Dutch-speaking schools have faced a mountain of challenges in recent years, from the pandemic overturning school systems as we knew them to chronic teacher shortages. The arrival of hundreds of Ukrainian children is expected to exacerbate the situation further.
Of all Belgian regions, Flanders has registered the largest number of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the conflict on 24 February: a total of 7,281 have already been included in the foreigners’ register in the region, compared to 1,013 people in Brussels and 3,545 in Wallonia.
On the very first school day after the Easter holidays, 1,827 Ukrainian children took their places at the school desks of schools in Flanders, Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts said.
Although these figures seem manageable, it is impossible to tell how the situation will evolve, and how schools will cope in the coming months, his cabinet in a statement said.
“We don’t know actually how many children will be enrolled where, there is freedom of choice in schools so parents can choose for themselves where they are going to enroll their children, meaning it is very difficult to predict what will happen in the coming weeks,” Weyts’ spokesperson Michaël Devoldere said.
After refugees are listed in the foreign registry, they have 60 days to comply with the mandatory education rules in Belgium. “Children can go to school straight away, but they don’t have to do that immediately.”
This further complicates estimating the numbers that are still expected to enroll in the Flemish education system, but they are expected to increase. “It is difficult for us to say on which day and where children will start enrolling, so we will have to wait and see,” Devoldere explained.
So far, it mainly concerns young Ukrainian children that are already registered in the region’s school system, including 525 pre-schoolers and 920 pupils in primary school. In secondary education, 382 pupils from Ukraine have been registered, including in mainstream classes and in OKAN classes (reception education for non-native newcomers).