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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Main types of provision

Belgium - Flemish Community

8.Adult education and training

8.4Main types of provision

Last update: 27 November 2023

Provision to raise achievement in basic skills

Basis education

In Flanders basic education is organised by the Adult Basic Education Centres (ABECs). In these centres course participants can learns basic competences within seven areas of learning: 

  1. Dutch (mother tongue) 
  2. Dutch as a second language
  3. Literacy training Dutch as a second language
  4. Mathematics
  5. Social orientation
  6. Languages
  7. ICT

The programmes of basic education are classified at the level of primary education or the first stage of secondary education. Exceptions are the areas of learning of ‘Dutch as a second language’, ‘literacy training Dutch as a second language’ and ‘languages’ which are ranked according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. ‘Dutch as a second language’ and ‘literacy training Dutch as a second language’ are programmes at level 1 of the European framework of reference. The language programmes are on the one hand assigned level 1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and on the other hand they are classified at the level of primary education and the first stage of secondary education.

In order to start the first module of a programme or a non-sequential module in adult basic education no prior knowledge is required. Course participants who have not obtained a secondary education diploma, do not pay a registration fee in an Adult Basic Education Centre.

When a course participant passes a module of a programme he is granted credits by the Flemish Government. When a course participant passes all modules in a programme he is granted a certificate by the Flemish Government.

The programmes in the area of learning of ‘languages’ apply the same attainment targets as those of the areas of learning of primary education and attainment targets and developmental objectives of fulltime secondary education. For the areas of ‘Dutch’, ‘social orientation’ and ‘ICT’ adapted attainment targets have been developed. For the programmes in the area of learning of ‘mathematics’ both adapted attainment targets as well as basic competences are used.

For the programmes in the areas of learning of ‘Dutch as a second language’ and ‘literacy training Dutch as a second language’ basic competences have been defined. These are also defined for the programmes within the area of ‘languages’ for which no attainment targets are determined.

Each Adult Basic Education Centre has the social task to reach with its course participants the attainment targets or basic competences with regard to knowledge, understanding and skills.

Provision to achieve a recognised qualification during adulthood certification

Secondary adult education

Secondary adult education comprises programmes, grouped in 50 fields of study, which are organised at the level of the second and third stage of fulltime secondary education, with the exception of the fields of study of ‘Dutch as a second language’, ‘languages level 1 and 2‘ and ‘languages level 3 and 4’, which are ranked according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Secondary adult education allows adults to obtain a diploma of secondary education. This is possible by combining certain professional programmes with the course ‘Supplementary General Education’. Other programmes in the field of study of ‘General Education’ are situated at the level of fulltime general secondary education and lead directly to the diploma of secondary education. The areas of study 'Additional General Education' and 'General Education' include the courses of the former 'second chance education'.

Areas of study of secondary adult education:

  1. additional general education
  2. administration;
  3. construction finishing
  4. general personal care
  5. general training;
  6. craft accessories;
  7. craft heritage;
  8. assistance free care professions;
  9. car;
  10. bakery;
  11. business management;
  12. library, archives and documentation; 13° special educational needs
  13. special educational needs;
  14. chemistry;
  15. beverage knowledge;
  16. main European languages (guideline levels 1 and 2)
  17. European secondary languages (guideline degrees 1 and 2)
  18. European languages (guideline degrees 3 and 4)
  19. photography
  20. graphic communication and media
  21. large-scale transport
  22. Hebrew
  23. hotel and catering industry;
  24. domestic help;
  25. domestic cooking
  26. domestic decorating and sewing techniques
  27. ICT techniques
  28. information and communication technology;
  29. refrigeration and heat
  30. welding;
  31. agriculture and horticulture
  32. body care
  33. logistics and sales
  34. maritime services;
  35. mechanics and electricity
  36. furniture manufacturing;
  37. fashion: custom work;
  38. fashion: realisations;
  39. Dutch second language (guideline 1 and 2)
  40. Dutch second language (guideline 3 and 4)
  41. oriental languages;
  42. print media;
  43. building construction;
  44. carpentry;
  45. Scandinavian languages;
  46. butchery;
  47. Slavic languages;
  48. specific personal care
  49. textiles;
  50. tourism.

To be able to start a programme in the field of supplementary general education or general education you have to be at least 18 years old. For all other courses in secondary adult education you must be at least 16 years old.

If you pass a module in your course, you receive a partial certificate that is recognised by the Flemish authorities. If you pass all the modules in your programme, you will receive a certificate recognised by the Flemish authorities. An exception is the programme Commercial Management in the study area Commercial Business Management, where you obtain a business management certificate. This certificate is a basic requirement to start your own business in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium.

For the courses of the study area General Education the same attainment targets or specific attainment targets apply as for the corresponding courses in full-time secondary education. The final attainment levels are determined per course. Adapted learning outcomes have been defined for the programme of supplementary general education.

For the programmes of the other study areas, the same specific requirements and recognised professional qualifications apply as for the corresponding courses of study in full-time secondary education with which they are correlated.

For the courses of study of the fields of study in secondary adult education for which there are no corresponding curricula or specific exit terms in secondary education, basic competences are defined per course. The basic competences established for courses leading to a profession include recognisable professional qualifications in a recognisable way.

Each centre has the social task of achieving the final attainment levels, specific final attainment levels, recognised professional qualifications or basic competences with regard to knowledge, insight and skills with the students.

Provision targeting the transition to the labour market

Vocational training by VDAB

The Flemish Employment Services and Vocational Training Agency offers more than 2000 practice oriented vocational programmes within the following professional domains:

  • Woodwork and construction 
  • Metal, electricity and car engineering 
  • Social profit 
  • Transport and logistics 
  • Graphics
  • Hotel and catering and nutrition 
  • Textiles, ready-to-wear clothing, knitwear, laundry 
  • Primary, maritime, artistic sector/diamond/environment/harbour 
  • Cleaning, supervising functions, sales, moving, synthetics 
  • Industrial automation 
  • Office (automation)
  • Administrative and commercial functions 
  • Management

In addition, the agency organised programmes of ‘Dutch as a second language’, ‘ICT’ and ‘social and basic skills’ (labour market competences).

The VDAB programmes are open to every adult. By means of incentives and guidance vulnerable groups in particular are stimulated to enrol in the programmes. For unemployed the training is free of charge. Job-seekers are during the programme guided by a VDAB counsellor. It is important that the programme fits the talents and the career plans of the candidate on the one hand and the vacancies on the labour market on the other.

The programmes of VDAB are usually organised during working hours but they may sometimes be offered in the evening or on Saturdays. Different organizational formals are possible such as programmes in competence centres or with third parties, traineeships in companies, the Individual Company-based Vocational Training Contract or web-based learning.

The Flemish Employment Services and Vocational Training Agency offers also opportunities for on-the-job training: 

  • Work-experience placements. These are a permanent feature of most regular programmes offered by a competence centre. 
  • The Individual Company-based Vocational Training Contract (IBO). IBO is a training measure which makes hiring a less experienced unemployed person more attractive. When an employer enters into an IBO-contract with a less experienced unemployed person, the latter will first follow a training on the shop floor from one to six months. During the period of this training the employer is exempted from paying a wage or social security contribution, he only pays a productivity premium. In case the employee has successfully concluded the training, the employer is obliged to offer him/her a labour contract. 
  • Induction work placement. School-leavers in their period of introduction to the labour market, who have obtained at most a certificate of the second stage of secondary education, can participate in a maximum of two work placements of three months. The placement involves a full-time commitment, with either a full-time induction work placement, or a half-time placement supplemented with a VDAB programme, attitude training or job application training. The employer provides a training on the basis of a training plan and pays the participant a monthly allowance of €200 for a full-time placement or €100 for a half-time placement. 
  • Explorative internships. An explorative internship is an orienting tool, which is offered to job-seekers wo do not have a clear professional goal. The internship takes at most 30 days and gives the jobseeker better insight in a certain profession or method of working. The internship is used to (re)orientate jobseekers. 
  • Beroepsinlevingsovereenkomst’ (BIO). The BIO provides a legal framework to organise, on a voluntary basis, a paid internship in a company. A BIO is no employment contract but a training contract which allows for skills and competences to be acquired on the shop floor.

For the various training possibilities of VDAB a wide range of teaching methods are used: 

  • Group learning takes plase under the guidance of an instructor, at set times and with a common learning pathway for all participants. 
  • Open learning implies that the course participant individually processes the entire learning package either at a VDAB centre or within a company. Besides support by an instructor course participants also have access to a wide range of learning tools (CD-ROM, video, self-instruction packages). 
  • In web-based learning studying takes place at home or in the workplace. The course material is available online 24 hours a day. For most courses a course participant can on weekdays turn to an online coach for feedback. The provision of webbased-learning is entirely free of charge for job-seekers and employees. 
  • In the case of distance learning the course participant determines the learning pathway together with an instructor. He subsequently follows the programme at home or at work, with remote support from the instructor. 
  • To conclude blended learning comprises a form of independent learning with learning in group.

By means of their technical-pedagogical file course participants are permanently evaluated in the course of their (modular) programme. When they have successfully completed certain programmes they are granted a certificate. Also in the case of web-based learning the participant obtains a certificate after a positive assessment by the coach. These certificates do not have any formal or legal value. They are not recognized as being equal to the recognized study certificates of the educational sector. They however are de facto recognized by the corporate world.


OKOT are training pathways leading to an education qualification for jobseeking adults. They focus on regional bottlenecks on the labour market. OKOT can result in an education qualification of level 3, 4, 5 or 6. The pathways are fully or partially organized by the educational institution(s) and are before, during and after the training guided by VDAB counsellors.

On 6 March 2013 a cooperation agreement was signed by the department of Education and Training, the Flemish Employment Services and Vocational Training Agency, and Syntra Vlaanderen. In this agreement the parties involved declare to stimulate OKOT-pathways and its mode of cooperation in all Flemish provinces. To this aim a cross-sectoral guidance committee OKOT has been established.

Entrepreneurial training SYNTRA Flanders

SYNTRA Flanders is responsible for steering, stimulating, developing, recognising and financing a market oriented and innovative training programme for entrepreneurs and employees of an SME. The agency has elaborated a policy specifically oriented at vulnerable groups such as women, low qualified persons, ethnic minorities, adults over 50 and persons with a disability on the labour market. In addition, specific actions support job-seekers on their way to entrepreneurship.

The programme offer of SYNTRA Flanders comprises entrepreneurship pathways and the apprenticeship. The agency offers over 200 programmes as apprenticeships and over 500 entrepreneurial programmes subdivided in 28 sectors. In addition, SYNTRA pursues a policy of outsourcing.

An apprenticeship is a programme for youngsters who have completed fulltime compulsory education and have not yet reached the age of 25. It combines courses in a SYNTRA campus with work in a company under guidance of an entrepreneur or a supervisor. The programme is part of the system of learning and working in secondary education, as a result of which it belongs to the responsibility of the Minister of Education. The remaining programmes offered by SYNTRA Flanders resort under the responsibility of the Minister of Work. 

Since 2009 apprentices can obtain, next to vocational qualifications (certificate of apprenticeship), also educational qualifications. The possibility exists to obtain a certificate of the second stage of secondary education, a certificate of the second grade of the third stage of secondary education, as well as a diploma of secondary education.

More information on apprenticeships may also be found on the website, dedicated to the topic.

Entrepreneurship pathways are pathways screened by SYNTRA Flanders which are geared to a sectorial professional competence profile, a qualification, a generic entrepreneurial profile or to regulation. They comprise competence enhancing actions and activities which lead to self-employed entrepreneurship. An entrepreneurship pathway comprises a theoretical component as well as a practical one.

Besides the apprenticeships and entrepreneurship pathways SYNTRA Flanders offers courses on business administration and work experience placements. The courses on business administration focus on the general, commercial, financial and administrative staff management policy of self-employed and small and medium-sized enterprises. The work experience placements allow a participant to acquire practical experience in an SME active in the field of the professional competence profile which is subject of the training of the participant.

A participant who passes the final exam of a certified SYNTRA programme is granted a certificate or diploma which is recognised by the Flemish Government.

Within its outsourcing policy SYNTRA Flanders provides financing for the organisation of innovative programmes, which respond to the needs of the target group (SME) and the priorities of the Flemish Government. It allows for a rapid reaction to current needs in the field of lifelong learning. Three products are offered: ‘subscribing on offer’, tenders and incentives. Within ‘subscribing on offer’ training providers can themselves submit subjects for innovative sectoral refresher courses. This allows for training on new trends and developments to be offered to a fair price to SMEs. The content of the incentives and tenders are determined by SYNTRA Flanders. It is characteristic for the incentives that multiple training providers can be acknowledged to offer the same training pathway.

Provision of liberal (popular) adult education

Part-time art education

Part-time art education (PAE) is additional education aimed at both children, youngsters as well as adults. It allows students to get acquainted with art in all its expressions, to develop a critical approach towards art, and to practice certain forms of art themselves, individually or in group (e.g. in an orchestra, a dance group, or a theatre company). PAE also prepares some young people for a professional artistic career in higher art education.

Part-time art education offers four fields of study: 

  • Visual arts 
  • Music 
  • Drama 
  • Dance

Each field of study has its own structure with stages and options which are established in law. There are three stages: a primary stage, a secondary stage and a higher stage. Only in the field of study of visual arts a specialization stage is organized.

Participants in part-time art education enrol on a voluntary basis and pay a registration fee. Children from the age of six can start in the fields of study of dance and visual arts. For the fields of music and drama a child must have reached the minimum age of eight.

A student starts in the first year of the option of his choice. In order to pass to a next year a student must pass tests which are organised at the end of the year. When a student successfully completes a stage (s)he receives a final certificate which indicates the level (s)he reached.

The programmes in part-time art education comprise an entire school year of maximum 40 weeks, which lasts from 1 September until 30 June. Some schools combine the weekly teaching periods of certain subjects into fortnightly or monthly classes.

Socio-cultural adult work

The offer of learning activities of socio-cultural adult organisation is very divers. An overview can be found in the data base Prettig Geleerd.

Socio-cultural adult work offers non-formal education with a focus on informal and non-formal learning. The offer comprises both the simulation of intentional as well as non-intentional learning. In socio-cultural adult work the interventions and forms of guidance are not conceived as a transfer by the guidance officer to the individual. The participant is rather an active partner who helps to determine in one way or another both the content as well as the method of the programmes, projects and activities.

Typical for socio-cultural adult work is the lack of every form of formal assessment of the participants. The organisations do perform self-evaluations, both for the benefit of the participants as for the benefit of their own functioning.

Other types of publicly subsidised provision for adult learners

Agricultural training

The activities of agricultural training comprise courses for beginners, training courses, work experience placements, short training activities and refresher training programmes. They are offered to various groups of participants such as self-employed heads of agricultural companies, florists, garden contractors, employees of public administrations, recognized salesmen and users of phyto products, recognized users of biocides for use in an agricultural context and bee-keepers.

In agricultural training theoretical classes alternate with practical classes. In addition, panel conversations, guided company visits, discussion groups, etc. are organized under the direction of a moderator who fulfils the role of teacher. Every year new e-learning projects and godparenthood projects are started.

The courses in agricultural training are always finished by a course test. Those participants who have been present for at least 75% of the classes and who pass the course test are granted a certificate.

When a participant passes the test organised at the end of a beginner course in agriculture or horticulture he is granted an installation certificate. This certificate is obligatory for persons who want to establish an agricultural or horticultural company and therefore request an intervention by the Agricultural Investment Fund but who do not hold a diploma of an entire cycle of agricultural or horticultural education of at least the level of higher secondary education.

Education to detainees

Since 2000 a systematic provision of education is offered to detainees in prisons in Flanders and Brussels. This offer was elaborated in the framework of the strategic plan ‘Assistance and service provision to detainees’ which was approved on 8 December 2000 by the Flemish Government. After a pilot phase of a couple of years the principles of this strategic plan were anchored in the parliamentary act of 8 March 2013 on the organisation of assistance and service provision to detainees.

The parliamentary act of 8 March 2013 determines that the Flemish Government drafts each term a strategic plan which determines priority areas with regard to the assistance and service provision to detainees. A Joint Committee, in which all relevant policy domains are represented, follows the implementation of this strategic plan. Also the policy domain of education is a member of this Joint Committee.

Every prison in Flanders and Brussels has an education coordinator. As concerns assistance and service provision in the domain of education the prisons cooperate with various partners such as the Flemish Employment Services and Vocational Training Agency, ‘Rode Antraciet’, the Adult Education Centres (AECs) and the Adult Basic Education Centres (ABECs).

In the prisons a structural cooperation has been set up with the institutions of adult education (AECs and ABECs). On the basis of local cooperation agreements also other educational institutions are active inside the prisons.

  • Secondary education. In a number of prisons ad hoc cooperation exist with institutions from secondary education when a pupil is sent to prison during a school year. The educational coordinator in the prison will elaborate an arrangement which guarantees a smooth continuation of the educational trajectory of the pupil inside prison.
  • Higher education. On the basis of local agreements between the institution of higher education and the educational coordinator a programme of higher education can be organized in prison. Often these local cooperation agreements concern the organisation of distance learning for individual students or the continuation of educational trajectories of the detainees.
  • Part-time art education. On the basis of local agreements between institutions of part-time art education and the educational coordinator a programme of PAE can be organised inside prison. There exists no specific regulation on the organisation of part-time art education in the prisons of Flanders and Brussels.

Since January 2004 ‘Rode Antraciet’ brings a group programme of sports and culture in the prisons of Flanders and Brussels. The non-profit organisation aims at enhancing the participation of detainees in culture and sports on the basis of three operational pillars: a course offer, socio-cultural work and sports. In the past years a varied and specialized course offer of a high quality was developed for the prisons. This offer concentrates on the specific living environment of the participants and contains also training for the members of prison staff.

Additional information on education to detainees can be found on the website of Klasbak. Klasbak is a network organisation active in the field of education to detainees.

Uniform professions

In Flanders various public services organise their own trainings and programmes which lead towards one specific profession. It concerns the so-called uniform professions such as: 

  • police officer 
  • police inspector
  • security agent - steward 
  • fireman - employee defense 
  • employee civil security 
  • employee local security 
  • employee public security 
  • shipping commander 
  • coastal and harbour shipping commander 
  • executive crew member aviation 
  • manager defense (professional commissioned officer) 
  • manager defense (professional non-commissioned officer) 
  • member of the prison staff

The various programmes and trainings resort under the responsibility of various ministries.