“Dutch is the key to all other knowledge”

Reading skills among Flemish 15-year-olds have deteriorated further than ever over the past five years.  The number of maths geniuses has practically halved since 2003.

The figures come from the new PISA study that tests reading, maths and science skills among 15-year-olds in 79 industrialised countries. The research was carried out in 2018: 4,822 pupils from all types of schools were tested in 172 schools.

The skills of Flemish pupils deteriorated in all the fields tested.  For the first time the results show Flanders outside the Top 10.  Estonia, Finland, Ireland and Poland all performed better.

It’s above all the most poorly performing Flemish pupils that are doing worse.  In 2009 13.4% of Flemish pupils didn’t attain minimum reading requirements.  This means they don’t understand texts and can’t identify the most important elements. Today this figure has surged to 20%. The gap between the best and worst performing pupils in Flanders is wider than the PISA average.  Background, the level of education of parents, their income and job plays a role.  Pupils with a different home language perform more poorly too.

Flemish pupils perform above the Belgian average, though when it comes to reading skills Francophone and Germanophone pupils perform better than their Flemish peers.

Maths skills too has gone downhill in Flanders. In 2003 over a third of pupils attained the highest level.  Today their number has fallen under a fifth.

In a response Flemish education minister Ben Weyts (Flemish nationalist) says the focus should be on the Dutch language: “It is the key to all other knowledge”. Identical tests across Flanders should show whether or not the situation is improving.

Mr Weyts intends to ask education expert Dirk Van Damme to set up an international research group to formulate precise proposals with a view to improving government policy.  Results are expected within ten years.