- April 19, 2013
Recipe for good school by Adam Błaszkiewicz
According to the list published in “Veidas” magazine –“Which junior high school is best for your child” – out of the total number of 432 high schools in Lithuania, the Jean Paul II Junior High School in Vilnius ended up on the 30th position. It is one of the best schools. Among the first hundred schools we can also find other Polish institutions: the Władysław Syrokomla High School in Vilnius, the Adam Mickiewicz School in Vilnius, the Szymon Konarski School in Vilnius; just below the Jean Paul II School there is the Saint Casimir School in Medininkai in the Vilnius Region, the M.Baliński High School in Jašiūnai in the Šalčininkai Region and the K.Parczewski Junior High School in Nemenčinė in the Vilnius Region.
In the Jean Paul II School, there is the characteristic school buzz, a monument of the patron stands in the corridor – the blessed Jean Paul II. Pupils smile, near the entrance there is an announcement about the course of the mini Polish language contest. On the walls on an upper floor we can see an exhibition of beautiful works prepared by pupils using various techniques, works showing Vilnius pictures created by pupils from friend schools, also Lithuanian ones: I can see authors from the Žirmūnų Junior High School, the Žemynos Junior High School, the S. Daukantas Junior High School and the M. Biržiškis Junior High School. These are the positive impressions you can have at the first glance.
We talk about a recipe for a good school with the headmaster of the Jean Paul II School in Vilnius, Adam Błaszkiewicz.
How do you see the position of the school on the list?
We were supposed to be a bit higher, but there was some mistake. For some reason, the fact that 15 of our pupils study abroad was not taken into consideration. If it were counted in, we would surely be a few places higher on the list. So, we are happy for being, in truth, still better than the thirtieth position. And the 30th place, I think, tells something good about the level of advancement of the school, in comparison with other Lithuanian and Vilnius schools, since there are not many Vilnius schools higher on the list than we are.
You have to treat each ranking of this kind cautiously…
You have to keep in mind what is being evaluated. Through the past two years, “Veidas” added national exams grades, which makes the list, in my opinion, more objective. What is most important is the indicator of the number of students who get to universities in the first turn of sending applications. If a student estimates his or her abilities realistically, he or she benefits a school in the ranking most. On the other hand, if a student chooses a faculty without real justification, in such case he or she often gets the second or still lower position from the list of possible faculties.
Automatically, the position of a school in the ranking goes down. Why do we have to approach the ranking carefully? Because, so far, nobody has invented a way to objectively assess the value added of a school. Because you have to look at the youngest pupils arriving at a school, on their advancement and on what a school has done with it — maybe a school has slowed down the development of a child, and maybe it has helped a pupil, who would not have such opportunities in other schools? We lack objective criteria in the domain of education; it is not like in a factory, where you produce certain elements.
Don’t we pay too much attention to all those points, per cents, and figures? Maybe we simply need a good man, a good car mechanic, a good nurse?
In my opinion, the mistake lies within the system. If we take into consideration social aspirations, then parents usually think about sending children to universities. It doesn’t matter what faculty it will be, it doesn’t even matter whether the child is naturally predisposed to study the chosen course. I remember a German professor praising his son – how talented he was, how engaged in his job, how much he had achieved, how fulfilled and happy he was with his job. When he was asked what the son’s job was, the answer was that he was a carpenter. For the professor, it was an achievement that his son found his place in life and was happy and fulfilled. And I do not know any Lithuanian professor who would be happy with having a son who is a carpenter.
What is the recipe for a good school?
Work. Everyday hard work. Without the effort of parents, pupils and teachers, unfortunately, we will not have the results of a good school. And if we want to achieve the highest ranks with the minimal effort, it just will not happen in education – this is a task for economy specialists or for people who sell something. In schooling, if you have to achieve something, you also need to invest a lot.
How come that in Vilnius itself, where we have similar families, similar children, similar conditions, one school is better and another one is a bit lower in a ranking. What is the secret?
So far, we do not have bad Polish schools. We only have good and very good ones. We do not accept the fact that we can have a bad school. But there must be competition. A school has to be assessed according to the level of advancement, which it gives to its pupils. Some parents do not find a school in Vilnius, which would answer their aspirations, a school which would educate young people who are talented and motivated to work. All schools in Vilnius accept all pupils who apply, but we do not understand that there is a need of a school, which would accept only motivated students. If we look at the ranking in “Veidas” and at the first ten schools, we will see places, which use this criterion in the process of accepting students.
We talk about an elite school, which would educate only the children, who can and want to learn?
Yes, in the case of an elite school we do not talk about private institutions only, since in the case of the ten best junior high schools listed by “Veidas” there are no private schools, with the exception of the Society of Jesus High School. We talk about a school, which is financed from the self-government funds and I think that the Polish community could afford such school. The problem is that one person will not create it, we would need the effort of the whole community of, for instance, Vilnius, to establish such institution. It would be enough to re-organise one school. I emphasise that I am not saying it would have to be the Jean Paul II Junior High School.
All pupils in your school are motivated?
No. We also accept all applications. But not everyone manages to finish the school. This is the truth. But when you have different levels in each grade and different level of motivation, you cannot have a good school. Because, unfortunately, in our school nobody cries when they do not have 100% of points at an exam. And in the Vilnius High School, when someone gets less than 100%, it’s a tragedy. A teacher does not have to motivate the pupils there, they motivate one another, basing on ambitions and rat race. Maybe this is not good, because they do not have happy childhood, but this is the reality.
Some parents, observing the problems with the Lithuanian language examination, could think: why would I make a guinea pig from my child, let’s send him or her straight to a Lithuanian school, where they will teach him or her Lithuanian…
But they will not teach the child Polish. In a Polish school, on the other hand- they will. I think that all those, including Ms President, who are nor expressing their opinions on this matter, do not really know what they are talking about. For what relief is the Minister of Education being kicked? For relief to relief? Or for the relief which was made by the previous Minister? Nobody can, for now, tell if the reliefs are enough or not. We will be able to talk about it next year, when we will count and compare how many pupils managed to get into free universities.
If the percentage of Poles and Lithuanians is equal, it will mean that the reliefs were good enough. If not – if will mean that the reliefs were still not enough. The truth is that according to the 2001 census Poles were on the last but one position in terms of higher education. Only the Roma people were lower. According to the 2011 census, Poles are on the last but one position again. If we were on the level which would be equal to one of the Lithuanian majority, we could introduce the rule “equal conditions for everyone” but since we do not have such situation, in a normal country we would have to have “positive discrimination” to make the society equal.
A Polish child, studying Lithuanian in the first grade, is discriminated from the very beginning because in the first seven years of his or her life, the child was not learning Lithuanian and in a school, suddenly, he or she has to study it using a book for Lithuanian schools…
The point is whether the grade from the course in Lithuanian, which will be different of one or half a point, will or will not decide about the pupil’s admission to a free university. That’s the whole problem. The standardised exam places the young people who try to get to universities on unequal level. Taking into consideration the fact that Polish youth is less educated than Lithuanian young people, and they are worse off economically, Polish students will not be able to pay for studies. In perspective, the difference in education between the majority and Polish minority will increase.
We are often accused of the fact that Poles do not want to learn the Lithuanian language…
They do learn Lithuanian, they study the language and they can study it. If all the people who want to go there would be admitted to universities and then, after the first exams session payments would be introduced (for instance for retaking a course of for falling an exam) I think that Lithuanian language exam would not rise such emotions. Because now money causes excitement – when you do not know what an affair is about, it is about the money. I think that in this case it is also a political move, which does not have traces of caring for a citizen, no matter what is his or her nationality. Maybe it is about the future election.
What characteristics a headmaster of a good school must possess?
He must be good. Which means that from time to time a headmaster should not interfere, and sometimes he or she must be the leader. Do not count the time you devote to the school. Understand that by taking care of your school only you won’t achieve much in the world, which is based on globalization.
Are we a system of interconnected vessels?
Exactly. The question about a headmaster is a difficult one. So I will say: he or she must be good and relaxed.
And are you relaxed?
Recently, not really. Spring equinox. I have been very busy.
A good school also depends on teachers…
A lot depends on teachers. Not every teacher can be good in the situation when a pedagogical university also accepts everyone who comes and there are more places on the faculty than students willing to start the studies. A teacher, despite substantial knowledge, should also possess… I don’t know how to say it… some gift, an ability to work with a child, to understand a child and the will to work; he or she should also have the gift of empathy. Unfortunately, in the society we do not have a mechanism which would make such gifted people come to schools and make them have decent conditions of existence. I simply do not know why we have more people willing to work in a bank than in a school; it would have to be the other way around. Then the society would be richer, too.
It becomes less and less prestigious to be a teacher?
Every new government promises that a teacher sill be respected, but somehow there are no queues to the pedagogical university. There are no advantages, despite the long holidays. A good teacher, though, works also during the holidays.
A Polish school, despite all those problems and difficulties, stands on a good level. In truth, we are better than many Lithuanian schools in terms of the quality of teaching. We have unlimited possibilities of improvement, but we need parents, pupils and teachers to want to improve. And what follows — we work hard. When everyone does their job — it will be all right!
Tłumaczenie Emilia Zawieracz w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Emilia Zawieracz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.