The Dutch-French linguistic and cultural divide in Belgium is mirrored in traditions of handwriting education. Regional preferences in terms of handwriting models show clear links to the Netherlands and France.
Belgium is divided into three communities on linguistic lines: the Vlaamse Gemeenschap, or Flemish Community; Communauté française, or French Community; and Deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft, or German-speaking Community. Each of these communities governs different geographical regions based on language use. Since 1989, the administration of education is also accordingly divided. La Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, or Wallonia-Brussels Federation, is responsible for education in the French-speaking areas of the Walloon Region. In the Vlaams Gewest, or Flemish Region (also known as Flanders), education falls under the purview of the Vlaams Ministerie van Onderwijs en Vorming, or Flemish Ministry of Education and Training. Both institutions share jurisdiction over the Brussels Capital Region, while education in the small German-speaking province of Liège in Walloon is looked after by Das Ministerium der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft, or the Ministry of the German-speaking Community.
Despite this, across the country, education is divided into the same four levels: kindergarten (3–6 years old), primary school (6–12 years old), secondary school (12–18 years old), and university or higher education. Of these, primary and secondary levels are compulsory, though between ages 15–18 years old, education can be part-time. Schools in Belgium are largely public, aside from a small number of alternate schools. Education in primary schools focuses on reading, writing and mathematics, and as a response to the diverse language culture in Belgium, a second official language is taught right from the early years of school.
Neither the Vlaams Ministerie van Onderwijs en Vorming nor La Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles provide official handwriting models that should be used in classrooms. In general, students in Belgium learn to write print script letters in kindergarten, followed by connected letters in primary school. While sloped continuous cursive writing similar to Dutch handwriting models is preferred in Flanders, the Communauté française favours upright cursive writing, which is popular in France. VAN IN is the largest producer of textbooks and educational material in the country, and offers handwriting books tailored for both regions.
Pages from the Graphilettre series, Editions Magnard.
Regional diversity in handwriting education
While the Dutch-French language divide in Belgium can be traced back to the Middle Ages, its impact remains relevant, and traditions of handwriting education exemplify this phenomenon where links to France and the Netherlands can be observed.
In Flanders, a range of writing methods, such as Ik schrijf, Pennentrek, Ik pen, Dansende Kronkels, and Schrijfonderwijs, are taught. However, the prevailing approach is Handschrift D’Haese, which traces its origins to Paul D’Haese (1897–1971), a Belgian school teacher and principal. Upon noticing the lack of consistency in handwriting education in Belgian schools, D’Haese created his own method by adapting and simplifying existing models. In 1944, the Centrale Raad voor het Katholiek Lager Onderwijs (CRKLO), or Central Council of Catholic Primary Education, granted permission for the use of the D’Haese method, and it has been the most popular handwriting style for Flemmish primary schools for decades. Local publishers like Averbode and VAN IN produce and market handwriting education materials, in digital and print formats, featuring Paul D’Haese’s letter shapes.
Meanwhile, education for the Communauté française is in the middle of an extensive reform called Le Pacte pour un Enseignement d’excellence, or the Pact for Teaching Excellence. Work on this reform began in 2015, and it continues to be implemented step-by-step. As a result, handwriting education in the region is in flux. While at the moment, there is no official handwriting model that is espoused by La Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, it is unclear if one may be introduced as a result of forthcoming changes. According to handwriting expert Klara Leclercq Backes, teachers are currently not sufficiently trained in handwriting instruction, and approaches and models used in classrooms are based on the discretion of the school and/or teachers.
Pages from the Eventail Écriture series by Van In.
Books by French publishers like Editions Magnard and Editions Bordas are commonly available, and present the traditional upright cursive writing that has been prevalent in France. Local publisher VAN IN also features two series of books that are tailored for the Communauté française: Éventail Écriture, and the calligraphy book series, Mon livret d’écriture. Both series use the same typeface, an upright continuous cursive with long extenders and ornamental uppercase letters.