The education and training system comprises:
- early childhood education (ISCED level 0);
- primary education (ISCED levels 1);
- secondary education (ISCED level 3);
- post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED level 4);
- higher education (ISCED levels 6, 7 and 8).
Early childhood education is not compulsory and is generally provided at childcare institutions for children up to age six (the Ministry of Education is responsible for education starting at three).
Compulsory education starts at the age of 6 and lasts until 18 years of age. Those twelve years include six years of primary education and six years of secondary education. Policies regarding learners subjected to compulsory education are under the supervision of the education ministry in each of the Community (Flemish, French and German-speaking Communities).
Primary school programme lasts six years, on successful completion learners acquire the Certificate of Basic Education (Certificat d’Etudes de Base, CEB) giving them access to secondary education.
General secondary education is a six-year programme divided into three degrees, each lasting two years. The achievement of each degree gives access to the next level. At the end of the first degree, learners have the possibility to remain in the general education stream (nationally referred as transition education) or to switch to the VET stream (nationally referred to as qualification education). Programmes at this level are offered as technical or artistic qualification programmes or as vocational qualification programmes. Programmes can be offered full-time, as dual learning or part-time. After having successfully accomplished the sixth year of general secondary education, learners obtain a certificate of upper secondary education (Certificat de l’enseignement secondaire supérieur, CESS).
Schooling institutions in Belgium are organised into networks: formal non-denominational education (organised by Communities, the French Community Commission, provinces and municipalities) and private education (non-denominational or denominational, organised by non-profit associations, religious congregations, etc.) thus offering parents the choice of the type of education they want for their children.
VET learning options in Belgium are available from a number of providers, each depending on one of the three linguistic Communities and delivering the learning in one of the three Regions.
The general pattern of VET learning options is similar in every Community. They can be organised in four groups, according to the education level at which they are available: secondary, post-secondary non-tertiary, tertiary level and adult education.
Secondary level (ISCED 3)
At secondary level, four types of VET options can be distinguished.
- Technical secondary education
Technical education is a school-based programme for learners who are interested in following more ‘technical’ subject courses (computer science, applied sciences, economics, etc. – in general secondary education, this time is devoted to more general subjects like languages, mathematics, etc.). At the end of the sixth year, the students receive a qualification certificate and a certificate of upper secondary education (CESS) which gives them the possibility to continue their education at a higher level.
- Vocational secondary education
Vocational education at secondary level is a school-based programme targeting learners who wish to prepare for working life. Vocational education programmes are taught in various sectors like agronomy, industry, construction, HORECA, economy, etc. Basically, this type of education is organised in the second and/or third degrees (years four to six). A vocational certificate (nationally referred to as qualification certificate) is delivered at the end of the sixth year. An additional seventh-year allows students to obtain the CESS which gives them access to higher education.
- Apprenticeships or dual programmes
This type of education is accessible to learners aged 15 if they have completed the first degree of secondary education or learners aged 16 and up without conditions. Apprenticeship can be either organised in schools or in training centres (IFAPME, SFPME,
SFPME: Le Service de la formation des petites et moyennes entreprise – The training service for small and medium-sized enterprises.
EFP: Espace Formation des PME (SMEs) – Training Place for small and medium-sized enterprises in Brussels.
EFP for French-speakers in Wallonia and Brussels; SYNTRA for Dutch-speakers in Flanders and Brussels and the IAWM is managing the ZAWM training centres in the German-speaking Community) and are mainly work-orientated.
During the week, one or two days are devoted to theoretical learning at school or in the training centres and three or four days are devoted to training within an enterprise. A regulatory framework exists for apprenticeships: a signed contract stating the rights and duties of all parties involved (remuneration, holidays, etc.). A qualification certificate is delivered at the end of the sixth year (equivalent to the certificate received in the school-based system). An additional seventh-year allows students to obtain the CESS which gives them access to higher education.
Special VET programmes are offered to learners with physical or mental difficulties in each Community. Learners receive a qualification certificate or, in some programmes, a CESS.
Post-secondary non-tertiary level (ISCED 4)
Post-secondary education includes follow-up programmes to technical and vocational secondary education and a graduate programme in nursing.
Tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6)
Tertiary level in VET concerns professional bachelor programmes offering to acquire plenty of practical experience or dual bachelor and master programmes which offer theoretical courses and training within a company (40-60% time-division).
Adult education (starting at ISCED 1)
Adult education concerns all levels of education; diplomas and certificates can also be acquired by adults who did not have the opportunity to do it in the traditional pathway. Specific training programmes can be offered to jobseekers and workers by employment agencies (linguistic, computing trainings, etc.).
Training centres for apprenticeships presented above are also open to adults. They offer multiple programmes in entrepreneurial, leading and coordinating trainings and are accessible for people aged 18 and up. People wishing to open their own business can acquire the necessary certificates in those centres. In Wallonia and Brussels,
CISP and OISP offer practical training in a business or in workshops to unemployed and vulnerable groups.
Specific associations are available for NEETS people. Their focus is to offer the opportunity for vulnerable groups to integrate the job-market more easily.
There are many variations inside this system depending on the Community/Regions we are focusing on. Those variations concern the access modalities, the sector and programme availabilities, the costs, the duration of the training, etc.
Other forms of VET training are also organised by sectorial funds and unsubsidised private partners.