From An Claidheamh Soluis, November 18, 1905.

We have seen that the scheme of primary education in Belgium embraces schools of three types – the Ecole Freubel or Kindergarten, the Ecole primaire, and the Ecole primaire supérieure. It does not follow that every commune is provided with schools of all three types. In many cases the Infant School is attached to the ordinary Ecole primaire, forming a sort of preparatory school to it; whilst the Ecole primaire supérieure exists only in the wealthier and more populous centres, its object being, as we have said, to provide a special advanced course, free of charge, for the more distinguished pupils of the Ecole primaire. The details of school organisation in a given commune are entrusted to the communal authority. All schools, however, must be organised and conducted in accordance with a “règlement type,” issued by the Central Education Department in Brussels. The complete course in the primary school proper extends over six years and the pupils are grouped as follows, according to their standing:―

To this six years’ course of three degrees the commune may, at its discretion, add a fourth degree (Degré complémentaire) open to pupils who have successfully passed through the Degré supérieur.

This very elastic scheme permits of a simple or of an elaborate organisation as local circumstances – the number of pupils, the numerical strength of the staff, etc – may suggest.

A child will enter the Infant School at the age of, say, four. At six he will pass to the Ecole primaire, where he will spend, normally, from six to eight years. From the Ecole primaire he may proceed to the Ecole primaire supérieure, and thence possibly to the University.

The primary school system aims at giving an education which will prepare the child for a useful career in one of the humbler walks of life, whether as an agriculturist, an artisan, a shopkeeper, a clerk, or the wife of one of these. Its scope will be understood after a glance at a specimen programme. The details of the actual programme in a given locality are, needless to say, determined upon by the local authority; but all primary school programmes must follow the general lines of the subjoined “programme type” issued by the Central Department, and must take provision for the teaching of the subjects specified therein as “obligatory”: –

OBLIGATORY BRANCHES.

  1. Religious Instruction.
  2. Reading and Writing.
  3. THE MOTHER TONGUE (French, Flemish, or German, according to the circumstances of the locality).
  4. Arithmetic, and the legal system of Weights and Measures.
  5. Geography (with special reference to Belgium).
  6. THE HISTORY OF BELGIUM.
  7. Elementary Drawing.
  8. Elementary Hygiene.
  9. Singing.
  10. Gymnastics.
  11. Needlework (girls only). Elementary (practical) Agriculture (in rural schools, and for boys only).

OPTIONAL BRANCHES.

  1. Elementary Science (in urban schools as an alternative to agriculture).
  2. SECOND LANGUAGE (FRENCH, FLEMISH OR GERMAN).
  3. (Practical) Domestic Economy (girls only).

Truly, a practical and a well-balanced school programme. It is to be noted that amongst the compulsory subjects are THE MOTHER TONGUE (be it what it may), BELGIAN GEOGRAPHY, and BELGIAN HISTORY; whilst the second language, though nominally only optional, is in practice taught, almost everywhere (indeed in many primary schools a third language – German or English – is taught in addition).

Practical teachers will be interested to see a specimen school Time Table. Here is one, provision being made only for the obligatory branches:―

SubjectsDegré InférieurDegré MoyenDegré Supérieur
 BoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirls
Religious Instruction
Reading and Writing
Mother Tongue
Arithmetic
Geography
Belgian History
Drawing
Hygiene
Singing
Gymnastics
Agriculture Needlework
3
6
5
4
1

2
1
1
1
1
3
6
5
3
1

1
1
1
1

3
3
5
4
4
1
1
2
1
1
1
2
3
5
4
3
1
1
1
1
1
1

4
3
5
4
3
1
2
2
1
1
1
2
3
5
4
3
1
1
1
1
1
1

4
Hours252525252525

It is to be understood that the “Reading and Writing” are in the mother tongue (Belgian educationists, unlike Irish “educationists”, do not interpret “reading and writing” to mean the reading and writing of a foreign language); and further that the general instruction is, especially in the earlier stages, mainly in the mother tongue. This lest the number of hours – from four to five – assigned to the “langue maternelle” in the foregoing time-table should appear too scant.

In a school in which “optional branches” are taught the number of working hours per week will naturally exceed the minimum of 35. It may range from 28 or 29 to 33 or 34. Two typical programmes – one from Brussels, and the other from Antwerp – will show how the time is divided between the two languages in a genuine bilingual school. Here is the Brussels table:―

 1st year2nd year3rd year4th year5th year6th year
Mother tongue10 1/297 ½767
Second Language354 ½4 ½3 ½4
Total hours in school per week29 ½29 ½29 ½30 ½31 ½33 ½

And here is the Antwerp one (it will be observed that in this case the second language – French – is not commenced until the second school year):―

 1st year2nd year3rd year4th year5th year6th year
Mother tongue (Flemish)10106666
Second Language (French)2 ½5566
Total hours in school per week282831313434

These tables show that the “second language” holds an important place on the school programme, and that its teaching is no mere make-believe. We find from 3 ½ to 6 hours per week accorded to it in the upper stages. The Belgian minimum – 3 ½ hours – may be said to be the Irish maximum: for here, even amongst those schools in which Irish holds a fairly satisfactory position, it is the exception rather than the rule to find as many as 3 ½ hours per week assigned to it.