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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Main trends in young people's participation in education and training
  2. Organisation of the education and training system
  3. Main concepts

Main trends in young people's participation in education and training

Regional Development Concept - "Upgrading of technical/professional training"

The so-called Regional Development Concept (Regionales Entwicklungskonzept, REK) is a future plan for the German-speaking Community of Belgium. It divides the German-speaking Community into five different "Regions": a Border Region, an Economic Region, a Solidarity Region, a Living Region and an Education Region. As part of the Education Region, the project "Upgrading of technical/professional training" was part of the second implementation phase of the Regional Development Concept 2014-2019.

This upgrading was implemented chiefly in the pre- and primary and general secondary schools of the German-speaking Community as a way to explain to young people about the different types of training on offer and to give them the ability and enthusiasm for technical training. Scientific findings show that careers guidance should be started as soon as possible and so pre- and primary schools are likewise requested to deal with this subject and to bring their pupils into contact with crafts and technology at an early stage.

Since 2019, the third implementation phase of the Regional Development Concept 2019-2024 is taking place, also including a follow-up project of "Upgrading of technical/professional training". See 6.10 - Current debates and reforms for further information.

Heterogeneous audience in SME education and training

New concepts must be developed for the future to create suitable provision for the increasingly heterogeneous audience in small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) education and training. The statistics show that the spread between pupils with a low educational level and those with a higher educational background is greater. This trend presents both the vocational schools (Berufsschulen) and also the training companies with a challenge. Here the provision of vocational training must be tailored to this heterogeneity in the educational level by offering both training programmes for candidates with a low educational level and also attractive programmes for new entrants with high existing educational knowledge. Over and above that, appropriate preparation should be provided in the long term in the form of a preparatory year in school but with a practical emphasis.

Organisation of the education and training system

Compulsory education

The Law of 29 June 1983 on Compulsory Education (Gesetz vom 29.06.1983 über die Schulpflicht) lays down the end of compulsory school attendance (full-time and part-time attendance) at the age of 18 (12 school years). Compulsory part-time attendance applies from the age of 15 and enables the young person to decide on work-linked training either in an SME or in part-time lessons.

During compulsory education access to lessons is free of charge. No school fees may be requested. The school governing bodies and the Ministry of the German-speaking Community pay part of the costs for the classical teaching materials. Special services may, however, be charged to the parents. For the pupils of compulsory school age who have to travel a certain distance by bus to the nearest school of their choice, most of the travel costs are reimbursed.

The education system

The full-time education system is composed of four educational levels: 

  • Nursery school is aimed at children from 3 to 5 (6 if necessary).
  • Primary school is attended by pupils who are as a rule 6 to 11 years old. (Some pupils are one, or exceptionally two, years behind). These two levels- nursery school and primary school - form the pre- and primary school.
  • Secondary school is aimed at young people from 12 to 18 (and older).
  • Higher education is aimed at young people from the age of 18.

Every pupil goes through nursery school (normally three years), then primary school (normally six years) and finally secondary school (normally six years or seven years in vocational training). The first and second years of secondary education are intended to facilitate guidance towards general, technical or vocational education. In the German-speaking Community there is only a limited opportunity to go through the higher education system. A degree course of short duration is offered for the areas of teaching (nursery and primary school) and nursing. To follow other degree courses, those with qualifications for university must go into the inland area of Belgium or abroad.

At the end of the first cycle of secondary education there are several options that can be chosen in school: general educational, technical or vocational courses. Young people can, however, also choose to do dual vocational training in the form of an apprenticeship or in part-time education. This choice at the end of the first, two-year cycle ("observation cycle") is very important both for later studies and for professional life. The young person can choose between

  • transitional education, which mainly enables access to higher education but also to the world of work and which can be done in the following forms:
  • skills training which is intended for pupils who at the end of secondary school would like to exercise a profession but who would, however, like to leave open the possibility of continuing their studies at university and in the following forms of education.

Part-time education is organised for pupils with compulsory school attendance from the age of 15 who would like to stop attending school full-time.

Guidance towards special education is possible from pre-school age if required. Special education provides pre-school, primary and secondary education.

In the German-speaking Community there are three residential schools available for the pupils.

The start and end of the school year and the dates of the school-free days are laid down for each school year by the government of the German-speaking Community. In order to organise in-service training or teaching conferences, the school governing bodies have six school-free half days available. In the German-speaking Community the school year starts on 1 September or on the first working day of the month of September and ends on 30 June or on the last working day in the month of June of the next calendar year. 

Together with the two-month summer holiday (from 1 July to 31 August), the pupils and teachers have a two-week winter holiday (Christmas and New Year week), a two-week spring holidays (Easter holiday) and at regular intervals a mostly one-week relaxation holiday (beginning of November and at Carnival). A school year must cover 180 to 184 days, an average of 182 days, therefore. In the German-speaking Community the following days are considered as public holidays (or as school-free days): Easter Monday, 1 May, Ascension Day (Thursday), Whit Monday, 1 November, 11 November, 15 November (official public holiday of the German-speaking Community).

Main concepts

Framework plans: Core skills and framework plans specify what educational objectives pupils should have attained up to a certain key stage. To attain the specified educational objectives, the framework plans determine among other things what part-skills the pupils must acquire at the individual stages. Since 1 September 2008, in the German-speaking Community various framework plans for primary school and the first stage of secondary school have been in force: German as teaching medium, French first foreign language, mathematics, history/geography, sciences/technology, music/art and sport. These framework plans are compulsory for teaching in primary school and in the first stage of secondary school. The framework plan for nursing assistant applies to the seventh vocational secondary school year, the framework plans for German as first foreign language and French as teaching medium to the pre- and primary departments in which French is the teaching medium. The framework plan for school preparation for career choice and vocational guidance covers the whole of the primary and secondary school.

Professional development: Any form of education and training that is attended after completion of the initial training or after the transition into working life and is intended to help the individual to improve or update his/her own knowledge and/or skills; to acquire new skills with a view to professional advancement or retraining; for personal or professional development. Source: CEDEFOP, Beschäftigung durch Ausbildung – Zweiter Bericht zur Berufsbildungspolitik in Europa (Employment through training – Second report on vocational training policy in Europe), Luxembourg 2005.

Dual / work-linked training: By this is meant programmes that provide general and vocational training alternating between school or training centre and business. Depending on the state, this alternation between the different learning locations can be organised on a weekly, monthly or annual basis. Unlike apprentices, the participants do not sign a contract with the employer where they are doing the practical training and as a rule do not receive any pay. Source: CEDEFOP, Beschäftigung durch Ausbildung – Zweiter Bericht zur Berufsbildungspolitik in Europa (Employment through training – Second report on vocational training policy in Europe), Luxembourg 2005.

Basic skills, basic/core qualifications: These are the fundamental skills and proficiencies that are indispensable for life in today's society such as listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing and numeracy. Source: CEDEFOP, Beschäftigung durch Ausbildung – Zweiter Bericht zur Berufsbildungspolitik in Europa (Employment through training – Second report on vocational training policy in Europe), Luxembourg 2005.

Lifelong learning: Any formal, non-formal and informal learning activity in all (i.e. personal, civic, social or employment-related) areas of life and during the whole of life. Source: CEDEFOP, Beschäftigung durch Ausbildung – Zweiter Bericht zur Berufsbildungspolitik in Europa (Employment through training – Second report on vocational training policy in Europe), Luxembourg 2005.

SME training / apprenticeship: the aim of SME training is learning a vocation in the business. For this the apprentice signs a contract with his/her employer where he/she carries out the practical training. In addition, theoretical knowledge is taught in a centre for SME education and training. Source: Arbeitsamt der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft, Ausbildung für Schüler und Jugendliche in der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft Belgiens, (German-speaking Community Job Centre, Training for pupils and young people in the German-speaking Community of Belgium), Eupen 2009.

Non-formal and informal education: "Non-formally" and "informally" acquired skills are those that have been acquired outside school: for example you can learn to create web pages on an IT course (non-formal) or acquire social skills by performing an honorary activity (informal). Setting up a validation system is intended to give the citizens of the German-speaking Community the opportunity of evidencing these skills acquired by experience or non-formal education processes and having them recognised - whether it is to be able to continue learning by building on them or to be able to best use their abilities on the job market.