The scholar debate has no clear beginning, but it defined the political evolution of Belgium during the XX th century.

During the postwar period, the need to educate society resulted in the creation of more schools. However, these schools were predominantly Catholic. The Liberals, who supported the creation of more public schools, challenged the Catholic government of the time (which governed from 1884 to 1950).

(Public domain)
This image is from a satirical magazine called La Bombe from the year 1878, reflecting the situation during the First School War (1879 to 1884).

This tension started what are commonly called ‘Guerre Scolaires’, or School Wars. The dispute between whether schools should be of  Catholic or Public nature agitated the Belgian public. The First School War lasted from 1879 to 1884, while the Second School War lasted from 1950 to 1959.

In 1954, this problem heightened. The Belgian government was now composed mainly of Socialists and Liberals. This government tried to establish a law (the ‘Loi collard’) which put the Catholic Church at an economic disadvantage through the reduction of State aid to Catholic schools, and the construction of more public schools.     


The Catholic population showed their discontent through two civil demonstrations ( one in 1955 and another in 1958) of large attendance.


The conflict was solved with the ‘Pacte Scolaire’ of 1958. In hindsight, we can conclude that this Pact benefited the Catholics, who nowadays have a greater share of students in their schools. It also  recognized both education systems in an official  government  document.


  1. Benz, W., Graml, H., Henke, K.-D., Loth, W., Raulff, H., Robel, G., & Woller, H. (1986). Los Estados del Benelux. In W. Benz, H. Graml, K.-D. Henke, W. Loth, H. Raulff, G. Robel, & H. Woller, Historia Universal Siglo XX: el siglo XX; II. Europa después de la segunda guerra mundial 1945-1982. Tomo 1 (pp. 150-154). España: Siglo XXI de España Editores, S.A.

  2. Varin, Caroline, ‘Education in a federal system: A case-study of Belgium’ 17 April 2006. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania, http://repository.upenn.edu/curej/24.



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