From An Claidheamh Soluis, December 23, 1905.
From the preceding chapters the reader will have collected a fair general notion of the education scheme in modern Belgium. He will have learned that there exist side by side two school systems, – one a voluntary and the other a state system; that even over the voluntary schools, which are conducted mainly by religious corporations, the Government exercises a certain amount of supervision; and that the state school system comprises (a) Infant and Primary Schools administered immediately by the local authorities, but guided as to their general policy by the central department at Brussels, and (b) Intermediate and Higher Schools administered direct from Brussels. He will further have learned that a rational bilingual system is the ideal of every Belgian educationist: the principles laid down being (1) that every Belgian child is entitled first and foremost to be taught his mother-tongue; (2) that every Belgian child is entitled to be taught in addition one of the other languages spoken in Belgium; and (3) that all language teaching ought to be on the “direct method.”
Bearing all this in mind, the reader will be in a position to follow intelligently the account I propose to give of visits which I paid to Belgian schools during the summer of 1905. I visited in all upwards of a score of state schools, secondary and primary; some infants’ schools; two or three voluntary schools, including the Jesuit College de Saint Michel in Brussels; one industrial school; and two of Belgium’s five Universities. A few further words by way of preface to the actual accounts of the visits. Letters with which I had been furnished by friends in Dublin procured my introduction to the bureau of the Minister of the Interior and of Public Instruction. To the Minister – M. de Trooz – I am in the first place indebted for permission to visit the schools and otherwise pursue my inquiries. M. van der Dussen de Kestergat, Directeur Général of Secondary Education, of whose geniality I retain kindly memories, furnished me with a number of valuable reports and other official documents, and gave me a letter authorising me to visit the Ecoles moyeenes and Athénées in the Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges districts. M. Coremans, Directeur Général of Primary Education, committed me to the care of his head Inspectors. My visits to primary schools in the Brussels district were made in company with M. Mestdagh, Chief Inspector for the Province of Brussels; and my visits to primary schools in Antwerp and its neighbourhood were made in company with M. Heinz, Chief Inspector for that Province. No Inspector accompanied me to the Intermediate and Higher Schools. To MM. Mestdagh and Heinz I owe grateful thanks; and I should also acknowledge my obligations to M. Charles Remy, Directeur in the Ministry of the Interior, who keenly interested himself in my mission and gave me, in particular, much valuable information on the subject of the direct method and its introduction into Belgian schools. Other obligations will be acknowledged during the course of the chapters which follow. Suffice it here to say that I met with nothing but courtesy and kindliness from everyone with whom I had dealings during the course of my inquiry, from the Minister down to the humblest teacher – nay, down to the tiniest garçonnet – in the smallest of rural schools. One and all contrived to convey the impression that in seeking permission to visit their schools and to inquire into their methods of work I was, in their opinion, conferring rather than asking a favour.