Laurent Ledoux's blog

No, I don’t think so. But to put it crudely, I don’t believe forced “social mixity” alone will lead to “better schools for all”. I rather believe that “better schools for all” will facilitate more “social mixity”. In this entry, a sequel to Is “magical thinking” only striking Belgian politicians?, I briefly discuss the title question: it is a crucial one in the burning debate taking currently place in the French-speaking community of Belgium regarding a new decree which aims at organizing student inscriptions in schools as a lottery. Together with Michel Parys, I recently published an article about it (click here) and we plan to publish more. Could this issue also concern parents and pupils in other European countries?

Early 2007, Marie Arena, then Minister of Education for the French-speaking Community of Belgium, Now, issued a decree to promote social mixity among schools. Declared intentions were good (who can be declare himself openly against social mixity?) but, badly prepared and unaccompanied by more serious reforms of the current school system, it inevitably led to chaos (queues during several days and nights before the best schools,…) and even appears to have even led to a worsening of the situation in terms of social mixity (“privileged” people are often also the ones who are more concerned by the education of their children; they were more ready than others to spend nights under a tent or to pay others to do so, in order to get their children in the best schools). I labelled “magical thinking” the thinking behind such a decree.

Under heavy protests by parents from all classes and religious convictions but protected by her party president, Arena was removed from her post and sent off to other positions. Her colleague from the same party and successor, Minister Dupont nevertheless continued her work and succeeded, in good faith, “as a good samaritan”, in issuing a decree, called the “Lotto decree”, which unlocked even more chaos and protests than the Arena Decree. As parents’ associations had warned, the “lottery” set-up by Minister Dupont to register students in the various schools led to a complete fiasco, leaving many parents hysterical and lost: possibly thousands of children are currently left without a proper school where to register next school year. In fact, no one knows for sure how many are concerned as no careful survey or investigation of the situation is being done or revealed to the public.

As a result, on 11/12/08, Minister Dupont was “gunned down” (as the press wrote) by another Minister and president of another party. His decree will be removed for the next school year. In the meantime, the way to resolve the chaos it created for the school reentry in 2009 is still heavily debated and the political consequences are still unknown. One suspects it could lead to more “political murders” as a generation of young students is unnecessarily being “sacrified”. (If you want to know a possible sequel to this “clusterf*ck”, the previous entry to this blog might give you a clue ;-)).

In an article published on 17/12/08 (click here), Michel Parys and myself sketch a few proposals to quickly sort out the mess, especially for the 2009 school reentry. This article is a follow-up to another article published a month ago on the same topic, before the retrieval of the decree (“Non à la pensée magique” – This article, in French, can be found in a previous entry to this blog Is “magical thinking” only striking Belgian politicians?)

Beyond the excuses of Minister Dupont (that does not help students to get to the school they desire), will the government listen?

Nothing is sure yet as it is already the second time a Minister of Education fails to solve a problem created by himself or a predecessor. As we argue in this article, the problem of social mixity in schools of the French-speaking community should have better been addressed by raising the level of our schools.

The French-speaking Community of Belgium achieves a peculiar feat: it succeeds in having a school system that has, on average, one of the lowest quality records among OECD countries while being at the same time one of the most expensive. We probably achieve this exploit thanks to a unique combination of incompetence and sheer prejudices (not to use the dirty I-word, “ideology”), fuelled by the wish by some to destroy the “free” (ie. catholic) school system.

Despite much lower funding by the State, the “free” schools succeed in being considered, on average, as good or of higher quality than the schools of the 3 official networks managed by the municipalities, the provinces or the administration of the French-Speaking Community (I write this even more easily being myself an atheist). Note also I write “on average”. Indeed, there are also some very good schools in the “official” network.

Finally note that the existence of 3 “official” networks is in itself a big cause of the high costs and inefficiencies of our overall school system.

Let us be clear. We are for a greater social mixity. But even more for better schools for all. And to achieve this, it is necessary to raise first the level of our school system. This is a prerequisite to improve, albeit with some unavoidable delay, social mixity among our schools. To do it the other way around does not work. Systems, even “lotteries”, designed to regulate social mixity in schools are not per se bad. They even function in some countries. But they require to be intelligently designed, to be implemented in a school network of relatively homogeneous quality, and developed based on a constructive dialogue with parents and schools directions. All these elements are missing today. And that’s why the current decrees have led to chaos.

For the reasons mentioned above, we nevertheless fear the government will not listen and be ready to take the tough measures necessary to raise the level of our school system. We therefore need to mobilize, make constructive proposals and shout if necessary to let our voices be heard.

We should also try to understand better what explains the heavy deafness of our government (not only for school issues unfortunately) and what can be done to clean up its ears. Michel Parys and myself plan to publish soon another article on this topic.

In the meantime, here is more support material on this crucial issue for the future of our children:

  • an article I published last year on the same subject (as a reaction to the decree of former education Minister, Marie Arena, which also led to a fiasco) (click here).

  • an article by professor Robert Deschamps with proposals to improve our school system (click here).

  • the Mc Kinsey report (in French) on “How the world’s best performing schools succeed” (click here))

  • An article by Dominique Grootaers of Meta-Educ: “Le poids de l’État dans la balance l’« instruction publique » en Belgique” (click here)

  • the website of the association « Eleves », one of the new key actor in the debate and a source of useful information (click here)

What do you think? Do you experience similar problems in your country’s school systems? Do you know how other countries in the European Union or elsewhere in the world have succeeded in both raising the quality level of their schools and social mixity? Do you know whether the EC has a position, ideas,… or promotes projects related to such issues? And if so, which are they? If you have ideas about such important questions for the future of all our children, please share them with us.

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