- March 8, 2013
First year pupils – which school?
2012-2013 school year is ending – proms are behind us and high school graduates are preparing intensively to the maturity exams. Meanwhile, schools are thinking about new pupils and theyhave already started the admission process to first grade. Parents have an important decision to make: which school should they chose? Polish or Lithuanian?
Nowadays, the Polish educational system has to deal with demographic decline and a strange Education Act. What do teachers and parents think about the current situation? How these problems should be resolved?
The fact that the Lithuanian population growth decreases is not a secret. Quite recently, we sung proudly the words of the song called „M?s? trys milijonai”. Today these words are no longer true. Now, population of Lituanian amounts to 2 979 000. According to the unofficial data, during the last 20 years, since re-establishment of independence, Lituania lost over half a million inhabitants.
Mieczysław Jasiulewicz, headmaster of Urszula Ledóchowska Secondary School in Czarny Bór, says that the demographic decline had an impact on the number of pupils attending first grade: „In our school, like in many others, the number of first year pupils has dropped in recent years. We expect only 12 first year pupils on September 1st 2013. It is possible that there will be more. However, we notice also an upward trend: the number of children in a pre-school group goes up. We even think about creating another group like that. The demographic decline is temporary, in my opinion. We believe there will be more and more children in our school.”
Alina Sobolewska, vice-principal of Andrzej Stelmachowski Elementary School in Stare Troki, claims that all the confusion about Polish schools and Education Act didn’t have any effect on the parents’ decision. It is true that the results of demographic decline can be seen, in general there are less kids at kindergarten age. But Polish families from Stare Troki, where Lithuanians are dominant, send their children to Polish schools. „We have a pre-school group here, so kids will come to our school. Children from nearby towns will surely also attend. As it is, our school is small, so we expect around 10 first year pupils”, says Alina Sobolewska.
Not only the demographic decline affects the decrease in number of pupils. People choose to emigrate because of the difficult financial situation, unemployment, inability to support their family. Lituanians often decide to stay abroad for good. Schools are left with empty lockers and seats.
A lot of parents with their children from Stare Troki area also emigrate because of the economic reasons. „I believe that the state should take care of young families, so that they would have jobs and possibility of education for their children here. If the state doesn’t take care of that, the best of schools won’t either”, affirms the vice-principal.
„The number of puplis decreased in Lituanian schools too. In the biggest school in Stare Troki area – Witold Wielki Middle School in Stare Troki – there was 5 sets of five grade in past years. Now we have only 3, which means 45-50 pupils less. According to statistics, in the scale of the Stare Troki area, there are around 200 pupils less on the first day of schoolevery year. It means that one secondary school should be closed by now.”, says Alina Sobolewska.
The decreasing number of pupils is a cause of the school reorganisation. In the Vilnius area, Polish schools in Suderwo, Dukszty, Bujwice, Ojrany, Rukojnie, Skajster and Wieluciny (elementary school) are going to be closed. It means that there will be organised transportation for around 60 children who will need to commute to nearest school. It also means that senior teachers will lose their jobs.
The decreasing number of pupils doesn’t have any effect on the quality of teaching. Teachers do everything they can to make classes fun and attractive, to prepare interesting events, trips, stagings, contests, competitions… The list goes on.
„There are cases where children from Lithuanian school transfer to the Polish one. By attending Lithuanian school they had problems with classes because there was a language barrier. So they transfered back to Polish school. One child came back to eight grade after two years in Lithuanian school. I know that there are some other pupils that think seriously about transfering.”, says Mieczysław Jasiulewicz, headmaster of Urszula Ledóchowska Secondary School in Czarny Bór.
The language barrier is a serious argument against compulsory teaching of particular subjects in Lituanian language, especially during the first few grades when a child doesn’t know the langauge. „Imagine that for instance a Lituanian attends a school where they teach only in Estonian. How a child can learn in a language he or she doesn’t know? Math in Estonian, ‘Our World’ in Estonian, Art in Estonian. How much can a child understand? How much can he or she learn?”, says Mariusz Cytacki, father of two daughters.
The fact that a child needs to learn in a language he or she understands is obvious. The separate point is that in comparaison to Lithuanian school, Polish one is usually competitive and the quality of teaching is better. Frequently, Polish school wins with Lithuanian schools, and their index number of people accepted into univeristy is higher.
Alina Sobolewska says: „Yes, there is a rivalry between schools. Teachers from Polish and Lithuanian schools visit families in order to advertise their schools. Our school invites parents with small children to events that promote our school. We value quality. Lithuanian school are no longer popular.”
Unfortunately, not every school appreciate a healty competition. My interlocutors (their names are not going to be disclosed) mention several instances of bribery by Lithuanian organisations in order to convince pupils from Soleczniki area to choose a Lithuanian school. We are talking about bribes between 600 – 1 000 Lt. The stakes got higher over the years, this phenomenon is not new. ‘Selling’ kids to Lithuanian schools by their parents is a private matter. However, the unfair competition in a wider context has a negative effect – because of it the number of pupils in Polish school decreases and consequently schools are being closed.
So why should we, after all, choose Polish school?
Renata Cytacka, president of Polish Schools Parents Association in Lithuania, deputy minister of energy in newly formed Lithuanian government finds it obvious that children from Polish families should learn in their native tongue.
„It is about acquirement of any knowledge. I have, myself, learnt in my mother tongue and never have felt that it stood in the way of my goals – I graduated from univeristy, I have a job. I want my children to learn in Polish language as well. Parents have to make a decision responsibly when it comes to choosing a school so that Polish child learning in a Lithuanian school won’t lose their identity along the way.
What’s more, in Polish school a child has excellent conditions to learn the language, culture and history of the country he or she lives in. Alina Sobolewska convinces that a child in Polish school has the same amount of hours of Lithuanian lessons and up until 12 grade he or she will speak Lithuanian as well as a child attending Lituanian school. Additionally, a child in Polish school will learn another language. Not every pupil in the world can say that they know 4 languages.
„I am an organiser of a Russian language contest in our school in which pupils from diffrent schools where they learn Russian as a foreign langauge participate. A representative of Russian embassy in Lithuania is always present, he brings beautiful books. After this year contest in his speech, he said that he envies kids from Polish schools in Lituanian because they speak 4 languages: native Polish, Lituanian, and they have a good command of Russian and English. ‘I am a diplomat, and I can’t speak four languages.’, he said. I think that most parents understand that Polish school gives their children better opportunities.”, says vice-principal.
Some Lithuanian and Polish-Lituanian families understand it too. For example, grade 2c in Jan Śniadecki Middle School in Soleczniki has 7 kids from Polish-Lithuanian or Russian-Lithuanian families among 24 of its pupils. They chose Polish school after attending Lithuanian kindergarten. Two of them could speak only Lithuanian, their command of Polish was very basic.
Irena Sworobowicz, an educator of this grade, admits that the beginnings were hard: „We needed to overcome the language barrier. I listened to them speak Lithuanian, I accepted the language they spoke. Gradually, thanks to games, songs and other non-traditional methods kids started to learn Polish better and better.
Now the kids can freely express themselves in Polish, they read a lot, talk to their peers, look things online, share information with others – the language barrier was broken.”
Lina Romanovskien? whose child attend this grade admits that she personally doesn’t know Polish. She is Lithuanian, but her child speaks Polish thanks to the father are his relatives. „My child feels great in Polish school. He likes it there very much.”, says Lina.
Tłumaczenie Justyna Kaczmarek w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Justyna Kaczmarek the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.