25% of toddlers in Zaventem are behind when it comes to their language development in Dutch

The results of the so-called KOALA tests, that have been introduced to measure the level of competence of nursey school children when it comes to Dutch have found that in the Flemish Brabant municipality of Zaventem 25% of those in nursey education score below the expected attainment level. The tests were carried out at the end of the last school year in June 2022. 

According to the Alderman responsible for education in Zaventem Dirk Philips (liberal) the real number of nursery school-age children that are behind when it comes to their Dutch-language development is much higher than 25% as “The tests are only based on reading comprehension”. 

On the edge of Brussels, Zaventem is a highly diverse municipality where many families speak a language other than Dutch in their homes. Results from the KOALA-tests that were taken by children in the third year of nursery school (age 5/6) at the end of the last school year show that a quarter of the children tested are behind with their Dutch language skills.

240 nursery school children were tested in Zaventem. Of those tested 72% were found to be sufficiently competent in Dutch. Of the rest 21% were found to require extra help with their language skills that could be given in group sessions. Another 4% were found to be so far behind that they required intensive one-on-one tuition.

Those in charge of education in Zaventem say that the problem is even more acute than the figure from the KOALA tests would lead us to believe. 

Mieke Vanheer is the care coordinator at the Municipal Primary School in Zaventem. Ms Vanheer told VRT News that "non-Dutch-speaking newcomers don’t have to take a KOALA test and repeat the third year of nursery school if they fail. So it could well be the case that the issue is even bigger that these figures would lead us to believe”. 

The figures from Zaventem are typical of the whole area of Flemish Brabant that is peripheral to Brussels. Zaventem has received funding from the Flemish Government to help stimulate Dutch language skills. However, it remains crucial that children come into contact with Dutch outside school. This can be through watching Dutch-language TV, out of school activities such as sports clubs or the Scouts or by parents taking their children to the library or encouraging them to play with children that are Dutch-speaking. 


At the Municipal Primary School in Zaventem they try and involve parents and bring them into contact with the Dutch language. "We take them with us on trips to the library, so that the parent also get to know the way there”, Mieke Vanheer told the VRT. 

Ms Vanheer added that more volunteers are needed to help with initiatives to stimulate language skills. One project that is short of volunteers is Babbelaars, where volunteers go to non-Dutch-speaking toddlers’ homes to read stories to them.  

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