Prevention is better than cure… Also in education

Several studies have confirmed the importance of the first 12 years of life, but this aspect remains ignored from a budgetary and political point of view.

Sophie Foets.

did you too the ball in the belly for “Don’t look up”† This blockbuster tells of a comet’s collision with Earth after its seriousness was denied despite astronomers’ incessant warnings.

Satire portrays an inconvenient truth: Prevention is often more effective than repair, and yet we do not choose this path. Because successful prevention is invisible: it does not let the problem surface. Prevention is therefore rarely rewarded and much more often neglected.

Simon Ghiotto.

Take health care, for example: it’s the disease that drives money, not prevention. Unfortunately, this also applies to education and youth. Multiple studies have confirmed the importance of the first 12 years of life, but this aspect remains ignored from a budgetary and political point of view. We are told that our origin should not determine our future, without, however, activating the necessary levers to achieve it. A change is needed.

Among the societal challenges that demand political attention, the great inequalities in education within our country are an often overlooked invisible problem. We complain about the decline in PISA results and the strongest correlation between socioeconomic status and educational performance in OECD countries, but the government offers few extra resources for vulnerable young people social economic.

Preventive investing

Moreover, the education budget is distributed disproportionately between secondary and higher education† Authorities are rushing to present big plans to get young school leavers back on track but have been slow to address the dire staff shortages announced in childcare and schools.



We need skills to acquire others. Building a promising future starts with a solid foundation.

Basic literacy in primary and secondary education is receiving increasing attention, but from the age of three, the language gap is significant† A disadvantaged child knows an average of 1,200 words, a disadvantaged child only 400. preventive investment in socio-economically vulnerable young people represents significant potential and benefits for all. This approach helps to eliminate problems such as crime, long-term unemployment and poverty.

An abundance of research shows that the greatest impact is achieved through prevention, beginning in early childhood. Heckman, Nobel laureate in economics, is known for his work on early intervention. His position in five words? Skills breed skills† We need skills to acquire others. Building a promising future starts with a solid foundation.

An ambitious policy aimed at (older) young people, aimed at identifying and tackling challenges at an early stage, and aimed at prevention rather than cure, is lacking. It takes courage and resources. However, we are already spending this money.

€7,798

Cost of a repeating learner

Belgium has a disproportionate number of repeaters in secondary education, with a cost of 7,798 euros per child per year.

Belgium has a disproportionate number of repeaters in secondary education, with a cost of 7,798 euros per child per year. Nearly one in ten young people leaves secondary education without a diploma and for underprivileged young people in Brussels of non-European origin, according to certain studies, this figure rises to almost one in two.

Unfortunately, young people who drop out of school often become NEETs, ie young people aged 15 to 29 “Not in education, work or training”According to some estimates, a NEET costs society about $1 million in its lifetime. However, resources to prevent early school leaving, recurrence and NEETs are limited; Often, preference is given to more visible measures, such as support when the damage has already been done.

Redirect Resources

How to do better in the future? To give more importance to prevention, we must: introduce a range of measures that cross different age groups, skill areas and power levels.



Let’s focus early stage investments and prioritize supporting vulnerable young people.

Belgium spends above average on education, but not always in the best way or at the right time in the life course. In fact, some of the best measures for the development of our (vulnerable) youth can be found elsewhere. Consider, for example, qualitative and accessible childcare. We advocate a diversion of resources. Let’s focus early stage investments and prioritize supporting vulnerable young people.

Let us also – as far as possible – break down the walls between areas of competence and levels of power. Our young people deserve a transversal approach aimed at long-term results† Excessive fragmentation between skill areas and power levels often hinders their development because it hinders long-term focused work. Those who sow are often (too) impatient to reap. Make efforts and results more visible – through financing models such as “Social Impact Bonds” – may help in part, but this approach mainly requires famous political courage.

What about the private sector, civil society and the families themselves? Let’s all roll up our sleeves for the benefit of the youngest and most vulnerable and advocate more often for prevention – at all levels.

Sophie Foets
Founder of TADA ASBL

Simon Ghiotto
Colleague Itinera

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