Academic Profiles – Comparing the Dutch Education to US Education

Recently in the Orientation to Finnish Culture and Education course at EdGlo we completed presentations on our personal education background. This gave us the ability to reflect on the education system we are most familiar with as well as learn about our classmates’ backgrounds and their countries education systems.

While my most current experience is in the Japanese public education system, my formative years, and subsequently powerful memories and cultural preferences, were shaped in the US public school domain. My cultural upbringing in the states and work experience in East Asia made me believe I was quite versed in different education systems, but I found myself intrigued when a couple of my Belgium classmates talked about Academic Profiles in their secondary schooling.

Before I get into academic profiles, let me give a base line comparison between the US education system and the Belgian education system.

Belgian Education System

BSO = Vocational Secondary Education
KSO = Art Secondary Education
TSO = Technical Secondary Education
ASO = General Secondary Education

Today I’m only going to be focusing on secondary education in Belgium and specifically ASO academic profiling because I could spend all day just explaining Belgian secondary education. Also Belgium, and it’s education system, is so much more complicated then it appears. Click here to learn more about Belgium in general. It’s pretty funny.

American Education System

What is an Academic Profile?

As an American I liken academic profiling to picking a major in university, but instead you are a teenager trying to figure out what you are going to do for the rest of your life. Or at the very least what you want to study. Choosing a profile means choosing which courses you are going to take. Roughly (I’m not Belgian so please correct me if I’m wrong), the Profiles break down to:

  1. Math and Sciences
  2. Economics
  3. Languages
  4. Humanities and History

By choosing one, though sometimes you can mix, those are your electives classes until you graduate. With the assumption you with study the same thing in university. I also listed them in the hierarchy my two Belgian classmates indicated.

Comparing and Personal Thoughts

The US public school system doesn’t demand students to choose an academic profile. Instead, we have the freedom to choose electives (if they are offered at the school) in our own interests. If a student is interested in math and science then they will take more elective/advanced math and sciences class. The same is for art and humanities students. As students we are also encouraged to explore our interests. From my own personal example, I was very interested in music and language so I took orchestra and French all four years, but I also took an elective math course to be prepared for university math classes as I was not a strong math student.

This flexibility allowed me to explore my interests but not hinder my desire to be prepared for university. It also allows students to advance in subjects they like and prepare them for what they will study in university or in vocational training (my school an extensive agricultural and wood/metal working electives). I think my school really focused on providing opportunities for students.

However, I do relate with the hierarchy of subjects that my classmates expanded in their presentation. Event though the US doesn’t use academic profiles often schools will cut electives courses deemed unnecessary or unimportant, i.e. art, music, and other classes outside curriculum. Students are also pressured by schools and parents to take advanced courses in math, science and literature because it looks good on college applications and will prepare you for university.

Personally it seems silly to demand students to chose a profile that ultimately narrows your experiences. I understand that it’s suppose to prepare students for future jobs but most teenagers (and adults) have no idea what they want to do let alone like to do. It also seems to re-enforce classism and capitalism/neo-liberalism. As in you must be a productive citizen and the only way to be productive is to be prepared for your work, and to be prepared you must study in your field. I admit that last statement is a little hyperbolic.

It’s hard for me to imagine thriving in that academic system as I have many interests and love to study. I don’t like imagine myself in high school having to decide between what I like to study and what field I want to/should work in. It stresses me out just thinking about it.

What do you think?

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? I would love to hear about personal experiences in education systems with academic profiling.

1 Comment

  1. So compulsory education in Belgium goes to age 18, and when you are done with compulsory you should be able to get a job in your field of study without going on to University? Let’s say becoming an electrician? If my understanding is correct what % of students go on to university?

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