From a dual to a plural society in Belgium and Europe

Belgium consists out of a Flemish (Dutch) and Walloon (French) part. Many immigrants from different countries are living mainly in the towns. In Flanders 1 out of 6 youngsters do not speak Dutch at home; education is evidently in Dutch at school.

From the age of 10 they start learning the second language French and from 13 years of age the third language English. Little by little schools start earlier with teaching foreign languages, sometimes by immersion: some courses are taught in a language that differs from the mother tongue, this sometimes already from the age of 7.

Since the 19th century Belgium has had a liberal and catholic political party; a bit later on, also a socialist movement and party. And in the 20th century also a nationalist, and later a green movement and party arose. Already in the 19th century state and catholic schools came into being. In the second half of the 20th century both of them became pluralistic. In state schools pupils can choose between catholic, anglican, protestant, orthodox, Jewish and Islamic religion, and freethinking, humanistic ethics. All this, 2 classes a week, from 7 till 18 years. Those are the 7 recognised ‘lifeviews’, of about 200 present in Belgium and Europe. In catholic schools all pupils are taught 2 classes of catholic religion every week. This course, mainly in secondary schools, has become very open to many subjects, opinions and ‘lifeviews’. In fact, nowadays, many parents, pupils and teachers in catholic schools are also humanistic, neutral or ‘something-ism’, or even freethinking, atheistic or indifferent. Today there are also many immigrants among the pupil population in catholic schools. Most of them are Islamic, definitely in bigger towns such as Brussels, Antwerp or Ghent. Besides, since the sixties there is also a lot of interest in oriental activities (yoga, judo, ayurveda, meditation, etc.), philosophy and worldviews ( Buddhism, Tao, Zen, etc.). This means that today both state and catholic schools have become very pluralistic, and are in that way, similar!

In the seventies we had to be alert to dangers of sects, today to fundamentalists, radicalists and fake information. Today a general, moderate and decent RE-course, “Values and ‘Lifeviews’” is more than necessary.

Europe has a common history with Greek, Roman, Christian, Renaissance, Enlightenment, industrial and post-modern developments. That is why countries can easily understand each other and learn from each other. Dual situations are not easy, so what to think of plural situations ? It is a fact that people travel more than before but there are very few real contacts between people of European countries! Sometimes language is the problem.

In the Belgian state schools one attemps to bring pupils with different worldviews and cultures together in a plural course ‘lifeviews’. In order to communicate respectfully with each other, to learn to know each other, to know different religions, to philosophise, to think about moral topics, to develop personal and social competences and to express themselves. On the other hand, the catholic schools, the majority in Flanders, have renewed their vocation with a broad Christian point of view, in dialogue with plural situations, and also with personal and social development. Today teachers live and work certainly in a pluralistic context, with a core of European common values. Schools can help bringing unity in difference.

Hugo Durinck
October 2016 en 2022

From a dual to a plural society in Belgium and Europe