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Reforming Technical and Vocational Education in Belgium

STENSTRÖM, M.-L. & LASONEN, J. (Eds.), Strategies for Reforming Initial Vocational Education and Training in Europe, Jyväskylä : Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä (Finland) / LEJEUNE, C. / 2000

1. Introduction


The aim of this paper is to present a reform undertook by Occupations and Qualifications Community Committee (CCPQ) in Belgium's French Community to define both qualifications profiles and training profiles for technical and vocational education. That is, the Committee is making an effort to identify the various competencies brought into play in a specific occupation to build qualifications profiles, and to translate the so obtained qualifications profiles into training profiles for vocational education's third phase (students aged 16 to 18).
Enterprises, education and labour market organisation are involved in this planning and implementation of this reform, and actively participate to the elaboration of the qualifications profiles and the training profiles.
Their joint participation to the reform will hopefully increase their esteem for both vocational education system and the students working on this track.
We will first briefly describe Belgium's vocational education system, which is the context of this reform.
Next, the reform will be presented into more details : what is CCPQ, and how is it constituted ? What is CCPQ's work and which methodology has it created ? What is a qualification profile and how is it implemented ? What is a training profile and how is it implemented ? What are the results and consequences of the reform ?
Finally, we will draw a conclusion and consider this reform's prospects for vocational education and training.

2. Vocational education in Belgium

2.1 The Education System in Belgium


First of all, it appears necessary to remind the reader that according to the Constitution (Article 2), Belgium includes three communities : the French Community, the Flemish Community and the German Community, where the constitutive elements are both culture and language. Since 1989, the Communities are the decision-makers with regard to education. Only the minimal conditions for the awarding of certificates, the norms of compulsory education and the teachers' pension schemes are the responsibility of the Federal Government. Nevertheless, since free education is guaranteed until age 18 by Belgian Constitution (article 23, § 3), education financing comes from Federal Government.
The schools in Belgium are subdivided into three networks: the public schools network, the public grant-aided schools network (provinces and municipalities) and the private grant-aided schools network. Each of them has a specific "organising body" (the municipalities, the provinces or municipalities, private institutions). These organising bodies have the responsibility, among other things, for pedagogical methods, and for determining the educational provision (options).
Parents and children are free to choose the education network and school. The education system is organised, in the three communities, as follows :

  • pre-school education (2 1/2 to 6-years-olds ; not compulsory)
  • primary education (6 to 12-year-olds) ;
  • secondary education, structured either as traditional education (Type II secondary education) (two stages of three years) or as ;
  • the "reformed" secondary education system (Type I secondary education) (three phases "degré" of two years); the last being the most popular system. In Flanders, these two types of education have been completely unified since 1994-1995: the education system is structured around three cycles of two years. As a rule, education ends when students reach the age of 18 ; and
  • higher education: non-university higher education establishments (hautes écoles) (short- or long-type education cycle), and universities.

2.1.1 Secondary Education


Full-time secondary education is organised within four basic schemes :

  • general education (compulsory education and various optional courses) ;
  • technical education (acquisition of general, technical and theoretical knowledge) ;
  • vocational education (practical instruction in a specific occupation) ; and
  • artistic education.


In the French Community, in the traditional education system guidance to help students choose between the various schemes starts at the end of the first cycle. In the "reformed" education system, this guidance process usually starts in the third year, but it may begin in the second year when the student meets many difficulties during the first year.
In the third year, the "reformed" education system is organised into two streams :

the transition stream, that prepares the student to enter either higher education, while also working life ;

the qualification stream which aims at :
a) as regards technical and artistic education : preparation for working life, while also offering the possibility of going to a non-university higher education establishment ;
b) as regards vocational education : preparation for entering working life, while also giving access to studies at a complementary secondary level, or at a higher level (excluding university) provided the student has obtained his certificate of completed upper secondary education (CESS, Certificat d'enseignement Secondaire Supérieur) after a seventh vocational year.


In the Flemish Community, student guidance begins in the third year (Conseil National du Travail [CNT, 1998]).

2.1.2 Dual Education (CNT, 1998)


An act of 29 June 1983 extended compulsory education to the age of 18. It is although possible for young people to be in full-time education until the age of 16 (until age 15 if the second year of secondary education has-been finished) and then in part-time education until the age of 18, that is to say, they :

either enter part-time training or training defined by a royal decree as corresponding to compulsory education. In the French Community, the CEFA (Centre d'éducation et de formation en alternance) welcomes young people aged 15 who have completed the first two years of secondary education, or young people aged 16 without any other conditions. Each week, 12 to 15 periods of 50 minutes are dedicated to general training. If the student signs a contract, then he receives following practical training in an enterprise. Unfortunately, this is a track where students who have been excluded both from school and from work are relegated (Drouguet, 1998, p. 36);

or conclude an apprenticeship contract for paid work (industrial apprenticeship) offering young people aged 16-18 an opportunity to receive both a theoretical education and practical training in approved training centres and enterprises;

or take up apprenticeship training offered by the Middle Classes (Classes Moyennes) (under an apprenticeship contract) which allows young people aged 15 and over to learn an occupation suitable for self-employment, receiving practical training in entrepreneurship and instruction in general and technical theory in a Middle Classes training centre.

2.2 Evolution of the Vocational Education System


In her history of the Belgian vocational and technical education system, L'histoire de 1'enseignement professionnel et technique en Belgique (1860-1960), D. Grootaers (1994) suggests undertaking an in-depth study of the first hundred years of the technical and vocational education system in Belgium. This education system paralleled the economic and social evolution of the country and is the result of the wish of promoters of traditional apprenticeship training to create a particular type of education system. Originally the vocational and technical education system was totally independent from the general education system.
In fact, a technical and vocational education system appears in 1867. In 1953 there emerges a new education system : the secondary education system that is the result of the integration (not the merging) of two systems that until then had been separate, the technical education system and the secondary "middle" (moyen) education system.
Furthermore, the process of selection and the student guidance from secondary (moyen) middle education to technical education and from technical education to vocational education is being made official. Student guidance converts vocational education into a relegation track, a process that has been speeded up by the 1970s economic crisis and by the 1983 act extending compulsory education until the age of 18 (Drouguet, 1998).
In 1971 starts the "reformed" education system which aims at promoting both educational equality (political project) and the individualisation of evaluation and guidance (pedagogical project).
In 1986 the Government undertakes measures that, in response to reactionary and elitist arguments as well as to arguments linked with rationalisation and budgetary considerations, "empty the reformed system of its whole substance". (Drouguet, 1998).
In 1989 educational decision-making was devolved to the communities. In 1991, 57 schools operating in the French Community launched an experimental reform of the first phase (degré) of vocational education.
In 1997, the Missions of the School decree (Décret Missions, Mission Decree) organises the four last years of secondary education into two streams :

  • general and technological education, called the transition stream. The purpose of this stream is training students for higher education while also prepare them for working life ;
  • vocational and technical education, called the qualification stream. This stream gives access to a Qualification Certificate while also offering the possibility of going to a non-university higher education establishment.

3. The technical and vocational education systems reform

3.1 Framework and aims of the reform


For years, technical and vocational education systems in Belgium have suffered from disinterest and discredit from the public, who often considered the « ...qualification stream education as the trash can of secondary education » .

In this context, the objective of the reform initiated by the CCPQ is to reassert the value of technical and vocational education by rendering them more operational and more humanistic.
This twofold objective implies :

  • to check the appropriateness between qualification stream training in comparison with actual and future professional needs and, if the case arises, to make the needed adjustments ;
  • to redefine the training in a perspective which stresses on the competencies to acquire rather than on the volume of taught contents.




The first objective underlines that technical and vocational education systems must come to a better match with labour market expectations. In order to obtain such result, French Community Government organised dialogue between enterprises, education and labour market organisation to define new curriculum for technical and vocational education systems in a committee, CCPQ .
This committee has elaborated a methodology, which includes first the definition of qualification profiles, then the translation of this qualification profiles into training profiles. From these training profiles, network's organising bodies can determine the new curricula for both technical and vocational education systems. The fourth and final stage of this process is system's permanent appraisal and steering .

Furthermore, this reform takes place into a broader project, the Mission decree from the French Community Government, which sets up the missions of fundamental and secondary education.
Besides the organisation of secondary education into two streams (transition and qualification; see above), the decree presents the knowledge and skills to acquire « ...in a perspective of acquisition of competencies » .

This means that both fundamental and secondary education objectives are translated into competencies.
In the qualification stream education system, there are three kinds of competencies to be developed :

  • terminal competencies and common knowledge required from the whole students at the end of qualification stream education enabling the delivery of upper secondary education certificate ;
  • terminal competencies and common knowledge required from the whole students at the end of qualification stream education enabling the delivery of vocational education's Sixth year certificate ;
  • minimal competencies in matter of communication in a modern language other than French at the end of the qualification stream, when the learning of a modern language is a feature of the curriculum.




The reform introduced by The CCPQ only regards the competencies linked to the delivery of vocational education's Sixth year certificate.

Depending on the « grouped option » , these competencies are defined in training profiles that cover the different aspects of a given occupation.
In other words, vocational education's Sixth year certificate is delivered only if competencies developed by the student match those defined in the training profile corresponding to the grouped option he has chosen.

3.2 CCPQ : presentation and composition


In 1994, French Community Government passed a decree which created « le conseil général de concertation pour l'enseignement secondaire » (Secondary education general consultation council). Among its aims, this council is to propose training profiles to French Community Government corresponding to the grouped options organised by qualification stream education system on the third phase.

Trough the same decree , French Community Government also created « la Commission Communautaire des Professions et des Qualifications » (Occupations and Qualifications Community Committee; CCPQ). This committee was created to elaborate training profiles, which are « referential presenting in a structured way the competencies to acquire in order to be delivered a qualification certificate » .

3.2.1 CCPQ (plenary)


CCPQ comprises 32 members :

  • the general director from secondary education, or his representative ;
  • six representatives from employer organisations (enterprises) ;
  • three representatives from each of the union sitting in the CNT (National Labour Council; Conseil National du Travail) ;
  • three representatives from each of the public authority union ;
  • representatives from each of the three school networks chosen in the General secondary education consultation council ;
  • the general inspector in charge of technical and vocational education ;
  • four representatives from social promotion education (enseignement de promotion sociale) ;
  • one representative from special education (enseignement spécial) ;
  • one representative from Community and regional office for vocational training and employment (ForEm, Office communautaire et régional de la formation professionnelle et de l'emploi) ;
  • one representative from Brussels' French speaking institute for vocational training (IBFFP, Institut bruxellois francophone de formation professionnelle) ;
  • one representative from Middle class' and small and medium size companies' permanent training institute (IFPME, Institut de formation permanente des classes moyennes et des petites et moyennes entreprises).



One representative from employer organisations chairs the committee.

CCPQ (Plenary) is responsible for work's follow up and validation of qualification profiles. CCPQ also pass training profiles on to Secondary education general consultation council, which itself pass these on to the French Community Government for validation by French community Parliament.

3.2.2 CCPQ : directing and teaching staff on secondment


In order to propose training profiles, French Community Government can give leave for assignment in the interest of education, for a 2 years renewable term, to a maximum of 6 members of the directing or teaching staff, on the proposal of Secondary education general consultation council. These representatives are placed under the authority of Secondary education general consultation council .

These persons are responsible for :

  • co-ordinating CCPQ's works ;
  • conducting working groups and consultative committees reunions ;
  • redacting and editing of qualification and training profiles ;
  • etc.

3.2.3 Consultative committees


CCPQ creates consultative committees (CC) which prepare training profiles and specific training profiles. CCPQ passes the training profiles on to Secondary education general consultation council .
These CC correspond to the actual 9 sectors of qualification stream education :
1. Agronomics
2. Industry
3. Construction
4. Hotel business - catering
5. Clothing trade
6. Applied arts
7. Economics
8. Services to people
9. Applied sciences
CC are made up the same way CCPQ is. This means that every category of actors one can find in the CCPQ is represented in each CC.
One representative from employer organisations chairs each CC.

3.2.4 Working groups


In order to be more efficient, CC create specific working groups (WG) for each field in a given sector.
WG are made up the same way CCPQ and CC are. This means that every category of actors one can find in the CCPQ is represented in each WG. Nevertheless, experts acting in these WG have more practical background.
WG's role is to prepare profiles dealing directly with persons with practical background.

3.3 CCPQ's work & methodology

3.3.1 1st stage : Qualification profiles


In order to give a closer look to everyday working situations, which is the very core business of training needs, CCPQ first decided to root its thoughts into qualification profiles, that is « referential presenting activities and competencies exercised by accomplished workers as they are in a company » .

To build up the qualification profiles, CCPQ established the following procedures :

1st step :

  • to adopt a type-occupations (emploi-types) nomenclature within each Consultative Committee on the basis of existing literature (CEDEFOP, ROME, ...) and place them into adequate vocational sector ;
  • to select type-occupations which are to be dealed with as a priority according to relevance criteria to be specified in Consultative Commissions.


2nd step :

  • to identify and to define function, that is « a large subset of tasks which participate in ensuring a given result to a production activity. » .
  • to identify probable evolution's for type-occupations and their functions.


3rd step :

  • for actual and foreseeable functions, to determine worker's activities, that is detailed tasks he has to fulfil.


4th step :

  • to define needed competencies to fulfil the specified activities.


In this process ,
CC :
- selects type-occupations which are to be dealed with as a priority ;
- decides to constitute WG ;
- makes up the composition of WG (representatives, experts) ;
- gives its decision on qualification profiles proposed by WG ;
- transmits qualification profiles to CCPQ for validation.
WG :
- prepares qualification profiles according to the methodology approved by CCPQ, which utilises resource documents and practical background inquiries ;
- proposes qualification profiles to CCPQ (plenary).

During this first stage, priority of speech was given to enterprises which were to describe to representatives from qualification stream education and vocational training operators / specialist the « accomplished worker ».

Note : an qualification profile example is available in annex 1.

3.3.2 2nd stage : Training profiles


From qualification profiles, CC elaborate training profiles, that is, once again, « referential presenting in a structured way the competencies to acquire in order to be delivered a qualification certificate » , when speaking of upper secondary education certification.
Note that qualification profiles can be used by other training operators.

As Mission decree states in article 41, training profiles are carried out in two stages :

1st step :
Qualification profiles' segmentation into competencies units, that is consistent sets of competencies.
2nd step :
Structuring and bringing together competencies units into consistent training profiles.
This means that a given training profile can come from one or various qualification profiles.
This regrouping is made up on the basis of qualification profile(s)'s functions.

From the regrouping stage, representatives from vocational training operators identify competencies bring into play within a determined training level.
That is here, terminal competencies and common knowledge required from the whole students at the end of qualification stream education enabling the delivery of vocational education's Sixth year certificate. Vocational training operators are here representatives from qualification stream education.

These identified competencies are classified according to the following three levels :

CM (Compétences Maîtrisées - Mastered competencies) : competencies of which the training operator guarantees mastery at the training's end ;

CEF (Compétences Exercées en Formation - Competencies exercised during training) : competencies exercised during training but of which mastery is acquired only through a later training ;

CEP (Compétences Exercées dans la Profession - Competencies exercised on the job) : competencies exercised during training but of which mastery is acquired only through occupational activity.

Besides these three levels, competencies mastery indicators are described exclusively for CM competencies . They serve as trails for appraisal, or to give indications to check competencies' mastery is acquired or not. Finally, it sets the limits in which training operators are committed to guarantee mastery.

In this process ,
CC :
- selects qualification profiles which are to be translated into training profiles as a priority ;
- decides to constitute WG ;
- makes up the composition of WG (representatives, experts) ;
- gives its decision on training profiles proposed by WG ;
- transmits training profiles to CCPQ (plenary) for validation.
WG :
- prepares training profiles according to the methodology approved by CCPQ ;
- proposes training profiles to CC.
CCPQ (plenary) :
- validates training profiles ;
- transmits training profiles to Secondary education general consultation council which, after approval, proposes them to French Community Government, which transmits them to French Community Parliament for approval.

During this second stage, enterprises, representatives from qualification stream education and vocational training operators / specialists, were involved on the same level of commitment, establishing a dialogue on education system's contribution in preparing student to become a qualified worker, and on the limits of their contribution .

Note : an qualification profile example is available in annex 2.

3.3.3 3rd stage : training referential


As for this stage, each training operator has to translate competencies taken from training profiles into training referential.
That is, according to CCPQ (s.d.) :

  • training structures (links between various training objectives ; options catalogues ; correspondences ; etc.) ;
  • training contents ;
  • basis and organisation of certification ;
  • methodology and sound application measures ;
  • competencies credits acknowledgeable by higher education or by other training operators ;
  • etc.



In this third stage, both representatives from qualification stream education and training operators / specialists take a more active part while maintaining dialogue with enterprises.

For technical and vocational education, this work is taken up by school networks' bodies which prepare curricula corresponding to each grouped option, themselves corresponding in first place to training profiles .
According to Mission decree , « curricula propose learning situation and indicate learning contents, which can be either compulsory or optional. They give methodological orientations. Learning situations and contents, as methodological orientations, must allow to acquire competencies and knowledge aimed at in article 35 (i.e. training profiles) » .

3.3.4 4th stage : system's permanent appraisal and steering


This stage is yet to be implemented.
A curricula appraisal committee already exists (Vocational and technical Humanities Curricula Committee ; Commission des programmes des Humanités professionnelles et techniques) , and the reform is to be completed by 2002.
As noted earlier, the first 15 grouped options are have already been approved by French Community Government and will be available for students from September 1st 2000 on. Appraisal will follow.

As for steering, it means that qualification and training programs may be adapted to occupations' evolution, to new occupations and to other use made from them .

3.3.5 Results and consequences of CCPQ's reform


The first noticeable results of CCPQ's work are the fifteen grouped options that have already been approved by French Community Government and will be available for students from September 1st 2000 on.
These are

  • skilled worker in horticulture ;
  • horticulture technician ;
  • computer technician ;
  • manufacturing mechanic ;
  • joiner ;
  • cabinetmaker ;
  • employee for hotel business & catering ;
  • polyvalent catering team member ;
  • butchery & delicatessen technician;
  • clothing industry operator ;
  • office technician ;
  • nursery nurse ;
  • skilled worker in hairdressing
  • chemical industries technician ;
  • pharmacy technical assistant.



Beyond this, the major consequence is that dialogue has been initiated between enterprises and the education thanks to this reform. More : dialogue has been institutionalised.
As for before, the contacts were more informal, and dependant from good will of each part to get together around the same table.
Not only has this led to elaborate training profiles, but to make enterprise and education aware of each other's needs and potentialities. Collaboration on this level will bring to a common effort which can only benefit each part, as for the students which are first concerned by this reform.

For enterprises, this reform will give a better match between their need for qualified workers and students coming out of qualification stream education. It will also allow a better qualification certificate legibility , and harmonisation of competencies levels. Employers will have a better understanding of who they hire, and what they can be asked to do.

For education, this reform means a rationalisation of educational supply; which prevents splitting up of educational supply. Specified role for technical and vocational education are indeed reinforced, giving each of them specified grouped options to assume.
It also gives access to an equipment fund (financed by both Walloon Region and French Community), with the help of which school will be given a more up to date basic equipment than is the actual one. Technological centres will also be created on a trans-network basis. They will give access to state-of-the-art equipment unaffordable in every school .

Finally, for students, this reform will give a better education, which meets labour market expectations. At the end of their studies, they will be able either to find a job according to their diploma, or start higher education. Qualification certification legibility will also help them present their competencies, and therefore define their contribution to a given work process.

4. Conclusion


CCPQ's reform is on the go. As for now; it is not yet time to give pessimistic or optimistic view on which outcome it will lead to.
Nonetheless, it is clear that this reform should be accompanied by other ones, regarding structure and social and cultural values in order to achieve long term effect on the identity of the young people in the vocational and educational system .
On the other side, the reform undertook by CCPQ has led to a better match between labour market expectations and qualification certificate thanks to dialogue initiated between enterprises and the education.
Hopefully, this link between educational establishments and enterprises will increase their esteem for both vocational education system and the students working on this track.
Yet, both qualification profiles and the whole methodology established by CCPQ can be used by other vocational training operators, as French Community Government states in Mission decree's articles 46 and 48 (see above). This would lead to a complete qualification process harmonisation, which would benefit to everyone involved in this process, as we explained earlier.

5. Acknowledgements


I want to thank Mr Jean-Guy Noël, Sector Co-ordinator for FESEC (Fédération de l'enseignement Secondaire Catholique) and Mr Emile Bertrand, representative from CCPQ, for their precious help in collecting information and interviews for the writing of this paper.

6. References


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Gouvernement de la Communauté Franšaise [French Community Government] (10/12/1994). Décret organisant la concertation pour l'enseignement secondaire. [Decree organising dialogue on secondary education.] Bruxelles : Moniteur Belge.

Gouvernement de la Communauté Franšaise (13/10/1992). Décret portant organisation de l'enseignement secondaire de plein exercice. [Decree regarding full time secondary education's organisation.] Bruxelles : Moniteur Belge.

GROOTAERS, D. (1 994). Histoire de 1'enseignement technique et professionnel en Belgique (1860-1960). [History of technical and vocational education in Belgium, 1860-1960]. Bruxelles: EVO.
Lemal, I. (14/01/2000) L'école technique et professionnelle dépoussièrée. [Brush away the cobwebs from technical and vocational school.] Bruxelles : Le Soir.

TILLMAN, F. (1996). Comment construire des profils de formation ? Réflexions méthodologiques. [How to build up training profiles ? Methodological thoughts.] Unpublished Manuscript : FESEC

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