General description and organisation
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) in the German-speaking Community of Belgium is divided into two domains:
- childcare for children under the age of 3 years,
- pre-primary education for children over the age of 3 years.
Childcare is available for children from birth until they enter pre-primary education. Childcare in the German-speaking Community also comprises after-school care and out-of-school care during holidays for children in primary education. Up to the age of 3 years, children mostly attend regulated home-based care, which is provided by childminders (Tagesmütter) who either work independently (Selbstständige Tagesmütter) or are affiliated with a specific childminding service (Tagesmütterdienst). There is also a centre-based setting known as a Kinderkrippe (crèche). ECEC for younger children is the responsibility of the Department for Family and Social Affairs of the Ministry of the German-speaking Community.
From the age of 3 years, children are entitled to free early childhood education in kindergarten. Early childhood education and primary education constitute elementary education. Primary education starts at the age of 6 years. This area falls under the responsibility of the Department for Education and Training of the Ministry of the German-speaking Community.
Childcare and pre-primary education for children aged under 5 years are not mandatory in the German-speaking Community. Compulsory education starts at the age of 5 years. Thus, children aged 5 years and above are required to attend pre-primary education full time. As mentioned above, primary education starts at the age of 6 years.
Educational guidelines from top-level authorities apply only to centre-based settings for children aged 3 years and over. The guidelines are binding.
There are no educational guidelines for home-based provision from top-level authorities.
In March 2019, the Belgian Federal Parliament passed a law to lower the starting age of compulsory education from 6 years to 5 years, including 1 year of ECEC. The law came into force on 1 September 2020.
From 1 September 2024, kindergarten places will be available for children aged 2.5 years and above, in addition to those aged over 3 years, who are currently eligible, in the German-speaking Community