Education system

Studying in Flanders

Compulsory education

Compulsory education means parents have to make sure their child or children receive education. The federal government decide the duration of compulsory education for the whole country.
This does not mean that kids have to go to school. They have to be educated, either by their parents, private teachers or the schooling system. Kids who are not educated by the regular schooling system, have to take tests that determine if their level of education meets the specified criteria. More information about that can be found below.

A study year starts on the first of September and lasts until the end of June, specific end dates depend on which school your kid goes to.
School normally starts at 8:30 am. The end of a school day is around 4:30 pm, but can vary depending on the school. Most schools have a half-day on Wednesday.

A general overview about the education system in Belgium can be found here. Keep reading to get a shorter, more basic and slightly more understandable version.

The Belgian school system may seem complicated. And it kind of is. This short clip gives you a general impression of the education system in Belgium.

          Compulsory education : when and for whom? 

  • A child has to be educated according to predetermined criteria starting from September 1th of the calendar year in which they turn 6 years old. When kids are younger than 6 years old, they can go to kindergarten. This is not obligated, but majority of preschoolers does go to school starting at 2,5 years.
  • Compulsory education lasts for a maximum of twelve entire school years.Compulsory education ends:
  • On the 18th birthday, for pupils turning 18 years on or before the 30th of June.
  • On the 30th of June, for pupils becoming 18 years after that date. These pupils do not have to start a new school year.
  • As soon as a pupil obtains the diploma of secondary education, even if they are only 16 at that time for example. If a student gets hold back a year in secondary education, they do not have to finish their education. As soon as they are 18, they can end their education.
  • As of the age of 15 or 16, pupils can start part-time learning and working. Students get a contract to work a few days a week, and go to school a few days a week.

    child in kindergarten, shot by Lucélia Ribeiro, from Flickr

Compulsory education does not mean compulsory school attendance

To comply with compulsory education, you have 2 options:

  • You can register your child in a school.
  • You opt for home education. You must notify the Flemish Ministry for Education and Training of this in writing. Click this link to organization of private education.

What about kids with a foreign nationality? 

  • All children residing in Belgium are subject to compulsory education from the sixtieth day after their registration in the municipality.
  • Children without official residence documents also have the right to register at a school. A school does not have the right to refuse them on those grounds.

Can children with limited knowledge of Dutch start primary education

Pupils must have followed a minimum number of half days in Dutch-language nursery education during the previous school year before they can attend the first year of Dutch-language primary education. If their attendance did not meet this condition, they have to undergo a language test to prove they have sufficient understanding of Dutch.

This does not mean the compulsory education age is brought down, but in practice there will be children who have to go to school a year earlier.

Primary education, shot by University of Wolverhampton, from Flickr

The structure of secondary education

The Belgian education system: pre-school, primary and secondary levels

Preschool in Belgium

Working parents are facilitated by a large choice of childcare facilities. Almost all children attend preschools during their formative years. Prior to formal education, nurseries are available for babies and children up to two-and-half years, after which kindergartens provide daycare facilities for children until they reach the age of 6. This can be free, though mothers in full-time work are given priority where places are limited. The kindergartens are often attached to local primary schools, which allows for an easy transition into formal education.
Preschools can be found in almost every town and village.

Kindergartens have set goals.
The development goals refer to a number of basic competences that pre-schoolers should achieve. Basic competences are achievements that a child can develop in a certain situation. The word ‘development’ also refers to a growth process, to possible ‘ways’ of achieving these basic competences. Each toddler is different and goes through this proces in its own way and at his own pace.

Primary school in Belgium

Children go to primary school for six years during which time they study a range of subjects with an emphasis on languages and mathematics. Learning a foreign language will likely be part of the curriculum, for example, French in the Flemish-speaking areas, or Dutch or German in the French community. Homework is also part of the educational structure from early on. In Belgian schools there is a strong tradition of parental participation.

The Flemish, German and French communities hand out a certificate of Primary Education when pupils end their primary school education. This certificate is necessary to start secondary school.

Secondary school in Belgium

Secondary school progresses through three stages, starting off with general studies in the early years, after which students can specialize in general, vocational, technical, or artistic streams depending on individual choice and ability. Assessment is ongoing and rigidly enforced. Several educational certificates are awarded, including the Certificate of Lower Secondary Education and the Certificate of Higher Education.

Secondary school students, shot by Walsall Council, from Flickr

When students begin to specialise, their courses of study focus on one of four areas:

  • General education: prepares students for the transition to higher education and is mainly focused on training theory and general knowledge. This is called ASO.
  • Technical education: similar to general education but focuses more on practice and technical teaching, preparing students for either a profession or further studies. This is called TSO.
  • Vocational: provides direct access to a profession at the end of the course of study and is heavily focused on practice. Students also receive one or more additional years, called fourth degree. This is called BSO.
  • Art education: organized in exactly the same way as technical education, but the elective options are within arts and non-technical subjects. Students can go on to higher education in either a specialized institution, such as an art college, or to a university or college, depending on the subjects studied. This is called KSO.

You can find all study areas on this website. It is only available in Dutch.

All these courses provide access to higher education with the obtainment of the certificate of secondary education (CESS), except vocational education, which must be completed to the seventh grade in order to obtain the certificate.

Organisation of secondary education

Mainstream secondary education is subdivided in three grades. Each grade consists of 2 years.
Every 2 years students are able to choose a study area.

For pupils with special educational needs an offer in special needs educations has been developed. This offer is discussed under ‘educational support and guidance’, in addition to special needs policy in mainstream education.

First stage

The first stage in secondary education exists of a general basic programme: the A-stream. This stage is not subdivided in various types of secondary education. There is also an offer for pupils who enter secondary education without having obtained the certificate of primary education or for pupils who are less apt at theoretical education: the B-stream. When successfully finishing the first grade of the B-stream pupils can move to the first grade of the A-stream or they can continue with a pre-vocational second grade.

Second and third stage

The second and third stage offer a choice between four types of secondary education:

  • general Secondary Education (gse)
  • secondary education in the arts (sea)
  • technical Secondary Education (tse)
  • vocational Secondary Education (vse)

The gse/sea/tse primarily prepare for moving on to higher education, while vse is aimed at the execution of a profession.

In the third stage of vocational education it is possible to comply with compulsory education by means of the alternance training system with a fulltime engagement but only part-time compulsory education.

In the third stage it is also possible to take a 3rd year, the 7th school year:

  • In vse a 7thyear is necessary in order to be granted a certificate of secondary education
  • gse and sea offer a preparatory year for higher education
  • In tse and sea there are specialization years: the Se-n-Se programmes (secondary-after-Secondary)

Reception education

Mainstream secondary education comprises a reception year for non-Dutch speaking newcomers. This year focuses primarily on acquisition of the Dutch language to prepare non-Dutch speakers who arrive in Belgium for moving on to regular education.

The structure of secondary education in a school or school community

A school organises one or more stages. Offering only the second or third grade or only the first and third grade is not allowed since it is the intention to allow a pupil as much as possible to pass through an entire secondary study pathway in a school.

Schools are free to organize themselves in a school community. One of the goals of a school community is the organization by the participating schools of a common offer, which is valuable and diversified in the interest of the options of the pupils. A school community must therefore have a multi-sectorial study offer. This implies that at least 6 school year levels must be present (exclusive the third school years of the third stage) as well as the types of secondary education gse, vse and tse.

Higher education

Higher education such as college or university is not compulsory. Still, there is a great part of young adults who choose to study.
On this website you can find all university colleges and universities in Flanders. Click on the links to find out more about that specific school.
Higher education is not free, but there is a specific price tag for enrollment. Buying books may vary depending on your study area.

All course schedules are different.

Information about compulsory education


Eurydice: education system in Belgium – Flemish Community
Eurydice: national reforms in school education – Belgium – Flemish Community
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Check out our English language publications -> search for education.

General information

Contact our call center Infolijn Onderwijs or call this number:
+32 2 553 50 70 from abroad
1700 (free of charge) from Belgium


Adult Education

Adult education is also often referred to as evening education. It offers the possibility to be trained at different levels.
Training in adult education is modular. This means that the subject matter is subdivided into a number of modules.

For whom is it?

The age at which you can start adult education depends on the training you have chosen.

Basic education and general education study area

18 years
You may also enrol in a programme that starts in September (or later) if you reach the age of 18 by 31 December of that year at the latest.
Other training in adult education

16 years
15 years of age if you have completed at least 2 years of secondary education.

What are the study areas?

Teaching basic skills through basic education
Primary education is aimed at people who have had little school education and who have problems with reading, writing or arithmetic. The courses are at the level of primary education and 1st grade secondary education. Some examples of courses are:

Dutch as a second language (NT2)
Introductory courses French and English
Computer lessons.
Attending a secondary education course
Secondary adult education consists of a whole range of courses

courses within the field of general education (former second-chance education)
various vocational training courses at the level of secondary education
Via secondary adult education it is also possible to obtain a full secondary education diploma.

It is set up by the Adult Education Centres (CVO) (external website).

Attend secondary education through adult education
Centre for Adult Education
General and vocational training courses
Attend a vocationally-oriented training course in higher vocational education
In the higher vocational education of adult education, you can follow vocational training courses in the study areas:

healthcare provision
commercial sciences and business administration
industrial sciences and technology
socio-educational work
The study programmes are at a level between secondary education and a bachelor’s programme, previously this was called a B1.

Higher vocational education in adult education
Vocational study programmes in higher education
At least 18 years of age and with appropriate proofs of studies.
Become a teacher through adult education
You can follow a specific teacher training course (SLO) via adult education. The specific teacher training is a training programme that you follow after you have already obtained a diploma (usually in higher education). The SLO only focuses on the pedagogical aspect. The subjects in which you may teach are determined by your main diploma. The SLO through adult education replaces the former D course, GPB and aggregation training.

Teacher training
Focused on pedagogical aspect
Supplement to (higher) education diploma

Other training for adults

In addition to adult education, you can also study as an adult:

If you want to follow a programme at a university or college, but have to work during the day, you can in many cases combine work and study as a working student (external website) via flexible learning pathways. Another possibility to study flexibly is the Open University.
Part-time art education (DKO), better known by names such as music school and drawing academy, is also accessible to adults.
If you want to learn a profession, you can contact the vocational training courses of the VDAB.
Syntra offers flexible, labour market-oriented training.
Socius (external website) offers socio-cultural training work.

Costs of adult education

Basic education and general adult education courses are free of charge. In the other forms of adult education, you pay 1.50 euros per lesson. In addition to the registration fee, a centre may also charge a fee for course material.

Certain categories of students experiencing financial difficulties may be granted total or partial exemption from their enrolment fees.

Exemption or reduction of enrolment fees in adult education
Total or partial exemption
Submit VDAB, Fedasil or VAPH certificate

Koning Albert II laan 15
1210 Sint-Joost-ten-Node

02 553 98 32

E-mail or



Recognition of your diploma in the EU

University degrees are not automatically recognized throughout the EU. It is therefore possible that you still have to go through an entire procedure in order to obtain recognition for your degree or diploma if you wish to continue studying in another EU country. If you already know that you want to continue studying in another country at a later date, you can already check whether your diploma will be recognized there.

The governments of the EU countries remain responsible for their own education systems and are therefore free to decide whether or not to recognise university degrees obtained elsewhere.

Compare your degree

In most cases, you will be able to obtain ‘equivalence recognition’ or ‘diploma appreciation’ of your university degree, indicating which diploma corresponds to the country you are going to. To do this, you must contact an ENIC-NARIC centre in the country where you want to use your diploma. This can be done in your own country if you have studied abroad, or in another EU country if you are going to work there or continue your studies.

Depending on the country and purpose of your application, the ENIC-NARIC Centre can evaluate your diploma itself or send it to the competent authority.

Check well in advance

Whether you have to pay for something and how much
How long does an evaluation take (depending on the country, purpose and complexity of your file, this can sometimes be several months)?
what kind of document you can finally receive – a recognition of full equivalence or a comparative analysis
what to do if you disagree with the decision (how to appeal)
If you submit your documents in the Europass format (such as the Diploma Supplement), it is easier to get your dipoma recognised.

Professional qualifications

This is about the recognition of academic qualifications. The recognition of professional qualifications in other EU countries – diplomas giving access to a profession, such as nurses or lawyers – is governed by separate EU rules.

Recognition in Belgium

An equivalence certificate is a document that determines the value of a study programme abroad.

Primary and secondary education
For primary and secondary education, you must have a certificate of professional competence equivalent to that attested by a diploma:

want to follow secondary education in Belgium
want to pursue higher education
want to follow a training course
wish to work or to establish themselves as a self-employed person

Equivalence is not required for diplomas issued by a school offering a Belgian programme abroad.
Diplomas obtained in the Flemish, French or German-speaking Community are automatically mutually recognised as equivalent.
For more information or to apply for equivalence:

In the Flemish Community:
Contact the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training

In the French Community:
Contact Service Equivalences In French only

In the German-speaking Community:
Contact the Ministry of the German-speaking Community In German only

Higher education
You have a degree in higher education abroad. And you want to go to work or register at a Belgian university or college to complete your studies?

The NARIC (National Academic Recognition and Information Centres) provide information on studies in the countries of the European Union; they were set up by the European Commission.
The NARIC centres cooperate with the European Network of National Information Centres (ENIC), established by the Council of Europe and Unesco. There is a national NARIC centre in each country.

NARIC centre of the Flemish Community
NARIC centre of the French Community In French only

Conditions for access to higher education in the Flemish Community for holders of a foreign diploma (external link).


NARIC Flanders

Hendrik Conscience Building Tower A7
King Albert II avenue 15
1210 Brussels

Phone number: 02 553 98 19


Flemish Ministry of Education and Training

King Albert II avenue 15
1210 Brussels

Phone number: 1700

Service of the equivalent of the French Community of Belgium

Rue A. Lavallée 1
1080 Bruxelles

Phone number: 02 690 86 86

Centre NARIC de la Communauté française de Belgique

Rue A. Lavallée 1
1080 Bruxelles

Phone number: 02 690 87 03
02 690 87 02


Ministry of the German-speaking Community

Gospertstrasse 1
4700 Hips

Phone number: 087 59 63 00
Fax: 087 55 28 91


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