Education and Training Monitor 2021
1. Key indicators
Figure 1 – Key indicators overview
|EU-level targets||2030 target|
|Participation in early childhood education
(from age 3 to starting age of compulsory primary education)
|Low achieving eighth-graders in digital skills||< 15%||:||:||:||:|
|Low achieving 15-year-olds in:||Reading||< 15%||17.7%09,b||21.3%18||19.7%09,b||22.5%18|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||< 9%||11.9%||8.1%||13.8%||9.9%|
|Exposure of VET graduates to work based learning||≥ 60%||:||:||:||:|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 25-34)||≥ 45% (2025)||43.8%||48.5%||32.2%||40.5%|
|Participation of adults in learning (age 25-64)||≥ 47% (2025)||:||:||:||:|
|Other contextual indicators|
|Education investment||Public expedienture on education as a percentage of GDP||6.0%||6.2%19||5.0%||4.7%19|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per FTE/student in € PPS||ISCED 1-2||€7 94312||€8 62918||€6 07212,d||€6 35917,d|
|ISCED 3-4||€9 45512||€10 19418||€7 36613,d||€7 76217,d|
|ISCED 5-8||€12 05412||€14 14218||€9 67912,d||€9 99517,d|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||Native||10.7%||7.5%||12.4%||8.7%|
|Upper secondary level attainment (age 20-24, ISCED 3-8)||82.5%||85.7%||79.1%||84.3%|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 18-24)||Native||46.0%||51.1%||33.4%||41.3%|
Sources: Eurostat (UOE, LFS, COFOG); OECD (PISA). Further information can be found in Annex I and in Volume 1 (ec.europa.eu/education/monitor). Notes: The 2018 EU average on PISA reading performance does not include ES; the indicator used (ECE) refers to early-childhood education and care programmes which are considered by the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) to be ‘educational’ and therefore constitute the first level of education in education and training systems – ISCED level 0; FTE = full-time equivalent; b = break in time series, d = definition differs, u = low reliability, := not available, 09 = 2009, 12 = 2012, 13 = 2013, 17 = 2017, 18 = 2018, 19 = 2019
Figure 2 - Position in relation to strongest and weakest performers
Source: DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, based on data from Eurostat (LFS 2020, UOE 2019) and OECD (PISA 2018).
- Belgium is strengthening its well-being policies in education and training, and taking some measures to address pupils’ learning loss and increased inequalities in education following the COVID-19 crisis.
- The pandemic has contributed to slowing down the adoption and implementation of reforms in education.
- The Flemish Community (BEfl) is taking measures to make its higher education fit for the 21st century; the French Community (BEfr) is addressing student poverty and promoting academic success to fight the negative impact of COVID-19.
- The Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) aims to strengthen education and training systems, including by investments in digital infrastructure, equipment and skills; there are no comprehensive strategies to strengthen participation in lifelong learning.
3. A focus on well-being in education and training
Belgian schools perform better on school climate than the EU average. According to the OECD PISA 2018 report, Belgium shows that high performance and a strong sense of well-being can be achieved simultaneously (OECD, 2019a). Belgian 15-year-olds behaved less disruptively than their average European peers. The disciplinary climate in schools is better overall, with bullying less frequent. One in five students (18.6%; EU 22.1%) reported being bullied at least a few times a month (European Commission, 2020). Students skip class less often, but arrive late at school more often. However, only 58.2% of 15-year-olds surveyed in 2018 PISA felt that they belonged at school compared with 65.2% at EU level. In 2021, Flemish schools scored very well on class and school climate in the inspection report (Vlaamse Overheid, 2021a).
Further strengthening of well-being policies in schools could improve learning outcomes. 2018 PISA data suggest that measures addressing student behaviour and supportive action from teachers have the potential to increase reading performance in Belgium. Students who report being bullied perform 18 points lower in reading than their peers, representing up to 6 months of schooling. The gap between schools with low and high prevalence of bullying1 is even more substantial (68 points; EU: 70 points). While students reported that they receive a great deal of emotional support from their teachers, feedback culture from teachers to pupils could be further strengthened. Belgian teachers score second lowest on feedback, as perceived by their students (see Figure 3). The gap between schools with low and high prevalence of teachers helping students with learning is equivalent to 48 score points (EU 25 points). More positively, disadvantaged students and students in socio-economically disadvantaged schools were more likely to report that they had supportive teachers, which is particularly important in a COVID-19 context. More parental involvement, which is relatively low compared to other EU countries, would also benefit student well-being and have a positive impact on learning outcomes.
Well-being, mental health and resilience are increasingly part of school policies and curricula. Schools play a key role in promoting the mental health and well-being of children and young people. In BEfl, this is part of the mandatory policy on pupil guidance of each school, and implementation is evaluated during inspections (Vlaamse Overheid, 2021b; 2021a). Physical, mental and emotional awareness and health, socio-relational competences, learning to learn, self-awareness and resilience and cultural awareness are 5 of the 16 key competences in the new secondary education curricula. In BEfr, these competences are covered transversally (FWB, 2013a) and also partly by the civic competences. From 2020/2021, physical activity, well-being and health constitute one of the seven learning areas included in the early childhood education curriculum; this will be gradually rolled out in the period up to 2028 in the new curricula of pupils up to grade nine (FWB, 2020a). Well-being must also be included in school management plans and is subject to evaluation (FWB, 2017; 2019). Schools can voluntarily take part in anti-bullying policy projects. Anti-bullying and anti-violence policies and related training for educators will be gradually developed from 2021/2022. Belgian schools work with specialised psycho-medical-social centres (PMS) or student counselling services (CLB), (guidance) support services, organisations and supporting tools. There is still room for streamlining and integrated approaches, including more parental involvement (UFAPEC 2018; VLOR 2021).
Figure 3 - Index of students’ perceived feedback from teachers based on students’ reports, PISA 2018
Source: OECD, (2019).
The pandemic has greatly increased concerns about mental well-being and health among students. Surveys during COVID-19 reported significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety, feelings of depression, sadness and loneliness, demotivation and poorer health among pupils and students. Young people aged 16-25 seem to be the most affected; students more than workers (Gordts, 2021). Among younger people, findings show larger gaps in educational outcomes and higher inequalities, pupil demotivation and school dropout.
Keeping schools open was therefore a key aspect of the national priority to support students’ mental and social well-being and to limit learning loss and early school leaving (ESL) in the 2020-2021 school year. Schools closed for only 10 days, one of the shortest periods in the EU. Children from pre-primary level to the second year of secondary education were taught face-to-face. The highest 4 grades alternated between part-time distance and in-class teaching from the end of October 2020 until 10 May 2021. The latter were the most at risk of learning loss and early school leaving (see Section 5).
Belgium took additional measures to support pupils’ well-being during the pandemic. In BEfr, additional multidisciplinary teams supported pupils’ psychosocial well-being in secondary schools and psycho-medico-social centres during 2020/2021 (EUR 19 million). In BEfl, well-being measures include additional means to support pupils’ psychosocial situation (EUR 14 million) and an online low-threshold consultation platform for the CLB centres. Stakeholders regret the lack of a whole school approach, as recent reviews indicate that a systemic, whole school approach to mental health and well-being leads to better outcomes (Cefai, 2021).
Well-being policies are also being developed for higher education students, who have been severely affected by distance teaching. In BEfr, almost two thirds feel that their institution offers support for students struggling with well-being issues (UMons, 2021). By early 2022, BEfl will develop a new participatory well-being policy. The mandate of the Support Centre Inclusive Higher Education (SIHO) has been extended to include student well-being. BEfl is also developing a digital well-being platform with an online e-health offer and an annual survey (Vlaams Parlement, 2021a). Despite distance teaching, initial data show that study results in higher education were better than last year because of, among other factors, a lack of other activities.
4. Investing in education and training
In 2019, Belgium’s expenditure on education as a share of GDP was among the highest in the EU (6.2% vs 4.7%) and its expenditure on employee compensation as a share of public spending on education was also the highest (82% vs 64%). The latter accounts for 9.7% of total government expenditure. Above-average teacher salaries, below-average class sizes and, to a lesser extent, less time on teaching and instruction explain this high share. Since 2010, the share of public spending on education rose from 11.2% to 11.8%, and the real-term increase of 12.5% is well above the EU average of 6.4%. Investment increased more markedly at pre-primary and primary levels (+14.4%) than at secondary (7.7%) and tertiary (9.8%) levels; expenditure by education level reached the EU average in 2019 for pre-primary and primary education (33%) and secondary education (39%), but remained below the EU average for higher education (14% vs EU 16%). In 2018, private funding as a share of total educational expenditure was relatively low at 6% (EU-22 11%), of which 13% (20%) was at tertiary level2 (OECD, 2021a) (see Section 7).
Figure 4 -General government expenditure on education by category, 2019
Source: COFOG, gov_10a_exp.
The National Resilience and Recovery Plan (NRRP) supports larger federated recovery plans and investment policies (2019-2024) in education and training. Gross capital formation (e.g. buildings, digital infrastructure and equipment) has grown by 21.3% since 2010, but remained comparatively low at 5.2% of public expenditure (EU average 7.1%) in 2019. The ambitious sustainable school infrastructure plans should address the shortage of adequate school infrastructure (Masterplan School Buildings 2.0, with EUR 3.078 billion over 2019-2024 in BEfl and a future target of EUR 1 billion, of which EUR 230 million through the NRRP in BEfr). This will be complemented in BEfr with sustainable green investments in childcare places, universities, vocational education and training and lifelong learning infrastructure. Recovery plans also include investments in digital infrastructure, equipment and skills in education and training in all federated entities (regions and communities), partially financed by the NRRP. The latter will partially address the funding needs of higher education institutions (EUR 74 million) in BEfr. The Flemish recovery plan includes measures to improve the resilience of vulnerable students and students’ digital skills in compulsory education, and investments in higher and adult education (EUR 585 million) (see other Sections).
Box 1: The National Recovery and Resilience Plan
Of the EUR 5.295 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility, approximately 22% will be invested in education, training and skills related measures, with a strong focus on sustainable/green infrastructure and digital infrastructure, equipment and skills development. Some reforms are planned in training, compulsory and higher education, while investments cover all education sectors and lifelong learning in one or the other federated entities (see other Sections).
5. Modernising early childhood and school education
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) policies remain a priority. Belgium has lowered the age of compulsory education to 5. As of September 2020, compulsory education starts at 5 instead of 6, which mainly benefits vulnerable pupils (European Commission, 2020a). In 2019, Belgium was the third best performer in the EU on participation of children aged 3-6 in ECE (98.3% vs EU average of 92.8% and the new EU-level target of 96% by 2030). For children at risk of poverty or social exclusion, this rate is below the target (95.8% in 2018). In BEfl, from 1 September 2021, additional nursery staff is being funded in pre-primary education (EUR 23 million) and children need to take a Dutch language screening test at the age of 5 and follow language integration pathways if they do not have sufficient command of Dutch. In BEfr, measures to improve quality include the gradual roll-out of free ECE over 2019-2021 and the implementation of a first curriculum of ‘initial competences’ beginning in September 2020 (Pact for Excellence in Education). Due to COVID-19, the related teacher training still needs to be fully completed.
COVID-19 further increased inequality in education and the risk of early school leaving. While Belgium shows good average performance in basic skills, there is a high level of inequality linked to socio-economic factors and migrant backgrounds and between schools (European Commission, 2020a). In BEfl, the school closures of spring 2020 resulted in a general learning loss of up to half a year in sixth grade (Maldonado & De Witte, 2020) and higher inequality between pupils within and between schools (Onderwijsinspectie 2021 and others). Disadvantaged schools and students in urban areas were more affected by the learning loss. In 2020, the national rate of early leavers from education and training continued its downward trend by 0.3 pp. to 8.1% (EU 9.9%; the new EU-level target by 2030 is less than 9%). However, COVID-19 may reverse this positive trend and may also increase the number of pupils repeating a year, which is one of the highest in the EU. In BEfr, 43% of pupils (2018/2019) and 23.1% of pupils in BEfl (2020/2021) had a delay of at least 1 year during primary or secondary education.
Communities have taken some measures to reduce learning loss and the risk of early school leaving, targeting vulnerable pupils in particular. In the NRRP, BEfr has committed to adopting a comprehensive action plan to tackle early school leaving. In 2020/2021, it allocated specific funding to socio-economically disadvantaged schools to hire more teachers and provide individualised support and remediation. Secondary schools could rely on more psychosocial support provided by multidisciplinary teams (see Section 3). Similar actions will be financed through the NRRP in 2021/2022 (reaching 30000 pupils), complementing actions under the European Social Fund (see Box 2). Key learning content was defined and extra-curricular activities were encouraged to tackle school dropout and remedy learning difficulties (FWB, 2021a); summer schools were also organised (FWB, 2021b). Nevertheless, given the high level of inequality within the education system, additional measures in BEfr could be needed. BEfl allocated funding for additional teaching staff in ECEC, compulsory and part-time vocational education within or outside regular school time in 2020/2021. From 2021/2022, 540 additional teaching staff will be permanently allocated to disadvantaged schools and 2 000 will be temporarily allocated to requesting schools during 2021/2022 (Vlaams Parlement, 2021a). Stakeholders have requested long-term measures to tackle the structural problems in education exacerbated by COVID-19, such as cooperation between education and other policies, and equal access to education for vulnerable pupils (VLOR, 2021). Following a positive evaluation, summer schools will become a permanent measure (Departement Onderwijs, 2021).
Box 2: European Social Fund project: "Moorings (Amarrages)"
The project (122 partnerships with 377 organisations involved) in BEfr provided support to and follow-up for 11 450 young people aged 15-24 who were playing truant, attending school irregularly or dropping out of school. Partnerships focused on first-line intervention within schools, on support mechanisms outside of school (e.g. non-institutionalised youth support centres, retention services (‘Services d’accrochage scolaire’), non-governmental organisations, public services) or on compensation measures for young people who had left the school system. The partnerships achieved more effective and coherent actions to prevent young people from dropping out of and disengaging with education.
The EUR 7.4 million project (67% from the ESF) ran from September 2018 to December 2020.
The implementation of digital education ecosystems is higher on the priority list as a result of COVID-19. Education systems were not ready to shift to distance digital learning when schools closed. Teachers’ digital skills were lower than the EU average (European Commission, 2020a). The German-speaking and Flemish Community (see country Box 8 of Volume 1) adopted digital education strategies, partly financed by the NRRP. BEfr has accelerated implementation of its 2018 digital education strategy, including by deploying digital equipment for students and ICT coordinators in schools. Improving teachers’ digital skills will be key for successful ecosystems.
BEfl focuses on improving education quality to counter the negative trend in learning outcomes (European Commission, 2020a). From September 2021, new more ambitious attainment targets and curricula will be gradually rolled out in the second and third cycle of secondary education. From 2023/2024, standardised and validated tests will measure how well pupils achieve set attainment targets, and also the learning gains achieved by individual students and schools. Underperforming schools will enter a guidance pathway to improve their performance. From September 2021, the new collective agreement should reduce work pressure on teachers and school heads and allow them to concentrate more on their core tasks. It should also make teaching and school management more attractive (EUR 188 million). However, the reform of special needs education has been delayed until September 2022 due to COVID-19.
In BEfr, despite COVID-19, some planned reforms of the Pact for Excellence in Education are being progressively adopted or implemented. The reform of the continuing professional training of teachers and psychosocial staff (adopted in June 2021) will be operational from September 2022, with a tripling of the budget to EUR 33 million, modernisation of the offer and special focus on novice teachers (FWB, 2021c). From 2022/2023, a revised school timetable with shorter summer holidays and longer holidays during the year is being discussed, which would mainly benefit disadvantaged students. From September 2021, the reform of inclusive education has been gradually implemented. Forty underperforming schools are entering a guidance pathway to improve their performance. The evaluation of teachers and principals continues through the legislative process. However, implementation of the school governance reform has been extended for the last third of schools. The new curriculum for the first 2 years of primary education and related teacher training, as well as the initial teaching reform, have been delayed until 2022/2023.
6. Modernising vocational education and training and adult learning
The share of upper secondary students in vocational education and training (VET) is high. Despite a slight decrease (of 0.6 pps since 2018), the share of upper secondary VET graduates was 56.2% in 2019, still 7.8 pps above the EU average. In 2020, 76.5% of recent VET graduates (ISCED 3-4) found employment between 1 and 3 years after graduation, which remains, at 15.2 pps, well above the employment rate of students graduating from general education. However, there remain concerns over the quality of VET programmes as well as the capacity of the VET offer to adapt quickly to a changing labour market (European Commission, 2020a; Cedefop, 2021).
The long period of distance learning is expected to have negatively impacted VET students disproportionately. In general, the lack of equipment and adequate competences in distance learning (among both teachers and students) caused some difficulties in the provision of distance learning. This has affected in particular students from more disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, who are overrepresented among VET students. In addition, the public health restrictions imposed by the government have led to many apprenticeships being discontinued. Today, companies remain reluctant to offer apprenticeships and the shortage in the number of places, which was already apparent before the COVID-19 crisis, has further increased (Dewitte and Verhaest, 2020). BEfl plans to improve educational outcomes by sharing examples of good teaching practices in VET and promoting computational thinking through the strengthening of extended reality technology and infrastructure in technical and vocational education (Vlaams Parlement, 2021a).
A sizeable share of EU funding helps make dual learning more attractive. During the COVID-19 crisis, BEfl used part of the additional funding under REACT EU to address the shortage in apprenticeships by increasing financial support for companies that offer apprenticeships. A similar measure (the ‘encouragement premium’) was introduced in BEfr in May 2021 to encourage entrepreneurs who had to close during the lockdown to offer apprenticeships. In addition, provision has been made for substantial investment in education and training under the national recovery and resilience plan, including in equipment and infrastructure. For example, the plan provides for substantial investment in public training agencies in BEfr.
The COVID-19 crisis has stalled policy development as regards VET, although some reforms are in the pipeline. In BEfr, the reform of dual learning is included as one of the major strands of the Walloon recovery plan. One of the key objectives of this reform would be to increase the labour market relevance of the system and improve the quality of the guidance offered in apprenticeships. The French Community is also discussing the reform of its VET school system to increase its labour market relevance. There is scope to rationalise the governance, the offer and the labour market relevance of the VET systems. In BEfl, SYNTRA Vlaanderen, the agency for entrepreneurial training, was discontinued in 2021 and its services integrated into three other organisations.
The COVID-19 crisis decreased further participation of adults in training, which was already at a low level. In 2020, only 7.4% (EU 9.2%) of the working age population (25-64) participated in lifelong learning in the 4 weeks before the Labour Force Survey, a decrease of 0.8 pp. (EU -1.6 pps). The main barriers to adult learning are work, childcare and family responsibilities – costs were the least-cited barrier in all OECD countries (OECD, 2019b).
The fast transition to e-learning following the COVID-19 crisis highlighted the need for increased investment in digital skills. Digital learning was possible for some groups, but gave rise to significant difficulties for the most vulnerable groups, who often lack the equipment and basic digital skills required. In order to prepare for the digital transition, upskilling and reskilling, in particular as regards digital skills, is at the core of the recovery instruments proposed by the different regional governments. The Flemish government and social partners agreed in December 2020 to the roll-out of a ‘learning and career initiative’. It includes measures to encourage participation in lifelong learning, such as an increase in the transparency of the training offer, a temporary increase in the time credit for lifelong learning, the roll-out of competence checks for employees and companies and the setting-up of an individual learning account. One of the five strategic strands of the ‘Get Up Wallonia!’ recovery plan includes measures such as the establishment of a universal instrument to support lifelong learning (‘skills wallet’) as well as investment in training equipment and infrastructure. The strong focus on digital skills is also reflected in the ‘Start digital’ and ‘Upskills Wallonia’ projects, adopted in May 2020.
Several of the measures proposed in the regional recovery plans to boost skills development are included in the NRRP. The latter devotes more than EUR 500 million (or 8%) to boosting adult skills development, including for vulnerable groups. The plan includes measures such as the establishment of individual learning accounts, investment to increase the labour market relevance and transparency of the training offer as well as investment in equipment and training infrastructure. However, the plan does not represent a comprehensive strategy to strengthen participation in lifelong learning. It includes few measures to incentivise participation in training and develop a learning culture, the lack of which were identified as the main causes of low participation in lifelong learning. This is especially a concern in Wallonia, where investment in training is almost exclusively focused on building and renovating training centres.
7. Modernising higher education
Tertiary education attainment is high, but the gender gap and disparities related to socio-economic background are significant. In 2020, 48.5% of adults aged 25-34 held a tertiary-level degree (vs EU average of 40.5% and new EU-level target of 45%). However, the gender gap is significant (15.4 pps vs EU 10.8 pps). While the share of men increased by 2 pps to 40.8% between 2010 and 2020, for women it increased by 6.8 pps to 56.2%. There are also wide disparities related to socio-economic and migrant backgrounds and the attainment gap for people with disabilities far exceeded the EU average (European Commission, 2020). The employment rate of recent tertiary education graduates aged 20-34 (88% in 2020) is above the EU average (83.7%), but there is a significant shortage of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates, including in ICT, to meet labour market demand. BEfr intends to develop a STEAM3 action plan and make STEAM more attractive in higher education. BEfl has tabled a new STEM-Agenda 2030 in June 2021 (Vlaamse Overheid, 2021c).
Internationalisation of higher education is high on the agenda. Ten Belgian higher education institutions (HEIs) participate in the European Universities Initiative (EUI). BEfr has allocated EUR 0.9 million in grants to its four institutions participating in the initiative. BEfl will introduce more flexibility in its legislation to facilitate the development of the EUI. Belgium is also party to an agreement to further automatic mutual recognition of higher education degrees between the Baltic and Benelux countries.
The Flemish Community aims to transform its higher education for the 21st century, supported by the Recovery and Resilience Fund. It has committed to create a long-term vision to transform its higher education, with the involvement of all stakeholders, by the end of 2023. It will also support medium-term projects to make its training portfolio more flexible and future-proof, develop further lifelong learning and new (digital education) methods to improve labour market relevance, digital and green readiness and international competitiveness, including through micro-credentials (Voorsprongfonds, Vlaams Parlement, 2021b).
The French Community is addressing student poverty and promoting academic success to fight the negative impact of COVID-19. Students could still enrol in higher education in 2020/2021 in case of failure in 2019/2020 (FWB, 2020b). From 1 July 2021, the reform of student allowances will extend eligibility to students and will simplify the eligibility criteria. Exceptionally, the eligible funding ceiling will also be doubled in 2021/2022 (FWB, 2021d). Other measures include an increase in open-ended social subsidies for HEIs to provide students with material and psychological support, lower enrolment fees, support to (first year) students to help them succeed, and flexibility measures for graduation. On 30 June 2021, the parliament of the French Community adopted a comprehensive plan to fight student poverty, which affects more than 1 in 3 students (FWB, 2021e). The proposal to reform the 2013 Higher education decree (décret Paysage) includes provisions to limit the time in which students must graduate, strengthen remediation activities for students encountering difficulties and to provide additional funding for HEIs in order to help students succeed academically (FWB, 2021f).
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Annex I: Key indicators sources
|Indicator||Eurostat online data code|
|Participation in early childhood education||educ_uoe_enra21|
|Low achieving eighth-graders in digital skills||IEA, ICILS.|
|Low achieving 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science||OECD (PISA)|
|Early leavers from education and training||Main data: edat_lfse_14.
Data by country of birth: edat_lfse_02.
|Exposure of VET graduates to work based learning||Data for the EU-level target is not available. Data collection starts in 2021. Source: EU LFS.|
|Tertiary educational attainment||Main data: edat_lfse_03.
Data by country of birth: edat_lfse_9912.
|Participation of adults in learning||Data for the EU-level target is not available. Data collection starts in 2022. Source: EU LFS.|
|Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP||gov_10a_exp|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per student||educ_uoe_fini04|
|Upper secondary level attainment||edat_lfse_03|
Annex II: Structure of the education system
Source: European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2021. The Structure of the European Education Systems 2021/2022: Schematic Diagrams. Eurydice Facts and Figures. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
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