- November 15, 2013
Lithuanian – standardized, conditions – diversified
New regulation of the Minister of Education Dainius Pavalkis from October 7th 2013 standardized terms of writing state exams from Lithuanian language for high school students with Lithuanian (mother tongue) as a teaching language and for students from Polish and Russian classes.
By giving his signature, the Minister abolished simplifications that AWPL (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania) fought for. Leaving aside political games which made students from national minorities schools their hostages, it is worth considering if Lithuania follows the declared rule of ‘equal opportunities’ for their citizens…
Discrimination begins in the first grade. Although the amendment to the education law was adopted on 17th March 2011, the Ministry of Education had not tried to provide proper conditions – there were no adequate teaching programs prepared, no textbooks and teaching aids. Freshmen from Polish family, after Polish kindergarten, are faced with an obligation to learn Lithuanian on the same level as their friends from Lithuanian school, not taking into consideration the fact that children often come to school not knowing the state language at all.
Angelė Jundo, Lithuanian philologist and methodologist from Jan Śniadecki High School in Soleczniki, states that a child from Polish family often does not hear state language at all in its environment:
‘Most children do not know Lithuanian when they come to school, they start to hear it during classes.’
Moreover, in grades 1-4 the most basic thing is missing – a textbook, without which the learning process is very hard. The learning process depends on creativity and inventiveness of the teacher.
‘We try to adjust textbooks intended for Lithuanian schools to the level of knowledge of children in Polish school,’ says Irena Samulevičienė, Lithuanian philologist from Jan Śniadecki High School in Soleczniki, who is working with freshmen. ‘There are no textbooks designed specifically for beginners in Polish schools. We have to somehow catch up with the level of knowledge of students from Lithuanian schools.
According to the philologist, textbooks for first grade consist of 3 parts and it is impossible to go through them.
‘I only have 3 hours,’ she says with emphasis. ‘And in Lithuanian school, with the same textbook students have 6 or 7 hours. I was intentionally interested in this problem, for example, my relative freshman in Orany has as many as 8 hours of Lithuanian! We start teaching from letters, basic words: ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘garden’, ‘class,’ we learn how to name pictures in books, while children in Lithuanian schools are communicating freely. It is very difficult to standardize the level when there are differences in knowledge of the language.’
Despite the fact that by judgment of The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania there should be equal conditions provided for students from Polish and Lithuanian schools, and the amended educational law was accepted (despite numerous protests of Polish community, signed by 60 thousand people!) and is in full swing, students from Polish initial grades still do not have textbooks adapted to their level of knowledge. Because the teaching program had been standardized, they had been forced to use textbooks for Lithuanian schools. It is more or less like starting to learn a foreign language from an academic textbook.
There is also no individual teaching program, adjusted to knowledge and skills of students.
‘It depends on teachers, whether I explain the subject myself, adjusting it,’ says Irena Samulevičienė. ‘Of course, in Lithuanian school teachers can extend the subject for students, tell them more, but I can only show pictures and give basics, so that children can learn the most simple words and sentences. These are completely incomparable things. Teaching in first grade is especially difficult. Parents help children a lot.’
‘It is not normal when a child has ‘suns’ from all school subjects and ‘clouds’ from Lithuanian. Something is wrong with methods of teaching,’ says outraged mother of one of the students from school in Vilnius. ‘Our daughter in first grade does not start learning from basic phrases like ‘what is your name?’, ‘where do you live’, but she learns some distant, inaccurate phrases instead…’
Ministry of Education and Science only recently had prepared for printing a new textbook for grades 1-2 and 3-4 – ‘Kalba mane augina’ for students who start to learn Lithuanian language. As Saulius Zybartas, president of the Department of Education and Training ensures, this teaching aid is to be published this year.
It is not easier for high school graduates from Polish schools. On account of standardizing the exam in 2011, in the last two years the results of exams from Lithuanian language deteriorated among graduates from Polish schools. They are writing this year’s exam from the state Lithuanian language on the same terms as their peers from Lithuanian schools, despite the fact that there were no adequate teaching aids provided and despite the difference in number of teaching hours, and also without taking into account the fact that Lithuanian is not their mother tongue, but a second language.
Can a second language be passed as a mother tongue?
‘We asked the same question to the vice minister of education Gintaras Steponavičius when he was visiting Soleczniki,’ says Lithuanian philologist and methodologist Angelė Jundo. ‘He didn’t answer this question. Of course the second language cannot become a second mother tongue. Yes, Polish students can write this essay on the Matura exam, and they can do it well, but even than their thinking, their style of expression will be completely different,’ claims the philologist.
Lithuanian philologist Irena Samulevičienė points out that the level of language knowledge will always be different, because in Lithuanian schools students acquire and develop the language also during other classes, and in Polish school they only hear it for several hours a week.
‘Increasing the number of teaching hours is not an option either, because students will be overworked – weekly teaching hours have to conform to the standards. It is like a vicious circle. Sometimes you want to give children more, because students absorb the knowledge very readily, they want to learn, but often they are unable to do it because of the increasing burden,’ she says.
‘Students have too little time to catch up on the backlogs and equalize the knowledge,’ says Łucja Mickiewicz-Ozarowska, Lithuanian philologist from M. Baliński High School in Jaszuny about decision of the vice minister Steponavičius, on the basis of which in 2 years students had to catch up on the material from 8 years of learning, which makes a difference of over 700 teaching hours. ‘There is no time for perfecting writing skills and grammar, because in graduating classes I devote most time to teaching literature. Students learn readily, but the fact that they have too little time, and therefore worse results on the exam, is unfair.’
What do students think about that?
‘In my opinion, there is far too many of these classes,’ says Aleksandra Paramonowa, graduate from Adam Mickiewicz High School in Vilnius. ‘It is hard to withstand it physically. I finish doing my homework at midnight at least. At 11 p.m. at best. After 7 or 8 hours at school I come back home, I have an hour break for dinner, and I have to start doing my homework.’
After conversion it shows that an average high school graduate works 14 to 15 hours, which is more than an adult.
Forum of Parents from the Polish schools in Lithuania had made a declaration in which they demand cancellation of the amended educational law. In their opinion Lithuania does not fulfill the obligation to provide proper conditions to learn state language for children from national minority families.
‘Current textbooks, as well as the program of teaching the state language, are not adjusted in any way to children’s needs. There are no teaching programs providing equalization of the range of knowledge of the state language. The Ministry does not give any methodological advice and does not support teachers who want to solve the problem,’ was written in a special statement addressed to the Lithuanian PM and the Minister of Education.
‘Current actions of Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania are planned and well coordinated, and their aim is to cause as bad knowledge of the state language as possible in children from national minority families. Such actions, combined with the prohibition of using the language of national minorities in public life, are intended to destroy the Polish minority which inhabits the broadly understood ‘Vilnius region’ for centuries.’ – warns Forum of Parents from the Polish schools in Lithuania, expecting immediate reaction of Minister Pavalkis and PM Butkevičius.
‘Experts from the National Examination Center (NEC) are currently working to develop new, lenient criteria of grading Matura exams in schools for national minorities,’ said member of the Lithuanian Parliament Józef Kwiatkowski. ‘With Jarosław Narkiewicz and the Vice Minister of Education Edyta Tamošiūnaitė we had made a proposal in NEC for our high school graduates to be treated leniently. As an argument in favor of these leniencies we gave the fact that after introducing the standardized exam, in 2013 our students had worse results from Lithuanian than in previous years – 2012 and 2011. Because there still are differences in program, and the Minister Pavalkis had cancelled all the leniencies that he introduced, we apply for better grading policies.
Tłumaczenie by Anna Leśkiewicz w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Anna Leśkiewicz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.