Inhoud geven aan levensbeschouwelijke diversiteit via Vlaams officieel onderwijs: van theorie naar praktijk

Translated title of the contribution: Giving substance to ideology diversity through the Flemish government-provided education institutions: from theory to practice

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisThesis 5: fully external


Transforming societies, marked by increased religious, respectively ideological diversity, are posing complex challenges for European educational systems. The Belgian education system demonstrates an intrinsic link between ideologies and organizational structures, which makes reflecting on their relationship even more significant.

This dissertation examines how the Flemish government-provided education institutions, both in form and substance, ‘accommodate’ ideology diversity while taking concepts such as (active) pluralism and active citizenship into account.
In this research, we define ‘ideology accommodation’ as “promoting inclusion and participation of students with different ideologies, without losing their different (evolving) ideological identities”. In doing so, we explicitly use the term “promote” which contains an hypothesis. We argue that the working definition of ‘ideology accommodation’ cannot be separated from an active interpretation of the equality framework. More specifically, only an active interpretation of the principle of equality constitutes an avenue to foster substantive equality. Thus, this thesis proposes an important, literature-based, hypothesis by providing strong confirmatory evidence in support of this hypothesis.

The central research question is divided into the following three sub-research questions:
1) What are the current European, international and national legal instruments that give substance to religious freedom, combined with the specific governmental obligations in the context where it provides education itself? (legal framework)
2) How are the concepts of (active) pluralism and active citizenship interpreted in Flemish government-provided education institutions at the central level and in school regulations (top-down policy framework, school regulations and interviews with important stakeholders)?
3) How do (full-time regular secondary) government-provided schools in Ghent ‘accommodate’ ideology diversity, both in form and substance, in practice? (educational practice via multiple case study)

The introductory chapter of this dissertation provides an outline of the background of the research, the research problem and the knowledge gaps, the research objectives and questions, the conceptual framework, the used methodology and research design, the relevance and structure.

Afterwards, the second chapter aims to map the legal framework with particular attention to religious freedom and the specific governmental obligations in the context where it provides education itself. International, European and national law are examined. It is found that the United Nations Human Rights Committee is very critical for limitations on ideological expressions in education. The European Court of Human Rights grants national authorities a wide margin of appreciation, allowing authorities to make both a laicist approach, as well as an active pluralistic approach. The same trend can also be observed within Belgian case law, although the Council of State seems to be slightly more critical. In any case, few legal proceedings are initiated.

Subsequently, the third chapter of the dissertation analyses the policy framework, school regulations and the interviews, including experts and heads of policy concerning education. As regards to ideological diversity, the central Flemish government-provided education institutions, have defined the neutrality principle in different ways: namely ‘active pluralism’, ‘active citizenship’ and ‘pluralism’. However, these terms are very ambiguous in their definition. The term pluralism is more often used in the school regulations of 2016-2017 that apply in official public education and in education organized by Provinces, Cities and Municipalities. At the same time, a high number of school regulations prohibit the wearing of external ideological symbols (83%).

In the fourth chapter of the dissertation, we examine how accommodation is incorporated into everyday practices within seven government-provided schools in the city of Ghent (Flanders). Thereby, this research transcends the individual level. If one important lesson of this multiple case study (carried out in seven full-time regular secondary government-provided schools in Ghent) can be drawn, it is that there is an urgent need to take central policy initiatives that provide guidance, possible solutions. Thus developing extra knowledge and skills, also to facilitate a guided discussion with teachers and principals. In this hypothesis, the political actors and the institutional actors (‘inrichtende machten’) in policy must facilitate bottom-up initiatives in their practical and substantive usefulness, without imposing rules. In this way, teachers and principals will gain new ideas and feel supported as a whole, but also - hopefully - develop solutions as consensus gradually grows.

This research aims to contribute to a further debate and to broaden our views on educational responses to ideology diversity. Additional research could focus on the perspectives and experiences of students and parents. In doing so, their views may provide new, enriching insights.
Translated title of the contributionGiving substance to ideology diversity through the Flemish government-provided education institutions: from theory to practice
Original languageDutch
QualificationDoctor of Laws
Awarding Institution
  • Ghent University
Award date27 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2022
Externally publishedYes


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