On the context of urban education, Brussels and superdiversity (Urban Education, 1)

(Translated from Dutch Onderwijs in Brussel is… urban education, de grootstedelijke context (1))


When talking about urban education or education in a metropolitan context, we first need to define ‘metropolitanism’. Milner (2014) refers to the term ‘extensive urban‘ for cities with more than 1,000,000 inhabitants. In Belgium, only Brussels falls into this category. It is also useful to look at population density. In this respect too, Brussels has a unique status in our country.

But the concept of ‘urban’ or the ‘metropolitan context’ is not just about size. The literature also often refers to the degree of diversity (and superdiversity) of the population and the presence of an extensive, diverse and rich network of political, cultural, sports and other institutions each with their respective professionals. Brussels also scores highly on these two points.

The teacher in a metropolitan context…

The large, rich, diverse, multilingual cosmopolitan environment in Brussels demands an equally rich and diverse approach from teachers. Teachers need more than a mainstream basic training in order to be able to function effectively in a metropolitan context (Haberman, 2018). This is normal and not a bad thing, but it does mean that teachers must be given the space to prepare for the profession but also to prepare for the city through support and training (Fukkink & Oostdam, 2016).

Teachers in Brussels need to develop the following insights and skills, among others:

  • Teachers need to gain insights into and learn to deal with superdiversity in the classroom, be able to respond to considerable differences in prior knowledge and language proficiency, etc. and learn to use a variety of differentiated strategies.
  • They need be able to connect with children and young people with very different backgrounds, experiences, expectations and interests.
  • They need to build educational partnerships with a superdiverse parent population in order to educate and support and promote learning.
  • They need to cooperate with professionals from the extensive and complex local community network in which the pupils live and are active.
  • They need to develop knowledge and skills in language acquisition and learn how to deal with multilingualism.
  • Teachers need to gain insights into the impact of poverty on education and the educational and didactic measures that can be taken.


Superdiversity is a key concept when talking about education in a metropolitan context. It is essential that superdiversity is described in specific terms and not used as a slogan. Superdiversity refers to a combination and concentration of diversity characteristics (Crul, 2013). It arises when the ‘old’ majority disappears and a collection of many different minorities emerges. Each of these minorities is characterised by a great deal of diversity at different levels (social, cultural, economic, but also in terms of education, upbringing, interests, expectations, etc.). In the average Brussels classroom we find pupils from very different migration backgrounds, who speak a variety of languages at home. There are also significant socio-economic and cultural differences and there are few ‘uniform’ groups. The white and black classes have disappeared, there is no majority or minority. A Brussels classroom is, by definition, superdiverse.

It is essential that Brussels teachers are aware of and understand this diverse reality and take it into account in the different roles of their professional profile (De Groot, 2017).


Gepubliceerd door Piet Vervaecke

Directeur Onderwijscentrum Brussel

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