And it turns out that Belgium is one of the worst performing countries...
Between ordinary education and specialised infrastructures, if the topic of disability is not part of your daily life, it is easy to get lost, to have no opinion or to have one without having an overall view of the issue. At first glance, it may seem obvious to some that children with disabilities need specialised education with competent educators to facilitate their schooling. However, numerous testimonies testify that school is a source of development and emancipation for all, when the means are there, both for the pupils with disabilities and for the class as a whole. Children who are used to differences grow up with tolerance as the key word.
According to Bernard de Vos, general representative for children's rights, the education system of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation must be questioned because the specialised education of this geographical entity receives an increasing number of pupils each year, not always disabled. He says: "Our system of special education welcomes children without mental or physical disabilities. Sometimes they just have a cultural disadvantage related to their background. According to some, this type of education is a means of "social degradation" by ostracising young people with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, etc. and those from immigrant families or from families with a low socio-economic status.
In February 2021, Belgium condemned at international level.
In February 2021, the European Committee of Social Rights, which supervises the application of international treaties at national level, condemned the Wallonia-Brussels Federation for its lack of efforts to include mentally disabled children in school. On what text is this condemnation based? The European Social Charter. The latter, ratified by our country, makes school inclusion the rule and special education the exception. In practice, however, Belgium favours and legitimises special education. An argument that is often put forward is the desire to maintain the level of classes and not to disadvantage the so-called able-bodied children. But what if this practice disadvantages more able-bodied pupils and those with special needs than one might think?
Italy, a model to follow?
In Italy, since the 1970s, special education has been out of place and inclusion has been total. According to many sources, the inclusion of these children in school from an early age leads to better integration in society and the world of work as adults.
Is it possible to have ordinary education and receive special support?
According to the law, this should be a real option, with reasonable adjustments and ITT, temporary full integration. But the reality is much more complex. Reasonable adjustments are often refused by institutions: "No time and no money! By reasonable, the law means adjustments that require an "acceptable" cost and time. The child said to have special needs must therefore have specific and justified needs!
Temporary Full Integration (TFI) was another option, but it was abolished in September 2021, sadly ending a mechanism by which these pupils could receive assistance without leaving mainstream school. What are ITTs in practice? On the basis of an agreement between a special school, a mainstream school and a PMS centre, a pupil could be educated in mainstream schools "with the support of a staff member seconded by the special school (teacher, physiotherapist or speech therapist, depending on the needs), at the rate of four hours per week in primary education and eight hours in secondary education" (CLARA VAN REETH, 2021).
Unfortunately, the support measures for integration therefore come up against major budgetary restrictions. For a dose of hope and to discover the Singelijn school in Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, a school that is open to all, where reasonable adjustments are uniformly offered to all pupils and where co-teaching is practised, here it is.
Total inclusion, an unrealistic and unwanted utopia for Belgium?
According to some parents, special education is the education that their children want and that best allows them to develop and enrich their skills. Unfortunately, in mainstream education, the assessment of children with disabilities (grading) does not reflect their potential, because the teachers have often not received the training that would have enabled them to improve their communication skills. (e.g. by reducing their oral output, increasing the time for completing an assignment...). In addition, our specialised schools have a recognised and valued experience, which has encouraged some of our French neighbours to join our specialised school system.
→ For a list of specialised schools in Belgium, click here.
It should be noted that special needs education in Belgium is organised into 8 categories corresponding to 8 different types of learning difficulty. According to the inclusion asbl, the eight types are
type 1: mild intellectual disability
type 2: moderate to severe intellectual disability
type 3: behavioural problems
type 4: physical handicap,
type 5: illness or recovery
type 6: visual handicap
type 7: hearing loss,
type 8: instrumental disorders.
Despite the recognised quality of the Belgian special schools, our founder, Cléon Angelo, is not in favour of the special school, which will not let these children leave once they become adults. He wonders: "Why don't we follow Europe and encourage the transformation of these special schools into auxiliary services in mainstream schools? According to him, we have to leave this paradigm: "To be born special, to live special, to go to special schools, to work in special structures... and die special. In short, a special life without anything ordinary".
What if the Belgian problem was the lack of choice?
What if the Belgian problem was the fear of inclusion?
Special education at all costs and without free will? This is the question posed in our article: Why not leave the choice to those involved instead of stigmatising these children and teenagers and locking them up in boxes (type 1, 2, 4 or 8?) from which they must emerge in the professional world? Our article points to a glaring lack of choice due to the lack of accessible and appropriate mainstream schools.
Why is inclusion so scary? When we can learn so much from others! School is also knowing how to be and how to live together!
Let's finish by giving the floor to a future actress of tomorrow!
Géraldine Hasselle, a Master in Psychology at UCL:
"I remember that during some courses of my bachelor I studied the different school systems in Belgium and in particular the specialised educational systems organised according to the "Types" of difficulties. The professors explained how specialised education had an advantage over ordinary education, but we never asked about the disadvantages. Indeed, this system seems to have some remarkable qualities, as it allows for a special follow-up of young people. In general, I believe that special schools are better adapted to the needs of the pupil and to his or her learning pace. They set up strategies to overcome difficulties and, from what I have seen during my traineeship, the teachers seem to listen to the young person and to be sympathetic. Things that all lessons should contain, right? So why do more and more young people in mainstream education complain about the maths teacher's tantrums with every wrong answer or about their fear of raising a finger to ask a question? I think it is safe to say that we all know a child in this situation. So let's listen to them and try to remember the Belgian education system as a whole! It is true, however, that resources are needed for this. For me, it is imperative that teachers / out-of-school trainers are trained in inclusion to maintain and improve the quality of special education in the mainstream. Without this, it would be very easy to fall into the trap of "it's easy" and lose all this progress in education. We have everything to gain. "
By Florence Defraire