Crisis in Belgian Dutch-language Schools: Rising Absences and Mental Health Struggles among Pupils

The number of pupils in Belgium’s Dutch-language schools facing suspensions, illnesses, and “unlawful” absences has seen a dramatic increase this school year, along with a sharp rise in mental health issues among young people. 

The Centres for Pupil Guidance (CLB), which operates within Dutch-language schools in Brussels and Flanders, has released alarming data highlighting these growing concerns.

Escalating Absences and Their Implications

The CLB’s latest report reveals a significant rise in “problematic” absences, with the number of affected pupils growing by more than a quarter in the last school year (2022-2023). 

A total of 30,254 pupils, or 2.46% of the school population, came into contact with the CLB due to these absences. 

This category includes both unauthorized absences and frequent or long-term absences due to illness. When compared to five years ago (2017-2018), there has been a 27% increase in this percentage.

A deeper look into the data shows that the number of pupils in Flanders with at least 20 unauthorized half-day absences per school year has surged by 41.2%. 

Similarly, the number of pupils with at least 20 half-day absences due to illness has climbed by 42%. 

These absences are a strong predictor of early school leaving, according to the CLB, and are already reflected in the rising number of pupils exiting education without adequate qualifications. 

This situation underscores the urgent need for preventive measures in schools and collaborative efforts among all stakeholders.

Rising Suspensions and Educational Challenges

Suspensions have also become more prevalent, with a sharp increase over the past four years. The number of suspended pupils has reached 4,457, representing 0.37% of all Flemish pupils. This issue is more pronounced in special education than in mainstream education, further compromising the right to education for these students.

Mental Health: An Increasing Concern

Mental health issues among pupils have also escalated. The number of students seeking help from the CLB for emotional development problems—ranging from school phobia and social anxiety to depression—has risen by over 40%. In the 2018-2019 school year, 8,000 pupils sought help for such issues, a number that increased to more than 11,300 by the 2022-2023 school year.

Although there has been a slight decrease in pupils seeking help since the peak during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the numbers are still significantly higher compared to pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, the nature of these mental health issues has become more complex, with students seeking assistance at younger ages. These trends emphasize the need for accessible and effective well-being programs in schools.

Home Situations and Their Impact

The CLB has also reported a rise in the number of pupils living in worrying home situations. Since the 2018-2019 school year, there has been a 56% increase in the number of pupils whose developmental opportunities and integrity are threatenedThis indicates that more pupils are reaching out to the CLB when faced with distressing circumstances at home.

Non-Native Newcomers and Integration Efforts

The CLB carried out 20,851 interventions last school year to support non-native newcomers, marking a significant increase from previous years. This surge reflects an increased influx of non-native students in Flanders and Brussels.

Overburdened Support Systems

More than half of the students in Flanders and Brussels—691,238 pupils, or 56% of the total student population—interacted with the CLB last academic year. This increased demand has led to a higher workload for the CLB and its partner organizations, resulting in long waiting lists, particularly for more intensive assistance. In some cases, requests for help go unanswered, exacerbating the situations for affected pupils.

Call for Coordinated Action

In light of these pressing issues, the CLB is urgently calling for a more coordinated approach among welfare partners to combat the fragmentation in the youth services landscape. A more streamlined system would allow for quicker and more efficient referrals to the necessary services, ensuring that pupils receive the help they need in a timely manner.

Conclusion

The rising number of absences, suspensions, and mental health issues among pupils in Belgium’s Dutch-language schools paints a concerning picture of the current state of youth education and welfare. 

The data from the CLB highlights the urgent need for preventive measures in schools, more robust mental health support, and a coordinated approach to address the complex challenges faced by students

Without significant intervention, these issues risk compromising the educational and developmental outcomes of a substantial portion of the student population.

As the CLB and other educational and welfare organizations strive to address these challenges, it is imperative for policymakers, educators, and community leaders to work together. 

By creating a more cohesive and responsive support system, they can ensure that all pupils have the opportunity to succeed academically and thrive emotionally.

 

This article was created using automation and was thoroughly edited and fact-checked by one of our staff editorial members

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