• March 26, 2015
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Dawidowicz and Błaszkiewicz in PKD: Polish school is more tolerant

Why did this discussion arise after 25 years of independence, why didn’t we meet earlier?” – these words said by Danuta Korkus from the Władysław Syrokomla High School in Vilnius have concluded possibly in the best way yesterday’s discussion focusing on the matter of Polish education in Lithuania. This time, the guests of the Polish Discussion Club were principals of Polish gymnasiums in Vilnius, Czesław Dawidowicz and Adam Błaszkiewicz.

A large attendance (there were nearly 80 people in the Polish Community Centre’s hall), numerous questions, and observations mentioned by the people gathered in the hall confirmed that the matter of education is extremely important for Poles living in Lithuania.

“Polish education in Lithuania – it is a very broad subject. That is why today we would like to talk about Polish education in Vilnius in particular. In all rankings – whether they are created by Lithuanian establishments or by the Polish Educational Society (Polska Macierz Szkolna) – Polish schools in Vilnius have one of the best results among the Polish schools in Lithuania, however, paradoxically, it is in Vilnius where they are most lacking students. Why does this happen? Is a Polish school really not attractive?” – the discussion’s moderator, a lawyer and blogger Aleksander Radczenko started the meeting.

Low level of Polish schools is a myth

The principals of the Jan Paweł II and the Adam Mickiewicz gymnasiums essentially thanked for the invitation, stating that there was a lack of such a discussion in society. “We have been lacking such a discussion, although I think that the matter is the most important to us. We, as a community, very often create a negative image of a Polish school as well because Polish education needs a realistic assessment of the situation. We do not discuss the level of Polish schools” – said Adam Błaszkiewicz, according to whom Polish education is being mentioned only when there are certain problems with it. That is why parents, sometimes without a second thought, prefer to send their offspring to a Lithuanian school, even though the level is not necessarily higher, and it often turns out to be actually lower than in a Polish school.

Czesław Dawidowicz, on the other hand, compared the situation of Polish schools to the Russian ones. In the 90’s the number of Russian students was rapidly decreasing but in the recent years the situation has settled down and the Russians send their children to Russian schools again. According to the principal of the Mickiewicz school, this is influenced not so much by the level of the Russian schools as by the “ubiquity of the Russian culture”. “Young Russians stay in the Russian culture zone, which is why they should stay in a Russian school” – Czesław Dawidowicz explained his point of view.

Both of the principals agreed that the key to the popularity of a Polish school is to increase the attractiveness of Polishness in Lithuania, and the parents’ mentality. “Let us look at how many Russian television channels we can watch in Vilnius, how many Russian newspapers and magazines we are able to buy in every supermarket, and how many Polish ones there are. How many popular Russian performers visit Lithuania, and how many Polish ones do. We need to increase the number of Polishness in Lithuania” – Czesław Dawidowicz said. The principal of the Mickiewicz school also added that another problem is the unclear legal situation of the Polish schools in Vilnius.

“Perhaps, if we fought for TVP1’s retransmissions as hard as we do for the signs, the Polishness matter in Lithuania would change. But the post-Soviet mentality is also what impacts the fact that Poles choose Lithuanian or Russian schools for their children – they want to get as much as they can at the lowest cost” – noticed Adam Błaszkiewicz, in turn.

During the discussion, Mirosław Szejbak from the Association of Polish Academics in Lithuania noticed that the examination by the association clearly showed that the low level of Polish schools in Lithuania is a myth. “Generally, Polish schools show a higher level than the Lithuanian ones but, of course, we cannot require from them the same level as the Lithuanian elite schools which have a selection of students, require entry tests which are illicit. Polish schools accept all candidates, just as the Law on Education predicts” – noticed the scientist. According to the Jan Paweł II gymnasium’s principal, there may really be a lack of elite schools like the Wileński High School for Poles living in Lithuania. Establishing a new school like that is probably not possible but creating grades with higher level of education in the already existing schools could be a solution.

Polish school more tolerant than the Lithuanian one

There was a question from the audience about whether the Polish schools fight for gaining more students, and if so, how they do it. “Of course, the competition between schools exists as money goes along with a student. It can be checked in an easy way – if the information about the school does not reach the parents and potential students, it means that the school works badly and that it fights for the students badly” – Czesław Dawidowicz explained. The principal of the Mickiewicz school has also pointed out that it is always the parent who decides which school his or her children will attend and what selection criteria to use when choosing a school: exam results, number and form of extracurricular classes, or the school’s location. “And we have to respect that choice” – Dawidowicz stressed.

Adam Błaszkiewicz, in turn, noticed that a Polish school can also compete with the Lithuanian ones, especially in the case of mixed families. “I can confidently say that Polish schools are more tolerant than the Lithuanian ones when it comes to children from such families” – the principal said.

The participants also postulated drawing more attention to the education of the competence of teachers from Polish schools, organising trips and traineeships for them in Poland, and even the establishment of special grants for that matter has been proposed, as well as implementing the latest teaching methods with the help of Polish partners, increasing the number of contests testing students’ knowledge. “Of course, the teacher should still educate him- or herself but let us not forget about a teacher’s salary and about the fact that in Lithuania, a teacher has only duties and no rights.” – Danuta Korkus pointed out.

However, Czesław Dawidowicz assured the participants that teachers keep increasing their skills. “If they come to us with an initiative to go on some courses or traineeship, we always agree to that but you have to remember that today a trip to Poland is not as attractive as it used to be. Teachers have a lot of work, problems, we cannot force them to go somewhere. Besides, many traineeships are held in Vilnius” – the principal of the Mickiewicz school stressed.

The participants of the discussion have also pointed out that the knowledge of Polish is often very low among the teachers from Polish schools, which also has an impact on the students’ knowledge of Polish.

Lowered bar

According to the businessman and social activist Michał Kleczkowski, the negative influence on the attractiveness of Polish schools comes from the lowering of their level in the past few years. “When it comes to schools, parents are mainly looking for knowledge. You can’t be afraid to place demands. Because what is happening right now is people don’t seek for the better, and schools lower their level” – Kleczkowski said and proposed to introduce obligatory exams every few years. The exam results would be a guide themselves for the parents choosing the school.

Czesław Dawidowicz said that at the moment Ministry of Education and Science is considering implementation of such exams. Adam Błaszkiewicz, on the other hand, added that currently there is also a possibility to test the students. However, schools have, in a way, “their hands tied” as they have very limited rights to make a student retake a year. “Nevertheless, the school should help the student. That’s why we have psychologists and social educationalists” – Błaszkiewicz explained, adding that what is also the problem is the fact that by hiring a teacher, the principal does not have the possibility to fire him or her, even if his or her job is unsatisfactory. In the principal of the Jan Paweł II gymnasium’s opinion, the best way would be a “contract teacher”, who would sign a contract with the school for a couple of years and then, if his or her job would be unsatisfactory, the principal would be able to not renew the contract.

We can’t sell the successes and achievements of our schools

A signatory of the Act of Independence of Lithuania Zbigniew Balcewicz has also attended the discussion and, in his view, the bad condition of Polish schools in Vilnius is influenced by ineffective policy of the municipality of the capital city, which was co-created by AWPL councillors as well. As an instance, he provided the situation of Polish and Russian education. Although the Russian minority in Vilnius is much less numerous than the Polish one, it has a larger school and kindergarten network. “This is blatant discrimination against the Polish minority because the parents have no ability to send their child to a Polish kindergarten and then school” – said Zbigniew Balcewicz.

The councillor of city of Vilnius from AWPL and principal of a gymnasium in Niemież Zbigniew Maciejewski did not agree with this view. In his opinion, there are as many kindergartens as there are petitions from the parents, and the Polish fraction in the municipality council does everything it can to keep the state of the Polish education and to increase it.

“The problem is, when it comes to voting in the city council, only 9 AWPL councillors vote for our proposals, while the rest is voting against them” – Zbigniew Maciejewski pointed out. Nevertheless, thanks to the effort of the Polish parents, a Polish group was created in the kindergarten in Santaryszki.

According to Zbigniew Maciejewski, not sending Polish children to Polish schools is also a matter of Soviet past, when the parents put their children to Russian schools for reputational reasons. “People who didn’t graduate from a Polish school will probably not send their children to one” – the politician summed up. He did not agree, however, with the statement that some of the Poles living in Lithuania is characterised by the post-Soviet mentality. “The proportion of communists was the lowest among Poles” – Zbigniew Maciejewski pointed out, ignoring the question about whether pinning the “Georgij ribbons” is not actually a manifestation of such post-Soviet mentality.

Zbigniew Maciejewski, who was then busy distributing the article from l24 in which the author tried to criticise the discussion moderator and the Polish Discussion Club (PKD), also refused to answer one of the question asked by the audience: why aren’t Polish organisations, which are successful in mobilising the constituents to vote for AWPL, able to mobilise the Poles to send their children to Polish school. However, he promised that if he is invited to such a discussion, he will attend it with pleasure.

“Is the Polish school attractive? This discussion once again convinced me that it is. We just can’t sell the successes and achievements of our schools. We can’t convince the parents. Perhaps we should discuss this matter on the following meetings as we have just acknowledged that meetings like this one are essential” – Aleksander Radczenko concluded the meeting.

Translated by Anna Plebanek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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