“Children own the right to be able to read. In Afghanistan, for instance, reading is often prohibited for girls.”- Belgium
“It might be an audacious assertion, but I would state that I have become who I am today by reading many books,” says Wally de Doncker. “Books have often broadened my perspective and opened up my world.” De Doncker has two passions: education and literature, and he divides his time between the two.
De Doncker started his career as a teacher and “noticed that the teachers had almost no say in the policy of their school,” he says. “The headmaster decided almost everything and the rest had to grin and bear it. I joined the teachers’ committee to try to turn the tide. I fought for democratization. As chairman of the regional department, I was able to grow teachers’ involvement in the policy thanks to broad support.”
He then became engaged in the battle for coeducation. “In fact, my whole family got engaged,” says de Doncker. “The strict division between boys and girls in school seemed somewhat old-fashioned to us. We even considered it disadvantageous for our daughters. Education for girls was often very conservative. Quite a few parents backed the idea that something had to change, but no one dared to take the first step. We were the first to throw the stick among the pigeons.”
Next up for de Doncker were children’s books. “As a first-grade teacher and as a young author, I was very displeased by the existing reading methods,” he says. “Young readers did not enjoy reading because reading education was based solely on the technical aspects of reading. The stories students had to read were hopelessly old-fashioned. The protagonists were creatures without emotions. Together with a group of colleagues from kindergarten and primary school, I have developed a new reading method (“reading dragon”), which was based on a completely new approach to reading. The method was published (Standaard Educatieve Uitgeverij) in 1996.”
One of de Doncker’s main aims is to bring children and literature closer together. His books have received numerous nominations, selections and awards. Several have been adapted as stage plays and musical, film animation and dance films, and have been translated in more than twelve countries in Europe and beyond. (see more examples at the bottom of this page)
De Doncker is currently the Vice President of International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). “IBBY has taught me that the horizon lays beyond the borders of my own country, says de Doncker. “I consider the art of reading as something much broader than just reading a book. Dramatizations, screen versions, lyrics, dancing, sports… Every approach to literature can be used to get children to read.” De Doncker is working now to pave the way for collaboration between IBBY and other major organizations such as the European Union, UNESCO, UNO and ALMA.
“Children own the right to be able to read,” says de Doncker. “However, this is not a matter of course in all countries. In Afghanistan, for instance, reading is often prohibited for girls.”
Here, de Doncker shares his thoughts on technology, what he believes needs to change in his region, and why creative reading is so important.
What advances have occurred in education as a result of your work?
As a teacher: Together with the regional administration of the teachers’ committee I worked on, I was able to rectify some wrongs (capriciousness, overtime, misuse of power). It took a lot of energy.
Concerning coeducation: Surveys were held in all the local schools among parents, teachers and students. Coeducation was favored by a broad majority and implemented the year after that.
As a teacher of children’s literature: To my own surprise, it was an immense success. The local bookstore sometimes sold heaps of books I read to my students. The library often had trouble keeping up with me. Sometimes, they were overwhelmed by questions from my students. At the end of each school year, the whole school helped to form a grand finale concerning books. I taught the course promotion of readership for five years. Then, I quit education to be able to become a full-time author.
Concerning IBBY: IBBY tries to implement the right to be able to read in many countries, often through small projects (extra training for librarians and teachers in Afghanistan), but also through huge projects (in preparation for the IBBY-world congress in Mexico in 2014) in which hundreds of thousands of children are involved.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Try to innovate whenever it is possible.
Be critical. Be creative.
Stick your neck out.
When you start new projects, try to have the broad support of your colleagues.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I wanted to create a balanced program, a package deal. I did it as a teacher and I do it as an author. If the Internet, tablets or animation films can help us to have better readers, I’ll do it readily.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
I still believe that reading education in Flemish primary schools is much too concerned with the technical aspects of reading. International studies have proven for many years that Flemish children are among the best technical readers. There is however one problem: they don’t enjoy reading. I think we can cure that quite easily: abolish technical reading.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
In most of our primary schools the “smart board” appeared. It is an ideal didactical tool.
There is currently a movement concerning school buildings. Nevertheless some school buildings are still desperately antiquated. In such buildings it is impossible to bring modern education.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
In Belgium we have three major educational networks: public schools, private (Christian) schools, city schools. In my opinion, it is a loss of energy and a financial loss.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I am very happy with the appearance of CANON CULTUURCEL. It is the cultural unit of the Flemish ministry of education. CANON aims to build bridges between culture and education and inform a large public about arts and cultural education. Therefore CANON stimulates the creative school practice with stories by and from schools, and with money for concrete projects. And with a specific and well chosen offer of publications and methods.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
BOOKS or e-books for all children all over the world. Reading is a child’s right. It is the most important condition to become creative in our global world.
About Wally de Doncker
Wally de Doncker was born in 1958 in the Flemish town of Tielt. Wally began his career as a teacher in 1979 and for several years he served as a special teacher of children’s literature – a deeply rooted part of his professional and personal life. As a writer, he tries to react to the behavior of people around him.
He made his début as a children’s book writer in 1989, and in 2001 became a full-time
writer. Several of his books have received the Flemish Children Jury Award or have been adapted for stage, musical, animation and dance movies. He is the founder of a pre-reading and initial-reading method (Leesdraak, Reading Dragon). He writes articles about the international dimension of children’s literature for several Belgian and Dutch specialized magazines. From 2003 to 2009 he was a member of the editorial board of the American critical journal of children’s literature: ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’.
Since 1995, De Doncker has been an active board member of IBBY-Belgium, Flemish section, and since 1999, he has been involved in the preparations for the biennial IBBY congress (in corporation with the German Friedrich Bödecker Kreis, IBBY Netherlands and IBBY Flanders).
Click here for more information on Wally de Doncker’s books.
Here are some videos he created :
Birthplace: Tielt, Belgium
Current residence: Hamme, Belgium
Education: Bachelor of education, Sint- Niklaas (Belgium)
Websites I check every day:
Person who inspires me most: Eleanor Roosevelt
Favorite childhood memory: Pulling the covers over my head reading a book with a pocket torch.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Work: London, IBBY- World Congress. Pleasure: Sicily (Italy)
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Yesterday (with my wife and children) when we shared family anecdotes.
Favorite book: The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulish
Favorite music: Fado (Portugal) Carminho
Your favorite quote or motto: The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage. (Thucydides)