Fate of Polish schools sealed already?

W. Syrkomla High School rally at the Ministry of Education and Science in Lithuania photo. wilnoteka.lt

Vilnius schools of Sz. Konarski and Lazdynai (‘Leszczyniaki’), starting from September will be primary schools. Similar fate may probably await J. Lelewel School, that is the historical 5th, but here the secondary school forms remain and the issue is still open. W. Syrkomla school will keep 12 forms , therefore a status of so-called ‘long secondary school’ provided that they find a ‘Catholic partner’ to found a school with ‘a curriculum with Christian elements’. If it succeeds, it will be the only such school in Vilnius. In Vilnius and Šalčininkai districts accreditation is also basically over. In place of some high schools, there will be, for instance, such wonders as ‘branches’ of nearby secondary schools with a high school level teaching! Aidas Aldakauskas, who in Lithuanian Ministry of Education an Science is the director of the school accreditation department thinks that, basically, to finish reorganizing Lithuanian education system (and all the i’s should be dotted, at latest, before the middle of June)there are only a few details left.

There are fewer and fewer uncertainties, because there is less and less time. Last decisions should be made, at latest, till the middle of June, and even in March, the fate of 21 high schools in Lithuania was unknown, including 10 schools with Polish as a teaching language in Vilnius, and Vilnius, Šalčininkai and Trakai districts.

The most emotions stirs the largest Polish school in Vilnius, that is so-called ‘Syrkomla’. The community of this school even organized a rally at the seat of the department of Education, to hurry the decision on the future of this school that for years have been fighting to keep the current teaching system, that is ‘from 1st to 12th form in one school’. The Education reform provides that such schools should be closed, but there is a number of exceptions allowing for the keeping of so-called ‘long secondary school’ e.g. in the case of so-called profile teaching.

Syrkomla School therefore decided to transform into a school with a curriculum with ‘Christian elements’. It requires changing the legal personality and transforming the school into a so-called public use company (lit. viešoji įstaiga), whose founder and main shareholder should be Vilnius City Muncipality (it will also continue to support the school), but the representatives of the Ministry say that a second ‘shareholder’ is necessary – some Catholic institution or organization, even a parish, that is to be responsible for the mentioned ‘Christian elements’ in the teaching curriculum.

It is well known that all church institutions and organizations in the Vilnius Archdiocese work with the blessing of the curia, and it is unlikely that any of them would agree to ‘co-found’ a school, a Polish one at that, without the permission of the Archbishop. Here it should be emphasized that the model chosen by ‘Syrkomla’ does not include transforming into a Catholic school as, for instance, probably the best known in all of Vilnius Jesuit Secondary School, which is a social school. It will remain a municipality school with ‘a Catholic profile’. In Lithuania there are said to be examples of such schools, but in Vilnius it would be the first. Tiny detail – ‘Catholic partner’ needed right now. Supposedly, new mayor of Vilnius, R. Šimašius promised support, and – as we remember form the campaign – he has some influence in the curia, so as soon as he can ‘set up’ a regular Polish Mass in the Vilnius Cathedral, it will be known that he will not abandon ‘Syrkomla’.

The fates of ‘Konarski’ and Polish-Russian school in Lazdynai seem sealed, and the final word in their cased belonged not to the Ministry, but… the Vilnius City Municipality, which on April 1 2015 made a final decision not to assemble forms 11 and 12 in this school, starting September 1 this year. The Ministry representative says that the future of theses school was basically known before , it is only a shame that it was so to a handful of people and nobody bothered to explain it to school communities that still hold on to hope for accreditation and retaining a secondary school status.

Also holding on to hope for accreditation is Lelewel High School, which, as all Polish schools, decided to go its own, unique way to obtain a ‘long secondary school’ status and is to be a school with a technical-engineering profile. A great idea, even relating to the beautiful tradition of Polish education in Vilnius, but… the Ministry official remember very well that this school just barely managed to avoid closing by merging with the A. Wiwulski primary school, it is successfully rebuilding its renown and reclaiming students. It is looking to the future with ambition, but according to the Ministry – too much ambition. Not without weight is the fact that into the ‘Lelewel’ building already moved half of the neighboring Lithuanian primary school (Antakalnio) which would prefer to get rid of ‘the natives’ and seize the whole building, by throwing them , for instance, into the building of the old Wiwulski school (for the last few years – a ‘Lelewel’ branch), but ‘Wiwulski’ also has ‘tenants’ in the form of Lithuanian school ‘Gijos’, teaching special need children – half a kingdom to that who can detangle that knot …

Well then, it seems that like with ‘Syrkomla’, the fate of ‘Lelewel’ remains in the hands of the new coalition, who will have to contend with a strong opposition, whose pillar are to be Polish councilmen, who turned into the opposition after quite a few good years of co-governing Vilnius (because it is not only the last term). It was at that time that the idea to retain Polish High Schools in the capital through unique curriculum, was born. ‘Syrkomla’ has the best chance to become a Christian profile school, ‘Lelewel’ dreams about an engineering one, and artistic schools, catering to their students creative development, were to be as many as two – ‘Leszczyniaki’ and ‘Konarski’!

If that plan succeeded, Vilnius Poles would have more profiled schools than general! Maybe that would be a way to deal with the shortage of students and drawing Polish children, whose parents send them to Lithuanian or Russian schools (yes, yes, in Russian forms there are still children from Polish families, perhaps not as many as before 1990, but still quite a bit).

So far though, the promoted idea was of a ‘Polish school next door’, that is if there is a Polish Scholl nearby, children from Polish families will go there, because not many parents will drive their kids to the other end of the city, just on principle. In case of massive profiling of these school, they would have to, as long as they were convinced that their child has an engineering, artistic or even – simply – Christian leaning. A propos – neither John Paul II school, nor the long list of schools in the Vilnius Region with saints and blessed for patrons, are not schools with ‘Christian profiles’ (except for St. John Bosco in Egliškių, which is applying for it), though in practice, not many students of Polish schools choose ethics instead of religion.

Outside of Vilnius, reorganization also has its ups and downs, as it continues with the fight over a student in the background. It is well known that the main factor here is the rivalry between the municipality, Polish schools and government, Lithuanian schools, that is those that belong directly to the Ministry that oversee the process of accreditation.

Despite this the Šalčininkai district managed to find a solution that was applauded even in the Ministry. In Baltoji Vokė and Dieveniškės, where there are Polish and Lithuanian municipality high schools, they will be formally degraded to primary school, but in fact will keep teaching in forms 11 and 12, only that high school level teaching will be conducted by the branches of nearby secondary schools. So a child, starting the 1st form in a Polish school in, for example, Dieveniškės, will until the 10th form be a student of A. Mickiewicz Primary School, and in forms 11 and 12, while still studying in the same building, under the same teachers, it will be a student of the Dieveniškės branch of J. Śniadecki Secondary School in Šalčininkai, and it is as a graduate of ‘Śniadecki’ that it will receive a high school diploma. Complicated, but maybe it is a way turn it into a win-win situation.

Students of E. Orzeszkowa School in Baltoji Vokė, without going to Jašiūnai, will graduate M. Baliński Secondary School in Jašiūnai. Some may say: we deceive ourselves, because instead of transporting students and forming bigger secondary schools that could provide a higher quality learning ( and that is the idea behind the Lithuanian reorganization), we keep secondary school forms with few students in small schools. However, knowing the problems with transport and financing of rural schools – maybe it is a way to ‘cheat’ the reform.

Two more schools of the Šalčininkai district qualified for accreditation. Secondary school status will soon go to the Polish L. Narbutt school in Kalesninkai and the Russian ‘Santarvės’ school in Šalčininkai.

The Vilnius district authorities have less space to maneuver, cause here most of the schools belong to the Ministry, so they aim to accredit as many Polish high schools as possible, however the Ministry has some serious concerns regarding schools in Medininkai, Egliškių and Zujūnų. Their future is set to be a topic of discussion between the Ministry of Education and district authorities. The Department of Education of the Vilnius District Municipality Administration refrains from commenting for the time being, but is already certain that come autumn Čekoniškių and Sužionių high schools will become primary schools, and new ‘secondary school’ plaques are said to be prepared by high schools in Mickūnų and Lavoriškių.

So it looks like it is the end of the misery of reorganization, that was so heroically, till the very end, opposed by Polish school and political and education activists. It was resisted, seeing a bit irrational desire of most of the parents for their children to, same as them, learn from the 1st to the 12th form in one school and fearing that ‘degradation’ of high schools to primary schools may undermine their authority, lead to a lesser number of students, and with it financing, which follows the so-called ‘student’s basket’. Some may say – here we have the effects of the amendment to the Law on Education, that was so protested against by the Poles in 2011. It is true, but the concluding agreements regarding the finalization of this reform, including a number of exceptions used by the Polish schools in the districts, has been finally adopted in 2013 by overall consensus of a then governing coalition. It was signed by representatives of all parties, including AWPL.

Is the network of Polish schools, especially in Vilnius, really so optimal and any changes could only be for worse? That is a topic for another discussion that, by the way, has been going on for at least 15 years, and there even have been attempts to regulate this network in accordance with new requirements, that is for the students of one secondary school to be supplied from at least two primary schools, which gives both of them the right to be. There were three such ‘triangles’ to be made – on the basis of existing secondary schools of A. Mickiewicz and John Paul II and on a line ‘Syrkomla’ – ‘Wiwulski’ – ‘Lelewel’. It required, however, developing of new education strategies, reaching particular communities with it and convincing some schools to give up ‘secondary school’ ambitions (as it was done in Šalčininkai). In the end, Polish leaders did not opt for it, standing by the main line of Polish policy un Lithuania, which can be described as a policy of ‘besieged fortress’: defend the Polish state of possession! For any ‘ventures outside the walls’ and attempts for development, and not maintaining this state, apparently there will come a time at other time, that is no one knows when…

Meanwhile, what was meant to be, will most probably happen. Unless Polish activists will still pull some aces out of their sleeves at the last minutes, after all, in opposition the Polish people somehow work better than in a governing coalition. May ‘Syrkomla’ find a good partner that will have a real and positive influence on the school, and not, for instance, one ‘suggested’ by the curia, who after a few years – if, say, a number of students in the school drops – will , by itself, approach the municipality (as a main shareholder) with a ‘proposition’ of introducing Lithuanian forms, or a modern, bilingual learning. As cardinal Richelieu used to say: ‘God, protect me from my friends, I’ll take care of my enemies’.

A miracle would come in handy also in the case of ‘Lelewel’, meanwhile from two planned schools with an artistic profile, the Vilnius Poles will probably not get any – that is how creativity in a nation dies… ‘Konarski’ and ‘Leszczyniaki’ can always fight about ‘branches’ of nearby secondary schools (as in Šalčininkai) to at least unofficially keep form 11 and 12 in school, regardless of the seal that will feature on a high school diploma. They can also receive a modern status of ‘progimnazjum’, that is instead of forms 1-10 (compulsory primary education in Lithuania) keep only forms 1-8, but then the school classrooms may stand empty.

In the time in which Poland already underwent three-level subdivision of education (primary-middle-high school), Lithuania broke – more or less successfully – a monolith of 12 forms in one school and arrived at the former polish system, two-level – primary and secondary school (in Poland it was primary and high school). The ‘burden’ of this reorganization, as usual, will be felt most keenly by the children, who at the level of final and pre-final forms will suddenly have to look for new schools. Maybe finally someone will not stand for it, and sue for this ongoing (after unifying the Lithuanian language exam) experimenting on youth?

Only… Who to sue?

Photos: Jan Wierbiel
Montage: Bartosz Frątczak

Source: http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/los-polskich-szkol-juz-przesadzony

Tłumaczenie by Antonina Górka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Antonina Górka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

© 2011 efhr.eu. All rights reserved.