 
  5. Socio-cultural activities (permanent and punctual activities, proposition and concertation with young people, activities elaborated by young people,  ; 
  6. Collective actions (internal collective action, use of internal and external resources, involvement of young people to some action’s phases, promotion of youth involvement and action) ;  
  7. Opening to local environment ; 
  8. Human resources management. 

Youth centres must also provide an evaluation of the former four-year action plan in order to use this evaluation in the writing of the renewed one. 

Inspection is another service of the General Administration of Culture which offers a complementary evaluation of the youth centre’s projects. It checks if the report matches the reality (field inspection).

Outcomes of the quality assurance:

There is no obligation of result regarding the actions of the youth centres. 

As long as their action respect the methodology described in their action plan and the criteria related to their recognition’s category, they receive the subvention. 

If the youth centre’s action does not meet anymore quality or quantity criteria, there are 3 possible actions: 

1.    Withholding of the subvention ; 

2.    Withholding of the recognition ; 

3.    Moving to a lower category with a lower subvention. 

The final decision belongs to the Minister of Youth based on the complementary recommendations of the Youth Department, the inspection and the Advisory Commission for Youth Centres.  

Youth organisations

Youth organisations are recognised and funded by the Youth Department of the French-speaking Community. In order to receive the recognition and the financial support from the administration, youth centres must submit a report of their activities every 4 years and get the approval from the department.

There are 5 types of youth organisations in accordance with their field of action (see section 1.4 Youth Policy-Decision Making): 

-    Youth services ;

-    Youth movements ; 

-    Thematic movements ;

-    Federations of Youth organisations ; 

-    Federations of Youth centres. 

These youth organisations are classified according to various criteria. The classification they belong to defines the amount of subvention they receive. 

The criteria for funding’s classification:

-    for youth services is the number of activities per year ; 

-    for youth movements is the number of members ; 

-    for thematic movements are the number of local groups affiliated and the number of activities per year ; 

-    for Federations of youth organisations is the number of youth organisations affiliated ; 

-    for Federations of youth centres is the number of youth centres affiliated. 

Inspection is another service of the General Administration of Culture which offers a complementary evaluation of the youth centre’s projects. It checks if the report matches the reality (field inspection).

If the inspection notices that the work of the organisation does not match anymore the criteria of the action plan and the missions defined by the decree, the inspection informs the youth department. It could lead to the suspension of the subvention for a maximum of 1 year. 

The finale decision belongs to the Minister of Youth based on the recommendations of the youth department.  

Educators' support


Regarding the initial training of teachers for the new subject “education to philosophy and citizenship”, a certificate of “didactic of philosophy and citizenship” will be implemented by the 1st September 2020 at the latest.

The ministerial circular n° 5821 of 20 July 2016 organises the current conditions to be allowed to teach the new subject “education to philosophy and citizenship”.

An increasing offer of continuous training on the thematic of citizenship are organised by many training operators from different educational networks (official, confessional).

The training institute “Institut de Formation en cours de carrière” is the national coordinating body for teacher training in citizenship education.

An online “citizenship” platform gathers learning tools to support teachers. There are many topics (philosophy and ethic, worldwide citizenship, Human Rights, etc.). In each topics, there are the presentation of active associations working on these thematics, press articles, etc. This platform is on the Education Administration’s website.

A youth organisation, “Université de paix”, also provides learning tools and trainings about citizenship education. 

Youth workers

The ministerial circular organising the support of training programmes related to animation, socio-cultural and socio-artistic action (circulaire ministérielle du 1er septembre 2009 organisant le soutien des programmes de formation des cadres de l’animation et de l’action socioculturelles et socio-artistiques) is the legal framework regarding the training in youth work in the French-speaking Community.

The Youth Department within the General Administration of Culture implements this circular. 

The circular organises the funding of training organisations. These ones organise the training of workers in the youth sector (youth organisations, youth centres, holidays centres).

Training organisations offer training programmes, learning tools to support youth workers.