Having a 3-year-old son makes me think about the future of education in Belgium. I try to keep an informed perspective, though it is difficult to be an optimist after reading “Capital in the Twenty-First Century“. In this short blog entry, I wanted to take note of some recent facts, so that I might refer to them, maybe 15-20 years from now, when my son goes to university.
Fact 1: In 2014, there is an electrified debate regarding the raise in tuition fees for universities. For more information you can read “UGent valt verhoging inschrijvingsgeld aan” and “Wentel besparingen niet af op studenten“. Even though there is still visible and vocal opposition against putting students in a position where they will graduate with a lot of debt, the genie is already out of the bottle, and people who control the mainstream media continue to support discussions over this issue.
Fact 2: According to OECD Better Life Index for Belgium, “In Belgium, the average difference in results, between the students with the highest socio-economic background and the students with the lowest socio-economic background is 120 points, much higher than the OECD average of 96 points. This suggests the school system in Belgium does not provide equal access to high-quality education.” The gap between the performance of ‘rich’ students and ‘poor’ students is 91 points in the Netherlands. For Germany, it is 107, and for Sweden it is 84 points.
Fact 3: According to recent research, in 2014, a ‘rich’ child has 90% chance of attending ASO (Algemeen Secundair Onderwijs, that is, the most academic form of secondary education), whereas a ‘poor’ child has 25% chance of attending ASO (meaning a higher probability of attending BSO – Beroeps Secundair Onderwijs, that is, Vocational secondary education, or attending TSO – Technisch secundair onderwijs, that is Technical secondary education).
These are all plain and simple facts, coming together to form a bigger picture, but even that picture is nothing more than a blurry snapshot of the present situation of education in Belgium. The trends, the statistical patterns that govern our future is more important. A few points of difference, a gap of a few per cent might not be a big deal currently, but if you think of it like compound interest, you might see a minor annoyance today can easily turn into a major problem in one or two decades. Taking into account the life expectancy in Belgium, planting the seeds of a problem that will mature in 10-20 years, or even 30 years should be considered and evaluated seriously.
I want a better and prosperous future for myself and my child, as well as other children when they will be adults in a few decades from now. Therefore I want to know whether key decision makers such as members of the parliament see this picture and whether they have enough statistical and social background to deal with negative long term trends and patterns.