Belgium has your children covered!
In Belgium it’s very normal for both parents to work fulltime so over the years a very wide network of daycares, schools and care services have been put into place. A Belgian woman has 15 weeks of materinity leave and after that, most women return to work making the places in a Belgian daycare (or crèche) a highly sought after commodity. Children are mostly cared for outside the house from a very young age.
The Belgian men and women are hard workers. About 75% of all women and 84% of all men have paying jobs. Having children yes or no changes these percentages slightly. Women without children see their percentages rise to 77,5%. With one child the percentage drops a little to 76,5%. A remarkable rise is found in woman with two children. They work more than the one-child-moms with 79%. This is partly due to a financial necessity because Belgium isn’t a cheap country to live in. Which makes the fact that women with three children suddenly drop to a 56,8% of having payed jobs pretty remarkable. One of the reasons could be that the cost of 3 children in daycare and afterschool playgroups is almost the same as the salary of a fulltime job. These households have probably made the decision long ago to keep one parent at home to take care of the children.
Different amounts for different parts of the country
Children are legally required to attend primary education from the age of 6. Before that, parents can choose where the child goes during the day. Grandparents aren’t always an option because most of them are still working. The legal age to receive a full pension in Belgium is 65, with it being slowly increased to 67 years on 1/02/2030. So many children go to state-run or privately owned daycares and crèches. Public schools in Belgium are free, but the daycares and crèches are not. Therefore the cost can be quite substantial. Thankfully Belgium also has a wide range of child benefits. Due to the sometimes confusing way of coverning the country, these benefits depend entirely on where you live.
In Flanders you are entitled to the Growth Package. Before 2019, the amount of money you received increased slightly per child. Onwards from 2019 the rules changed, giving every child now a monthly allowance of 166,46 euro’s.
If you live in Brussels or Wallonia you receive Child Benefit and these monthly allowances depend on your income and the age of the child. You can find many different simulations online.
On top of the monthly allowances there are many extra child benefits such as childcare allowance (in which you are reimbursed for part of the daycare’s cost), school allowance, school bonus and again these depend on where you live.
Lastly there are the reimbursements and one-off payments you get through your health insurer. Therefore it’s a good idea to have a look at all the different players on the field because some help pay for such things as diapers, dental plan, child activities and vacations.
Education in Belgium
In Belgium, children are legally required to attend school from the age of 6 onwards to 18.
Primary school starts from the age of 6 and usually ends at the age op 12. There are 6 years to go through and the school year runs from the first of September till the end of June. The schools can be divided in three groups. Schools owned by the communities, subsidized public schools and subsidized free schools. The primary focus however for all of these is mostly reading, writing and basic mathematics. And since Belgium is a bilingual country, most Flemish schools also offer French classes and vica versa.
After graduating from primary school, children go on to Secondary Education which offers a very wide range of courses much closer to their interests and skills level. Again there are 6 years to go through and as you progress through the years, more and more options and electives are available so that you can shape your own curriculum.
For Secondary Education, there are four main types. General Secondary Education focusses on a broad general education to get children ready for a higher education. Technical Secondary Education is mostly like GSE but offers a more hands-on and practical approach. Vocational Secondary Education is even more hands-on and focuses on a specific job education. Many directions offer a 7th or 8th years after which the pupils are ready to enter the job market. Lastly there is the Art Secondary Education which combines the general with art courses such as dancing and musical arts.
The Higher Education is divided in two sections: universities and colleges. Anybody with a qualifying diploma may be free to enroll but some schools and/or directions make you do an entrance exam beforehand. The registration fees are fixed by the government and depend on whether the student is eligible and applies for financial aid. The possible financial aid depends on the income of the parents.
Belgium has many nationalities and so it also has many international schools with country-specific curriculum, internationally recognized qualifications, or an alternative style of education. But since these schools are privately run, the fees can be pretty high.
What about your child?
If you want to enter your child in a Belgian school, it’s important that they speak the language (either Dutch, French, or English for the international schools) or they will quickly be left behind. Belgian schools can’t refuse foreign language newcomers unless they are already at capacity. In Primary school, each school can decide for themselves how they teach the newcomers. Some integrate them in the existing classes with extra tuition and guidance. Others make separate classes where the pace is much slower. Usually it takes about one year untill the foreign language newcomers are fully integrated and can continue onwards just like the native speaking children.
As there are no set rules, you’ll have to book an appointment with the admissions office of your primary school of choice to find out if it’s a right fit for your child. In Secondary Education, foreign language newcomers need to follow a one year reception education class in which they are taught the language and onwards from that, they receive extra guidance throughout their educational career. However, this reception education class isn’t available in all schools. You can find a list for the Flemish region here and one for the French region here.
The Belgian school system can be very difficult to understand, due to the different levels and names used in the different communities. However, The Belgian education is ranked amongst the top of the world, ranking 13th on the United Nations Education Index. So it can be worth the hassle! At Link2Europe, we take care of you and that also means making sure you have all the right information for your family to find their own place here. We will send you in the right direction towards people who know the insides and outsides of the Belgian school system. Because if your children are safe and happy, you have your mind free to focus on your job.