Moral Education in Belgium, especially in Flanders
Luc Devuyst chats with EHF President David Pollock
Presentation by Luc Devuyst, secretary general, RIBZ
at the Open Meeting on 5 June 2009
- In 1959 a school-pact was signed by the different political parties and adopted by the Parliament by which the parents of pupils in public schools have the right to choose a specific life-stance course: a religious one or a non-confessional one. At the beginning of each school-year parents can change their choice.
- In 1993 our fundamental law was changed and equal rights were given to all life-stances – to the non confessional ones as well to the confessional life-stances.
- This change had implications in different segments of the society, including school policy.
- The fundamental law said also that children have the right to be instructed in school about their life-stance.
- Belgium is a co-federal country composed of 2 communities: a French one and a Flemish one.
- Education policy in the two parts of the country is different, so there is a difference in the approach to organisation of the course of moral education.
- The Flemish non-confessional humanist community had made following choice:
If the churches may organise and are responsible for courses in their specific life-stance, the non-confessional humanists must have the same rights. The Flemish want to develop their specific organisation in all freedom without interference, taken into account their specific needs.
It took about 34 years to realise the objective, but finally we won the battle: the law recognized us and we were committed to found a specific organisation.
Teaching non-confessional life-stance
A. Not a recent phenonmenon
Some people want us to believe that non-confessional humanist values presently are a contemporary achievement. Nothing is less true!
Free-thinking has a long tradition. For the ancient Greeks autonomous thinking and acting were already very important. The first Greek philosophers searched for the nature of our earth, of life itself, averse to religious declarations and a mythical presentation of one or more gods. Since the Renaissance free-thinking has been a crucial part of our western civilisation.
B. Responsibility for the course
If you are responsible for this sort of development, you need to implement a minimum of four points:
- you need a specific organisation;
- you must have fully responsibility;
- you need some objectives;
- you need people who are interested in the project.
1. Specific organisation:
The organisation can adopt several forms. This was our choice:
It is desirable that both organised and non-organised non-confessional free thinkers are involved in the organisation of this leading board and have a say in the development of the course .
Our independent council for non-confessional life-stance lessons is composed of representatives of:
- the organised non-confessional philosophical community(ies);
- similarly thinking youth organisations;
- the parents and/or the grandparents of the students who follow the course;
- the teachers charged with the instruction of the non-confessional life-stance;
- sympathetic unions;
- the training centres;
- education experts.
2. Responsibilities of this organisation:
The responsibilities which were assigned to the organisation are:
- preparation and contents of the lessons;
- drawing up the syllabuses;
- drawing up the criteria to which teachers have to answer;
- the professional and the pedagogical competence of teachers;
- organising of both training and upgrading of teachers;
- appointing the teachers;
- giving policy advice;
- monitoring the level of the studies and the educational tools;
- monitoring respect for the legal obligations concerning the equality of all life-stances;
- monitoring the amenity, hygiene and usability of the classrooms;
- developing, monitoring and stimulating initiatives concerning the evolution of the educational quality of the lessons in non-confessional life-stance.
To fulfil their tasks in optimal circumstances the board can count on:
- a financial contribution from the responsible department of education;
- a core of pedagogical consultants appointed and active under the control of the Council.
The Council also will be responsible for their professional competence, for stipulating the way in which the tasks are carried out, their districts, the educational level at which they function, their pedagogical competence and their further professional training.
3. Objectives of the lessons.
Youngsters grow up to independence, but must know how to interact with others. The non-confessional free thinking life-conviction gives answers to the fundamental life questions such as:
- How do I interact with others?
- What is good?
- What is happiness?
The departure points are: the potentiality and the dignity of all people.
The children following the course of non-confessional moral education:
- learn to handle contradictions. Accept that other opinions exist and be able to compromise are important skills to live together in the best circumstances,
- learn how to master conflicts, talking problems through instead of fighting about them, learn to discuss with each other, respecting others, interacting in a friendly way. Free research and thinking critically in handling our opinions is primordial.
We must constantly be prepared to re-examine our opinions.
The policy lines of the non-confessional life-stance course can be reflected by five process aims: teaching the students
- to think and act freely and independently;
- to think morally;
- to discover the value of and learn how to build human forms of living together;
- to learn how to take responsibility for themselves and others;
- to practise developing a sense in meaning of life.
4. Number of pupils following the course of moral education.
First of all I must remind you of the fact that free choice still exists in public schools and not in the private ones.
There is a difference between the success of the course in basic schools and secondary ones. The explanation seems to us very simple. At the age of 11 Roman Catholic youngsters have the ceremony of full integration into the Catholic religion. For some parents and children that is an important festival. After that they are more ready to take our course.
26.2 % of pupils follow the course of non-confessional moral education – total 39,650
53.6 % of students follow the course of non-confessional moral education – total 60,733.
Overall: 100,383 pupils and students.
There are about 1,500 teachers of non-confessional moral education active in Flanders.
C. Relations to other life-stances:
Both the Council and the teachers of the non-confessional life-stance guarantee a positive attitude towards other life conceptions and promote cooperation with colleagues from other philosophical professions.
* All the other recognized life convictions and their organisations guarantee equal treatment of all schools and of all staff members charged with the non-confessional or confessional life-stances;
* The different organisations jointly guarantee and respect the rules and the organisation developed to ensure good functioning of the system. In the implementation of their tasks they are guided by shared general values.
* They recognise the rights and the dignity of all teachers as well as the pedagogical project of each school.
* They respect the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Rome 14.11.1950); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (New-York 20.11.1989); the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (United Nations 25.11.1981).
To be successful it is essential to have:
- a legal framework, national or international;
- a united and a solid organization;
- the certainty that other organizations join the project;
- reserves of patience: it takes 20 to 30 years to switch over from theory to realization;
- a clear, evident and easily comprehensible strategy;
- close contacts with some political parties and decision-makers;
- last but not least the necessary laws and the political will to maintain and respect them.