Belgium

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Global Citizenship Education activities in Belgium organized by Annoncer la Couleur, a project of the Belgian Development Agency Enabel.


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Major Branches of Peace Education Observed in Belgium. (click for details)
  • Global Citizenship Education (GCED)

Significant Approaches and Themes of Peace Education in Belgium. (click for details)
  • Child’s Rights
  • Civic Education
  • Coexistence Education

Historical Context

Belgium is a European country of 30.689 km2 with about 11 million inhabitants. The country is a federal Constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. The powers are divided between 3 levels of decision-making: the federal government, 3 linguistic communities (Flemish, French and German-speaking) and 3 regions (Flanders, Brussels Capital and Wallonia), which can be in a way compared to the German Länders or the United States. Flanders is majority Dutch, Wallonia is French-speaking and Brussels is both. The regions were created according to the economic diversity of the country, and are responsible for space-bounded issues, such as regional economy, environment, or transport (Loobuyck and Franken, 2011). The linguistic communities were created according to Belgium’s cultural diversity, first they were only in charge of cultural affairs and now they manage all ‘person-related matters’ including the education system (OECD, 2017). 

The country became independent from the Netherlands in 1830. Before its independence Belgium was part of different countries and Empires, and it was an important place for trade and culture in Europe. Belgium was also often in the middle of several European wars between the XVIth and XIXth century, therefore Belgium was known as the battlefield/battleground of Europe. During the XXth century Belgium had an important colonial Empire mainly composed of the modern DRC and of Rwanda and Burundi. The treatment of the population in the colonies was very violent, particularly in Congo. Belgium’s colonial Empire fell in the 1960s. Belgium was one the founding members of the current European Union in 1951. The country is one of the three seats of the EU institutions (namely the European Commission, the European Council, the Council of the European Union and one of the seats of the European Parliament), and is therefore considered as the (non-official) capital of the EU. 

The country is composed of three communities, the Flemish community (60% of the population), the French-speaking community (40%) and a small German-speaking community (about 1%). Since the XXth century there is a continued political conflict between the Flemish and the French-speaking community, due to a various number of factors including the cultural and linguistic differences but also the unequal economic development between the two regions. There is also an important historical background to consider, during the industrial revolution, Wallonia was an influential industrial area, politically and economically dominant compared to the rural Flanders. This domination of French-speaking elites resulted in the emergence of an important Flemish movement that fought to have a better recognition of Flemish culture and language (Van Der Linden and Roets, 2017). The situation gradually reversed in favor of Flanders after World War II, and the region became more and more educated and wealthy and asked for an equal share of the power, while Wallonia was facing an important industrial decline. This situation worsened the tensions between the two regions and led to many revisions of the Constitution in order to share the powers between the regions but it did not settle the conflict.

There is a lack of  an established feeling of belonging to Belgium as a nation, while the regional identity and narratives are very strong. Many people in Flanders for instance identify as Flemish not as Belgian (Belgium Political Geography, « Ethnic conflicts »). Among the Flemish community there is a growing demand for more autonomy, even separatism and partition, which explains notably the recent political victory of Nationalist Flemish Parties: the N-VA (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie) and the Vlaams Belang, a far-right party. The political landscape is totally different in Wallonia, dominated by the Socialist Party (PS) and the Christian Democrats. This important political and ideological difference has led to the quasi impossibility to find any common ground between the regional parties. One example is the departure by the N-VA from the federal government in 2018, because the government was about to sign the UN migration pact (Debeuf, 2019). This has also caused political deadlocks with the impossibility to form a federal government in the country, and since the most recent elections in 2019 there was no agreement on a new government, until the Covid-19 situation when a short-term government with special powers was appointed for a period from 3 to 6 months (Moens, 2020).

Moreover in Belgium there is an increase in racism and intolerance, especially towards people migrating. In 2019, the Federal equal rights agency Unia noted a 55% increase of complaints of racism, over the last 5 years (Bradshaw, 2019).  Belgium is also one of the worst countries in Europe regarding employment discrimination rate and the socio-professional integration rate of migrant people is very low (Degée et al., 2019). Police violence against these populations is also an increasing issue in the country, in 2018 according to a report by Doctors of the World 1 in 4 immigrants have suffered from police violence (Sanchez, 2018). The rise of far-right parties such as the Vlaams Belang, well known for its anti-migrant stance, is a cause as well as a consequence of this increase. Facing this issue, more and more is being done by the Belgian government, with the launch in January 2020 of a large-scale action plan to counter hate speech and racism (Galindo, 2020).

Current Issues & Conflicts
  • The communitarian divide and the risk of partition
  • The political deadlock
  • The rise of racism and intolerance

Additional Resources for More Context

Significant Peace Education Efforts & Approaches

Because of the regional and communitarian division of the country, peace education efforts can vary widely from a region to another. The majority of the organisations and institutions involved are only working in one region. Also, the language can be a barrier to having more cross-regional initiatives, since the entire population of Belgium is not fluent in the all 3 languages, not even in French and Dutch. Nevertheless, several cooperation and development NGOs are bilingual and active across regions and promote the same messages in their advocacy and campaigning work even if the approach and activities can vary in function of the audience and the region. One example is the federal initiative «’Annoncer la Couleur/ Kleur bekennen » (in English Confess the Colours) which is supported by Belgian cooperation and implemented by the Belgian Development Agency Enabel. The initiative focuses on Global Citizenship Education (GCED), the aim is to anchor GCED within official education (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017). The activities include: strengthening the pedagogical practices of those involved in education via trainings (notably on Peace Education), engaging in political and institutional dialogues to advocate for GCED ‘from the top’ and finally supporting and developing innovative projects (pilot projects). Because of the differences in terms of education and teaching the activities can vary a little on the Flemish and French-speaking side. For instance, in the French-speaking region, teachers must follow and complete trainings during their career, that is why the organisation is offering trainings, but this is not the case in the Flemish area. 

In Belgium the term ‘Peace Education’ is not used extensively, but we find other concepts such as ‘development education,’ ‘global citizenship education,’  ‘world citizenship education,’ or ‘education for sustainable development’ (Concord Europe, 2018). Namely, the Flemish Peace Institute and the Peace Centre of the City of Antwerp use the term ‘peace education.’ In general, the most used is Global Citizenship Education, which can be considered as peace education since the aim is to “contribute to a more just and inclusive world” (Spriet, 2019).  Belgium is actually considered as a leader in GCED in Europe (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017).

Programs tend to focus on various issues such as solidarity, diversity, democracy, citizenship, migrations, human rights, sustainable development, and ecology. Among the thematics that come up most often we can find issues related to responsible consumption, fair trade, children’s rights, ecological justice, the fight against inequalities, gender, interculturality, etc. Recently, we have seen a growing interest in understanding the cause of radicalization, violent extremism and segregation (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017).  In this context education is seen as an appropriate tool to prevent and counter violent extremism, notably thanks to the development of intercultural and interreligious dialogue and activities (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2016). This trend is quite common within Europe, especially since the recent terror attacks (notably in Brussels in 2016).  

Many stakeholders are involved in the peace education efforts in Belgium, including specialized actors such as education institutions, cooperation NGOs, federal programmes. But also intermediate and less specialized actors can deliver education efforts, or help promote the messages of peace education, even if it is not their core business, such as local associations, cultural and youth centers, media organisations, research institutions and also private companies. 

The funding for peace education comes from different stakeholders at different levels, firstly the Ministry of Development Cooperation (national level), then the regions and provinces and finally the EU (Concord Europe, 2018). However, many funds are directed towards development activities implemented outside of the country. 

The study from CONCORD showed the different types of education activities funded: 

  1. Development of teaching materials and publishing in Global Citizenship Education. 
  2. Informal education activities focused on global citizenship (outside a structured curriculum). 
  3. Global Citizenship Education in formal education. 
  4. Teacher training activities (pre-service and continuing in-service training of teachers). 
  5. Work with the media to promote Global Citizenship Education.

To this we can also add the description of GCED missions by ACODEV (2016), a Belgian cooperation NGOs federation: 

- Education/training mission: with activities in formal and non-formal education
- Citizen awareness mission (awareness campaigns, action groups, etc)
- Political advocacy mission (lobbying, research, media influencing, etc)

Many activities and training focus on children and young people in Belgium, but the GCED audience in Belgium is quite broad and many organisations also work on lifelong education targeting adults, like ITECO.be in the French-speaking region which offers trainings and activities on GCED. 

Several organisations work with the formal education field, provide trainings for teachers, and can also directly intervene in classes. Good examples worth mentioning include: the work done by Djapo on Education for Sustainable Development in primary education (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017), the initiative “Classes de paix” (Peace class) by the association (ASBL) Éducation globale et développement (Global Education and Development) which is implemented in primary schools in Wallonia in order to develop peace education activities (Éducation globale et Développement, 2015), the NGO Caritas Belgium which offers teacher trainings about conflicts and migrations and also proposes to the students to directly write letter to young Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the organisation Justice et Paix (Justice and Peace) which provides many pedagogical tools (Justice et Paix, 2015) for teachers on issues relating to peace and conflicts such as memory and reconciliation or minerals and conflicts, and also the organisation Kinderrechtenschool/ École des droits de l’enfant  (Children’s rights school) which has education materials available on its website about children’s rights, targeting primary and secondary education (Danau and Pauly, 2019). 

In 2018, a study on the teacher’s perception regarding the impact of GCED’s interventions in schools in the French-speaking region reveals that the interventions generally have a great impact on the students, and that they contribute to the developments of specific skills present in the official curriculum (ACODEV, 2018). Also, many NGOs propose pedagogic content for the schools to help implementing GCED in class (educational tools, activities, trainings, project supports). For instance, the organisation Îles de Paix (Peace Islands) developed a catalog entitled “La Solidarité Internationale en classe” (International solidarity in the classroom). Moreover, ACODEV, recently published a study on GCED which highlights how GCED has a positive impact and contributes to support “young people to become responsible and critical citizens who are aware of the importance of international solidarity and actively contribute to a more just world” (Spriet, 2019).

Legislative and Policy Initiatives

Education in Belgium is not a federal jurisdiction but a communitarian one, therefore there are three different education systems, with different efforts regarding peace education, or GCED. The role of the federal government is very limited, and can only decide on topics such as the legal age for mandatory schooling (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017). In addition to this community division there are different types of schools in Belgium which complicate the education system even more. There are at least four different kinds of teaching and education networks: community education (public education depending on the community government), subsidized public education (local authorities), provincial education (provincial authorities) and finally subsidized free schools (organized in majority by organisations linked to the Catholic Church, but not necessarily) (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017). This complexity permits an important variety of education initiatives but it can also hinder cooperation and coordination efforts across the country (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017), and even inside the same region between schools of different teaching networks belonging to the same linguistic community. Finally, because of the communitarian education differences, but also because of socio-economic differences, there are a lot of disparities between the students. Belgium cannot provide real equal learning opportunities, as all students do not have the same level of knowledge and skills (OECD, 2017).

Therefore it is important to develop a separate section for each community education system, although it was difficult to gather the same level of information for each community. 

French-speaking community

Within the French-speaking community there are several policy initiatives which permit the inclusion of GCED within the official curriculum. For GCED or citizenship education, which can be seen in a way as peace education, many policies exist. First in 1997 there was a decree (Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 1997) which enforced citizenship education as one of the fundamental missions of francophone education. Then, a 2007 decree (entitled the ‘citizenship decree’) (Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 2007) made mandatory the teaching of citizenship education in history and geography class at the end of secondary education (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2012). Also there is an agreement between the federal government and the French-speaking Minister for Education in order to reinforce GCED within schools (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017).  

Since 2016-2017, French-speaking students have to choose between different courses in religion and moral studies. (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017)  More specifically, a new course on “philosophy and citizenship education” has been launched in 2016/17 in primary schools and 2017/18 in secondary schools, it will be mandatory within the official teaching system and students will be assessed (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2016). For the other teaching systems, it is not mandatory to have a separate course on philosophy and citizenship, it is possible to distribute the different skills and knowledge within other courses. Also, since September 2016 there is a new specialization in Philosophy and Citizenship for teachers which will become mandatory in September 2022. In order to only have teachers with this certificate teach the subject 'Philosophy and Citizenship,' they also must have followed a training in ‘neutrality’ (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017). More generally, there is currently a reform of the initial teacher training (Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 2019) where contents and methods for GCED have a privileged place. 

Also, the official curricula refers to ‘emotional awareness’ (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017).  At all education levels it is important for all students to 'know about or respect religions' in order to develop tolerance among students (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017). There are currently important education reforms within the French-speaking community, in order to implement a « Pacte  d’excellence pour l’enseignement » (Excellence Teaching Pact). With this pact, schools in the region have to define a « control plan » and set improvement targets for the next 6 years. Citizenship education is one of the topics to focus on in order to contribute to the improvement of the education system. 

Finally, a 'National plan for the prevention of radicalisation and the improvement of co-existence' 2015 (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2016) was launched. This has  an educational component which notably includes the development of an internet platform for citizenship education (in September 2015), with pedagogical tools and resources for teachers, trainings for students on media literacy, and initiatives on anti-racism, respect for others and co-existence (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2016). Though, it is difficult to find evidence of a concrete implementation of the Plan. The French-speaking minister for Culture also runs anti-racism campaigns and deals with remembrance education in schools (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017).

Flemish community

The situation is slightly different for the Flemish community. There have been some efforts especially regarding citizenship education, which allow students to  gain skills on «taking responsibility, showing respect, being critical» (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017). The Declaration of Neutrality (in Dutch) of the state education organized by the Flemish Community mentions important concepts such as diversity, critical thinking and active citizenship. It also explains that teachers must be trained in «philosophizing (neutral techniques in researching in group), debating (neutral techniques in argumentation and convincing), mediation (neutral techniques in problem-solving), moral judgment (neutral techniques in facilitating moral deliberation and development)» (Danau and Pauly, 2019). The Catholic educational network as well as the schools of the local authorities also pay attention to these topics.

The education in the Flemish region is notably characterized by the ‘attainment targets’ set up by the government. In 2018 new targets were adopted for Secondary Education and citizenship competences are part of these new targets. Among the new attainment targets for citizenship education we can find «Deal with diversity in living and working together» or «Critically approach the mutual influence between societal developments, and their impact on the (global) society and the individual» (Flemish Peace Institute, 2019). Dialogue is also placed at the center of these new targets. And conflict resolution is mentioned as part of citizenship education. 

Since 2008, the Flemish government funds a network on ‘remembrance education’. The aim is to understand how to learn from a violent past for the present and the future in terms of democracy, citizenship or peace (Herinnerings Educatie (Remembrance Education)). Emotional awareness is also an important topic for Flemish schools (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017). 

There is also meaningful work done on religious tolerance and awareness in schools (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017). This can be linked to the recent development of education as a tool to prevent violent extremism and counter radicalisation, especially the religious one. In 2015 the Community approved the Action plan on the prevention of the processes of radicalisation which may result in extremism and terrorism (Actieplan ter preventie van radicaliseringsprocessen die kunnen leiden tot extremisme en terrorisme), which was updated in 2017, with an important education section which includes actions such as the implementation of intercultural and interreligious dialogue in schools or religious counseling for students. (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2016) Moreover in the community, the education authorities are working specifically on countering radical Islam, in cooperation with the Educational Network of Islam Experts which offers guidances and resources to prevent radicalisation (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2012). The updated Flemish Action Plan (May 2021) focuses on various forms of violent extremism, as well as on polarization.

Additionally, other Ministries collaborate on education issues, such as the Ministry of Environment promoting Education for sustainable development or the Ministry of culture promoting intercultural activities (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017). Also, since 2004, the Flemish Parliament hosts the Flemish Peace Institute, which supports the Flemish Parliament by conducting scientific research on various issues related to peace and security. The Institute is notably working on peace education and conflict management, they focus specifically on dealing with controversy and polarisation in the classroom and for that they have published a report including pedagogical scenarios for teachers (Van Alstein, 2019). The ‘Peace Centre’ of the City of Antwerp develops educational and public projects related to peace education and remembrance education (Vredescentrum).

German-speaking community

The German-speaking community proves harder to find information, notably because of the size of the community, and the lack of information available in other languages than German. There seems to be no specific course on peace or citizenship education, but ‘empowering students to contribute to the shaping of society’ is one of the main objectives of the programmes (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2012). Different skills need to be developed by students during their education, including being open, tolerant and respectful towards others, discussing and dealing with current social issues or reflecting on cultural identity, diversity and ethnocentric thinking (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017). 

Education about religions and religious tolerance and awareness is also important in the German-speaking community where ethics and/or religious education is available for students and includes elements of citizenship education (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017). Also, an Action Plan on Intercultural and Religious Dialogue was launched for the 2016/17 school year, and 2016 was the year of intercultural and interreligious dialogue for the community, and a steering committee was appointed to help schools with this issue (GENE Hartley, McAuley and Wegimont eds., 2017). 

Despite the significant disparities between the three communities there are certain common points in their educational approach, notably the importance of educating children on religious tolerance and the use of education in preventing and countering radicalisation and violent extremism. 

Beside the only education aspect, it is worth mentioning the 2013 “Loi relative à la Coopération Belge au Développement” (Law on Belgian Development Cooperation) which is a federal law effective in the three regions. In Article 7 the law states that one of the objectives of the Belgian Development Cooperation is to “ensure awareness of the Belgian citizen through information and education on the issues, the problems and the achievement of the objectives of development cooperation and international relations.” For instance the federal authorities grant funding to movie directors, responsible for television programs, film productions and events organisation in order to raise awareness among citizens on development cooperation and development countries (Belgium Kingdom - Public Federal Service - Foreign Affairs, External Trade and Development Cooperation, 2018).  A recent impact study, highlighted that such programmes managed to reach a large and diversified audience across Belgium, and have overwhelmingly a positive impact (Belgium Kingdom - Public Federal Service - Foreign Affairs, External Trade and Development Cooperation, 2018).  

Finally, it seems important to mention the EU efforts regarding Peace Education, because even if education remains a national competence the EU can still have a certain influence. In fact within the EU there was a renewed interest for education for peace after the terror attacks in Europe in 2015, which led to the sign of the 2015 Paris Declaration on Promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education. This document says that education is supposed « to help young people –in close cooperation with parents and families – to become active, responsible, open-minded members of society. » It has an important influence on Belgian’s communities notably regarding their recent work on preventing violent extremism and radicalisation through education.

Policy / Legislation (click for details)
  • Supportive

Teacher Training (click for details)
  • Optional

SDG Indicator 4.7.1 Data / Analysis (click for details)

No formal reporting on 4.7.1 is currently available.  For a general overview, please visit Belgium's SDG website.

Preliminary analysis of SDG Indicator 4.7.1 was conducted in 2018 by UNESCO (based on 2016 data) that provides a ranking according to Belgium's inclusion of global citizenship education and education for sustainable development across five indicators.  The scores are denoted by numbers (the higher the number, the greater the inclusion): High = 3, Medium = 2, and Low =1. M is used to refer to missing national responses.

National Education PoliciesCurricula: ContentCurricula: ResourcesTeacher EducationStudent Assessment
12112

From the UNESCO Report: “TCG4/16 Development of SDG thematic indicator 4.7.1” (2018)

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Children partake in Global Citizenship Education activities with ACODEV, the Francophone Federation of Belgian CSOs of Development and Cooperation.

Peace Education Organizations, Projects, & Models
  • Annoncer la Couleur/Kleur bekennen (Nailing colours to the mast) project by the Belgian Development Cooperation Agency, is the federal program for Global Citizenship Education
  • L’Aquilone Lifelong learning association focuses on the fight against social and cultural exclusion 
  • Auschwitz Foundation  In remembrance of Auschwitz, works with schools on remembrance education
  • Centrum Blabla Workshop on Nonviolent communication 
  • Changement pour l’égalité (Change for equality) offers trainings and resources on how to deal with multicultural and gender issues in class 
  • CONCORD European federation of NGOs that prioritizes GCED
  • Culture & Développement (Culture and development) enhances peace for adults and children through education and cultural activities
  • De Vuurbloem (The Fire Flower) offers different types of activities on nonviolence and conflict resolution. 
  • Djapo focuses on various issues such as sustainable education and children rights
  • Éducation globale et développement ASBL (Global education and development) notably created the project “Classes de paix” (peace class)
  • Evens Foundation supports different education projects notably focusing on European history
  • The Flemish Peace Institute delivers research on peace education issues, notably on controversy in the classroom
  • La ligue des droits humains. (Human Rights League) has a training programme with awareness activities for adults and children on human rights, discrimination, civil desobedience, etc.
  • Université de paix (Peace university) works with adults and young people to help them deal with conflicts in a peaceful way
  • PATHWAYS Institute for Negotiation Education organises negotiation activities with students, educators, schools and organizations
  • Pax Christi Flanders notably organises peace education workshops with the University of Antwerp
  • Samen Zonder Pesten (Together without Bullying) offers educational material for schools to build a peaceful environment in schools without bullies
  • School Zonder Racism (School without Racism) works with schools on the issues of racism and multiculturalism
  • Studio Globo provides tools for educational structures on intercultural education
  • List of organisations active in GCED by Acodev
  • List of organisations delivering GCED by the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (regional government)

News on Peace Education in Belgium

Access the comprehensive archive of news articles related to Belgium on the Global Campaign for Peace Education website. 
For a more customizable search, please visit the Global Campaign for Peace Education Clearinghouse.

Research on Peace Education in Belgium

Where to Study Peace Education in Belgium

Visit the Global Campaign for Peace Education Global Directory for where to study peace education in Belgium and around the world.

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Global Citizenship Education activities in Belgium organized by Annoncer la Couleur, a project of the Belgian Development Agency Enabel.