- August 6, 2012
Masojć: Studying in a Lithuanian school does not give you a better start in life
Assimilation is for national minorities a natural process. However, in my opinion in the case of Polish minority in Lithuania, it does not pose a big threat, said director of the Department of Polish Philology and Didactics of the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, Irena Masojć.
To my great regret, the number of people who know Polish language is getting smaller. And I am talking about both Lithuanian Poles and Lithuanians, adds Masojć.
Mrs Masojć, only 20 years ago Polish philology was a very popular if not the most popular faculty among Polish youth in Lithuania. But now the number of people interested in studying it is getting smaller. What are the reasons for the situation and what will be the future of Polish philology at the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences? How many students does the Department of Polish Philology and Didactics currently have?
The greatest interest in Polish philology was in 2004 as at that time over 40 students enrolled and attended the first year. The reason for that could be the fact that they were those who had gone to school at the beginning of the 90s on the rising tide of national rebirth. Then the number started to gradually but clearly decrease. In the academic year 2011/2012 the total number of all our students was 31. There were different factors both positive and negative which influenced the situation. The positive one is that those who graduated from a Polish school have new options and chances. Passing their exams they can enrol for different courses at Lithuanian universities or take their opportunity to study in Poland and lately also in other European countries.
Being traditional, Polish philology is not so much competitive. However, we acutely felt the effect of the reform of higher education system and introducing the “basket” model. With each year the Ministry provides funds for a smaller number of students of pedagogy. And tuition fees are extremely high – 3819 Lt for semester. As a result not many of those who enrol for Polish philology get a, so called, “basket.” Last year, for example, because of that it was not possible to create a minimum 8-person group of first year students.
For understandable reasons nobody chose to pay for the studies. One started considering Polish philology not only unpopular but also inaccessible. The situation changed this year. Efforts of the Polish Embassy in Vilnius concerning funding paid studies made that recent secondary-school graduates started to enrol also paid studies and after the first stage of enrolment the minimum number of students to start the course was gathered. After the second stage there was one person more. We hope for some more people to enrol during the time of the supplementary enrolment between 7 and 9 August.
For a few years the number of students in Polish schools has been decreasing. It is, among other things, connected with population decline, emigrations for economic reasons or assimilation. It is absolutely clear that some schools will be closed. What will be the future of those university graduates then? In which direction should Polish philology develop to become more attractive for recent secondary-school graduates?
Assimilation is a natural and unavoidable process for a national minority. However, in my opinion for the Polish minority in Lithuania, which is geographically dense and culturally thriving, it does not pose a big threat. Representatives of the minority, especially those young, are more and more willing to cooperate but not assimilate. Anyway, their parents’ experience proves that choosing a Lithuanian school does not give you a better start in life, or even the other way round – it can be negative for the development of your personality and become a reason of low self-esteem.
A smaller number of students does not mean that a pedagogical university in no longer needed. The quality of education cannot be affected. The field of pedagogy needs new blood and raising professional qualifications. Everyone who graduated from a Polish school knows how important the role of Polish teachers who shape the national identity of young people is. That is why as long as Polish school exist as long there is the need of training students to become teachers of Poilsh. This is what we consider our main mission.
We cannot follow in the footsteps of Polish philology as it is in Poland where it mainly develops in the direction of diversification of specializations. Next to the pedagogical one, you can also find there an editorial, cultural, media specialization or one that trains you to become an organizer of cultural activities, etc. As the demand for specialists is low here, it is of no use to introduce new specializations. That is why we accepted a trendy “3 in 1” marketing method. We try to modify the curriculum of the studies by introducing new subjects. During the last three years those trained to become teachers were added such subjects as introduction to translation, local history, or organization of cultural activities. All of them not only harmoniously become a part of teachers’ training, but also show our students different techniques used by translators, tour guides or organizers of cultural activities and at the same time point to alternative jobs our students can get. The curriculum is also supplemented by annual educational tours introducing to students various regions of Poland and their culture. Next September we are going to visit Pomerania. The alternative way of development for Polish philology could be incorporating it to other fields of study at our university. In this kind of curriculum Polish philology subjects would have a supportive function. This would basically mean that Polish would be taught as a second language what could be useful for some jobs. At present we are preparing this kind of curriculum which is to be submitted for approval in autumn.
What is the situation of Polish language in Lithuania now? What is the knowledge of Polish among Lithuanian Poles? What are the basic tendencies and problems?
To mu regret, the number of people who know Polish is clearly getting smaller. I am thinking both about Lithuanian Poles and Lithuanians. Generally, one can say that Polish language is dominated by other languages. Although the education law gives the opportunity to choose Polish as the second language in Lithuanian schools, it is not used. Staff problems and pragmatic reasons influence the fact that students in Lithuanian as their second language choose English and as the third one Russian. A short time ago students of different fields were taught Polish at our university as an obligatory or non-obligatory subject. Because of reduced funding all the faculties make drastic financial cuts. The first step towards saving was to resign from non-obligatory subjects. Last year only a small group of students of Russian philology was taught Polish. The number of the youngest Lithuanians who know Polish is getting smaller.
Polish spoken by Poles themselves also leaves a lot to be desired. On the one hand, its indefinable status does no good to its prestige as Polish develops in the shade of the state language. Even in a Polish school there is a strong pressure to learn Lithuanian. Although lessons are in Polish, all the state exams are to be taken in Lithuanian. In the situation Polish becomes the second language. And that is why one of the main tasks of Polish education is to strengthen – although it may sound paradoxical – the position of Polish in Polish schools. On the other hand, it should be said that Poles themselves do not always pay attention to improve in using their mother tongue. In some situation one wants to hear the impeccable Polish language. There are public figures, for example teachers (not only Polish!), social activists who are expected to set a good example in the sphere. Still, not all them are aware that they speak broken Polish and at the same time show lack of respect to their national culture which is so often declared by them.
It is a peculiar “phenomenon” that 20 years after regaining language independence by Lithuania, it is Russian which not only is still popular but whose position has become even stronger. Still a significant number of Lithuanian Poles – as sociological research show – including young people communicate with each other in Russian. Why is it so? What is an academic’s opinion of the problem of Russification and Lithuanization of Poles in Lithuania? Does it pose a big threat?
For me as a linguist it is also surprising. When I was in my infancy as a researcher in the 90s., I thought that I dealt with the last Russian expressions and that getting in touch with the motherland would favour the spread of Polish language. The reality was different. Why Russian language and culture are still popular? Because it reaches people in the form of mass culture. There are plenty of Russian TV programmes which are made professionally, although not always in good taste. And TV Polonia loses the contest with those. It is enough to compare the wide range of the latest titles in Russian bookshops with what we see in Polish shops selling books in Vilnius. The flood of Russian popular culture not only makes Russian language popular but also in a sense shapes people’s ways of thinking, their system of values or sense of humour. It is easy to observe how often it hard not to use Russian sayings or expressions to illustrate certain situation, for example “chocziesz żyć, umiej wiertietsia.” Similarities between Polish and Russian make it easier for Poles than for Lithuanians to learn the language.
Russian expressions are deeply rooted in our speech and unconsciously used by speakers, for example many people say “postąpić do uniwersytetu” or ”pozdrowić z urodzinami” and do not even suspect that those expressions come from a foreign language. Lithuanian expressions are usually more common and more consciously used, for example foreign terms such as “dovanų kuponas”, “verslo liudijimas” or “studentų atstovybė“.
Language of every single ethnic group living outside of its motherland is in danger. What we need is different warning, preventive or popularizing measures, etc. That is why the role of school, Polish teachers and Polish philology at universities is so important.
Poles living in Vilnius used to speak a specific form of borderland Polish, Vilnius dialect. What is our Vilnius dialect today? Is it still used in everyday life or maybe only for some artistic purposes when Wincuk and aunt Franukowa perform? Can one say that there are two Vilnius dialects: the traditional, prewar one; and the present one the symbol of which are “Pulaki z Wilni”?
First of all, the word “dialect” should not be used in the context. In linguistics it is something vanishing – a historically developed language on a certain territory by uneducated inhabitants of villages. For that reason it is marked negatively. When we say “dialect” we look down to the people who use it. It would be more appropriate to call the everyday language of our times, often used by well-educated Poles in Lithuania, “a regional variant.” “Regional variants” in Poland are being revived. Kashubian has received the status of a regional language and Silesian aspires to become one; more and more is said about kurpiowski dialect. In that context the specific character of Vilnius Polish seems to be natural. In my opinion, there are not two Vilnius dialects: the traditional, prewar dialect and the contemporary one. This is the same Polish but significantly changed with time. Words such as “dzieżułka“, “zasiek“ or “rezginie“ are no longer needed, but there are some new ones, for example “maszyna“, “marszrutka“ or “pašalpa.“ However, they still have the basic northborderland elements, e.g. a different way of pronouncing “ł” or nasal vowels “ą”, “ę”, or inflection of verbs with pronouns “ja powiedział”, “my zrobili.” These elements are a part of our local Polish heritage, just as Vilnius palms, potato blood pudding or other customs. There is nothing wrong in the fact that we pass them from generation to generation. Still, we should remember that they do not suit every situation.
There are several thousand people who graduated in Polish philology. Does the faculty keep statistics showing the number of graduates who work in their field? Are there any meetings for academic teachers and graduates? If yes, what do they look like?
Since 1964, there have been not quite two thousand graduates. Neither the university, nor our faculty keep statistics concerning graduates’ employment. We conduct this kind of research on our own for the purpose of various reports. Six or seven years ago about a half of our graduates were hired by schools or other educational institutions. Now the situation is probably different. After graduation in Polish philology, students very often start courses leading to a master’s degree in a different field and then find jobs in various institutions and companies in which knowing both Polish and Lithuanian is an asset.
Official meetings take place rarely, only by the way of jubilees. Such a meeting was held last November on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Polish philology. We are in touch with most of our graduates, mainly those who are teachers, and we meet by the way of teaching practice or Polish language contests, seminars, etc. There is also the Association of Teachers of Polish Language in Lithuania functioning under the university which was established last year.
Why, in your opinion, it is important to study Polish philology? Why did you choose this course and what would be your advice for a today recent secondary-school graduate?
Choosing the course was a kind of surprise both for me and for people I was surrounded by. It is obvious that when we are at school our interests are to a large extent shaped by our teachers. I was into chemistry and I wanted to study something practical. After the first semester I realized it was not for me. I would advise today recent secondary-school graduates against following fashion, against choosing the most popular courses and against being guided only by practical reasons. Studying Polish philology gives you an opportunity to improve both Polish and Lithuanian, visit different places in Poland, and develop your personality. And the subjects whose focus is on pedagogy are not only to prepare you for being a teacher but also show you how to working in a team, settle conflicts and improve you interpersonal skills. And those are useful for every single job.
Tłumaczenie Małgorzata Mitoraj w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Małgorzata Mitoraj within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.