- November 15, 2011
OSCE Commissioner in Soleczniki
“When I find myself in times of trouble, /Mother Mary comes to me, /Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. /And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me /Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” Thus, with the lyrics from the legendary Beatles’ song „Let It Be”, the disciples of the Jan Sniadecki Gymnasium in Soleczniki greeted the OSCE Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebeak. These words could suggest that, in their struggle with the consequences of the unjust Law on Education, the students of Polish schools and their parents can only count on the help from Heaven.
Knut Vollebeak, thanking for the nostalgic greeting (because, as he noted, “Let it Be” is a song of his youth), said that he came to the school precisely in order to hear first hand information from the students and their parents about their trouble related to the Lithuanian Law on Education. Because, as he stated earlier during a meeting with the representatives of the local government and the minority organizations in Soleczniki, the information, which he received about this case from the Minister of Education and Science, contradicts what he heard in Soleczniki.
Students in grades 11 and 12, who will be the first to feel the effects of the adopted in March Law on Education, told the Commissioner that the Lithuanian authorities changed the law not only against the will of minority communities, but even without consulting them. And although the students said they are confident of their knowledge and they should rather be able to handle the uniform from 2013 maturity examination of the Lithuanian language, nevertheless, this sudden introduction of changes and the lack of consulting them with the community creates uncertainty, raises concerns.
About the biggest of them, related to the unification of the exam, spoke to the Commissioner Łucja Szuszkiewicz, the mother of a student in the eleventh grade, who already in two years will have to take an examination of Lithuanian according to a program different than the one by which he has studied the language for the past 10 years.
“Ten-year difference between the programs is 800 hours of classes that my child will have to catch up for during these two years. Is it possible?” the mother rhetorically asked the OSCE commissioner. She did not count on an answer. Moreover, during his stay in Soleczniki, Commissioner Vollebeak repeatedly explained that he had not come to Lithuania with a ready recipe for a solution to this problem, but just to thoroughly investigate the situation and give recommendations to the Lithuanian government, how the conflict could be avoided.
“We are worried because even though there is no conflict between Lithuanians and the Polish minority, there is a tension that could degenerate into this conflict. My task is to provide guidance to prevent the development of the situation,” said yesterday Knut Vollebeak. He noted, however, that his advice will be confidential and no outsider will rather get to know what they concerned, and in general what they were. “Unless there’s a leak of this confidential information,” the Commissioner tried to joke. But the gathered in the hall were far from being in a joking mood.
“The changes introduced by the law burden our children, because in order to catch up with the gap between the Lithuanian language teaching programs, they must devote more time to this subject, often at the expense of other subjects, the knowledge of which is no less important for applying to university than the knowledge of Lithuanian. So we are concerned that in this situation our children can do worse on the Matura exams in other subjects, thus having less chance of getting to college. Perhaps that’s what our authorities also want to come out of those changes, so that they can subsequently argue that Polish schools prepare poorly for university?” thus Łucja Szuszkiewicz asked the OSCE Commissioner another rhetorical question, to which Knut Vollebeak could not answer, and the present with him representative of the Ministry of Education and Science, Ona Čepauskienė, was not able to provide an answer either.
During the Monday meeting of the commissioner with the minister of education and science, Gintaras Steponavičius, he heard that the changes in the direction of strengthening teaching the Lithuanian language in Polish schools were necessary, because allegedly the graduates of Polish schools know the official language at an eighth grade level, which refrains them from performing well on the labor market and integrating with the Lithuanian society. While explaining the situation, Ona Čepauskienė admitted that the ministry does not possess up-to-date research findings on the state of knowledge of the Lithuanian language among national minority school graduates. She said, however, that fragmentary conclusions were drawn in 2005 after a pilot unified exam for national minority schools and schools with the Lithuanian language of instruction, which allegedly prompted the department to make changes in the system of teaching.
The Ministry clerk did not, however, explain why the changes predicted for 2013 (unifying the examination) are supported by results from as early as 2005. Especially since Čepauskienė admitted that after the pilot test the Lithuanian language teaching programs were already made more similar in schools and schools of the Lithuanian national minorities, which was supposed to reinforce learning the language. And it certainly did..
The evidence for it are the results which were presented to the OSCE Commissioner during the meeting by the director of the education and sports faculty Regina Markiewicz, and which are, as opposed to the departmental ones, very up-to-date – from the current year. These data show that graduates of Polish, but also Russian schools cope well with learning the Lithuanian language, to which most distinctly testify the statistics of the admission to university of the Soleczniki students. As Regina Markiewicz emphasized, these statistics are at the level of the national average, and for some schools they are even better than that average.
To explain more clearly the complexities of the situation to the Commissioner, the mayor of the region Zdzislaw Palewicz asked him another rhetorical question: “If it is said that our young people do not know the state language and cannot cope in life, please explain how come these young people successfully apply for higher education, study and graduate? “. This question seems to have been the best answer to the commissioner and the explanation of what it really is that the decisions of the Lithuanian authorities to introduce fundamental changes in the education of national minorities are caused by.
“The previous law was not good, but over many years, our schools have adapted to it and students were coping well,” said in an interview with “Courier” mayor Palewicz. That is why, in his opinion, the new law must be changed, because introduces unnecessary and harmful changes to the education of national minorities. “I’m counting on it and I am convinced that the Commissioner’s visit in our region will certainly contribute to these changes,” the mayor said after the meeting with the Commissioner of the OSCE.
Palewicz also noted that the mere fact that Knut Vollebeak had the opportunity to talk directly with students and parents to hear about the problem, optimistically suggests that the Commissioner’s opinion will not be based on a one-side government officials’ information.
“What is important, if not the most important, is that the commissioner openly said that he sees a problem here, even though the Lithuanian authorities have been constantly repeating that they do not see any problem. And that gives hope, because if the the problem exists, then it must be resolved. We must therefore strive for it consistently, but firmly,” said Palewicz.
Tłumaczenie Anna Kołosowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu Translated by Anna Kołosowska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu
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