Carte blanche by Nathalie Seghers, co-founder of the non-profit organization “EAD-pour la liberté d’instruction” and Constantine Ullens, president of the Association of Jury Preparatory Schools.
In Belgium, there is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 24 of the Constitution: the right to freedom of education. This implies at least two basic principles: everyone is free to start and teach a school, and parents can enroll their child in a school of their choice or organize the teaching of their children in the family.
Each year, several thousand of them resort to education other than that offered by the state and therefore appear before the French Community juries to validate the skills they have acquired and obtain the diploma needed to integrate them into society but also to complete their schooling requirements.
These young people have very diverse profiles: some are experiencing education with their families, have just returned from a long stay abroad or have enrolled in a school of their choice that offers pedagogy tailored to them. There are people with high potential, preschoolers, victims of bullying or school phobias, former fools, future great artists or high-level athletes. There are also great students who want to learn faster by spending two years in one. Finally, there are all those who have freely chosen their way of learning.
Far from a trivial event
An anecdote was made in the newspaper this week: the jury had just announced a change in the test schedule by postponing the test originally scheduled for the end of October at the Palais des Congrès in Liège by three weeks on the pretext that the room would be under construction by that date. Given the rest of the schedule, the expectation of the exam equals the failure of many candidates. This small event is far from insignificant, but it is characterized by the difficulties faced by jury students and the people who train them. How to plan a family training, how to organize a school, if exam dates can change at any time? Was this decision taken in the best interests of the child? Why prioritize this out of all possible solutions to the problem? Isn’t there another hall in French-speaking Belgium that can accommodate 200 candidates? Why not use several rooms at once? The administration and the minister are defending themselves: at least they did not cancel the exam. Should we see the threat of cancellation in the future, or is it an admission of the inability to organize the whole meeting without any problems? However, the law requires juries to offer two cycles of exams per year.
As early as June 2020, the government of the Walloon-Brussels Federation used the special powers granted to it during the first wave of Covid to cancel the entire test cycle. There was anger among the candidates and their families. While the public school “benevolently” offered its diplomas without courses or exams, home school students were not allowed to present the jury. They could not obtain a diploma or fulfill their school obligations. Minister Désir then undertook to improve and gradually reform the juries in order to calm the dissatisfied mood of the parent groups that had been set up on the occasion.
Traumatized, but eager to move forward, the actors in the field came together and organized: the non-profit organization “Teaching at Home – for Freedom of Education” and the “Association of Preparatory Schools for Juries” were born, which brings together several professional non-profit organizations in the private school sector. These associations represent the majority of candidates and almost all of their diversity. They have been trying to let the administration and the minister know for themselves for a year. Together, they have developed a comprehensive list of complaints and easy-to-implement recommendations to improve the lives of jury candidates and their families. We can only regret the way they are heard.
Candidates will experience a real obstacle from the start of the registration process to the consultation of their written test. They are asked about the two-year curriculum, but these programs sometimes change just four months before the exam and the whole training has to be repeated. Exams are scheduled out of any school rhythm and regardless of the holidays at the expense of family organization. In addition, this test schedule can be modified at any time. But that’s not all: when a student takes the exam in February, he has to wait until the end of June for the mark. If he fails, he can ask to see a copy of him, which he will not receive until September, just two weeks before the test continues. It often happens that he then notices an error in the correction or the sum of points and that his failure is in fact a success. Otherwise, he will wait until January to repair the September exam. Four months during which he can’t predict anything for the second part of the year. Why force students to experience such difficult and chaotic education? Aren’t their families, like others, contributing to the funding of Belgian education, which also includes juries? In the classic system, each student is allocated several thousand euros a year. Only a fraction of this amount would be enough for effective jury reform.
The time has come for the Walloon-Brussels Federation to see the growing success of home, association and private education. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of registered doubles. It doubled again between 2018 and 2020. The number of registered candidates for jury examinations naturally follows this growth, especially since there are candidates over the age of 18 who no longer have compulsory education. This is nothing less than the effectiveness of freedom of education, which is questioned.
The resources allocated to the juries are ridiculous: five to seven people are responsible for organizing the tests and discussing them for almost 3,000 candidates for the CE1D, CE2D, CESS tests, for the general and technical parts of transitions, qualification techniques and professional examinations, in except CE6P, DAES and paramedics. Flemish juries, with a solid team of eight people assisted by 250 external collaborators, manage 6,500 candidates without major problems. Let them be a source of inspiration.
Discrimination against young people who do not find a place in a traditional school or who are dissatisfied with public education can no longer be tolerated. We call on the Government of the French Community to assume its responsibilities and guarantee our constitutional rights and freedoms, as required by democracy.