• April 27, 2015
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Educational conference in Seimas: the system needs an urgent repair

At the conference ‘Standardized Lithuanian language test as the challenge for arbiturs, teachers and schools’ there was a discussion about ‘harnessing a horse behind a wagon’ and ‘planting the tops of trees before planting the roots’, in other words, about making hasty statutory educational amendments before preparing proper basis.

The conference took place on Friday 24th of April in the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania. Along with the Lithuanian language teachers, representatives of local education departments, heads of schools, students and parents, in the event also participated representatives of educational authorities: the leader of Parliamentary Committee for Education, Science and Culture Audronė Pitrėnienė, Minister of Education and Science Dainius Pavalkis, Deputy Minister of Education and Science Genoveita Krasauskienė, senior specialist of the Secondary Education Department in the Ministry of Education and Science Nida Poderienė, the head of the National Exam Centre Saulė Vingelienė. The Minister-Counsellor, Consul-General, the manager of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Vilnius Stanisław Cygnarowski has also taken part in the conference. The meeting was initiated by Jaroslaw Narkiewicz, the vice-president of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania deputy.

‘Our aim is to openly and comprehensively discuss the period of the last few years, in which 11 and 12 grade students are taught according to the standardized Lithuanian language programme and when for the third year high school graduates are taking the standardized Lithuanian exam.’ Jarosław Narkiewicz started the discussion.

On the 17th March, the Seimas passed the amendment of a law approving changes unfavourable for the Polish minority, paying no attention to the widespread concern of Polish minority and justified protests (in the form of public assemblies, 60 000 collected signatures against the discriminating law and strikes), without concern for the uniqual learning conditions of Lithuanian as the first language and the official language and ignoring the research results, which show that the evaluation criteria should not be same for the native Lithuanian language speakers and for the second Lithuanian language learners.

On the 1st July, 2011, then Minister of Education Gintaras Steponavičius, despite the insufficient preparation, has standardized the examination criteria and high school curriculum in the 11 and upper grades. Lithuanian language learning has become much more difficult because of the psychological load and pressure. The results of the standardized in 2013 final exams show deterioration and lack of the proper preparation for the standardized programme demands and for the final exams. Józef Kwiatkowski, The Director of the Association of Polish schools Teachers in Lithuania ‘Macierz Szkolna’, presented the statistics concerning the results of Lithuanian language exams in 2011 and in the 2013-2014 when the exam was standardized.

‘The base of a good house is a solid fundament’ said Józef Kwiatkowski. ‘However, in case of the Lithuanian language learning, the building has been started not from the fundaments but from the roof. In the result, for example in the Solecznicki region the final exams results in 2013 had deteriorated 7.17 times in comparison to the results in 2011 (comparing the scores ranging from 90 to 100 points, which are fundamental in the process of recrutation to the finance studies refunded by the government). In the Vilnius region, the indicator was even lower: the results deteriorated 9.33 times. The high school graduates in Vilnius passed the exam 4.05 times worse. In comparison to the lithuanian language schools in Lithuania, Polish students performed 4.44 times worse.

‘In my opinion, the grading system need to be revised. The promise, that each year in November the mock exam will be conducted and on its basis the grading criteria will be formed, is not being kept.’ says Józef Kwiatkowski.

Audronė Pitrėnienė agreed that the final exam elicit many emotions.

‘We are also worried about the native language exam results of Lithuanian students, which are not as good as it was expected. We are still looking for the solutions to improve the language correctness.’ She claimed that the exam tasks are standardized but the grading is differentiated.

‘Students of non Lithuanian schools might make more grammatical and stylistic errors.’ said Audronė Pitrėnienė.

The view of the Pope John Paul II Junior High School’s head Adam Błaszkiewicz is that the decision concerning standardization of Lithuanian language exam is similar to ‘harnessing a horse behind a wagon’.

‘I would argue that the hasty political decision was adopted without proper preparation. The grading stystem, metodology and means of teaching second language students Lithuanian were not created.’ said Adam Błaszczykiewicz.

Teaching materials and handbooks are only now prepared, although in primary schools the Lithuanian language teachers are forced to use handbooks and teach children who do not understand the language yet according to the teaching programmes of Lithuanian schools.

‘In this way, we are successfully implant the disgust to Lithuanian in 7-year-olds.’ the head claimed.

Adam Błaszczykiewicz compared the results of national Lithuanian language exam in 2014: 88.4 percent of students of Lithuanian schools passed the exam, when in national minorities’ schools 83.7 percent of students passed the exam.

‘Maybe it is not important statistically, but when we talk about young people’s future and their right to study in the place financed by the country, then each percent is valuable. In my opinion, the results would not have been so different if the system was prepared properly. How you can explain these differences?’ the head asked ‘Maybe in the national minorities’ schools there are less gifted students? Not any scientist would support that thesis. Maybe the national minorities’ schools have less prepared teachers? But all of the Lithuanian language teachers graduated same universities. So the thesis comes to my mind that maybe the system was not prepared properly. It is the most probable’ Błaszczykiewicz concluded. ‘High school graduates, who are affected by the educational system’s error, are innocent. They are defenseless in front of the system, which needs an urgent recovery.’ Błaszczykiewicz claimed.

Audronė Balčiūnaitė-Markova, a Lithuanian language teacher and an educationalist from K.Parczewski Junior High School in Niemenczyna, has been working in a national minorities’ school for 20 years. ‘Linguistic correctness criteria is 35% of a total grade for an essay. However, for a student whose first language is not Lithuanian and who lives in different language environment it is dificult to be linguistically correct; the majority of students, especially younger ones, communicate in Lithuanian onlu during Lithuanian language courses’ the teacher claimed.

The reseach showed the language efficiency of national minorities schools’ students is worse; they did and still do make more grammatical and stylistic mistakes. ‘Native language is the basis of thinking process for Lithuanians, and it is doubtful whether the Polish students will aquire the perfect language skills of a not native language, especially when it is not the first heard and aquired language.’ Audronė Balčiūnaitė-Markova questioned.

Rasytė Matulevičienė, an expert and a Lithuanian language teacher from the Anna Krepsztul Secondary school in Burtymańce, recalled year 1991 when there were already discussions concerning the standardized Lithuanian language test. ‘The worst is that during the programming of the exam, the means to take it have not been prepared.

‘Each teacher looks for solution and creates a model of work with the students himself. Is it right thing? We began experimenting with our students’ the expert said. ‘Obviously, at work a teacher is driven by the curriculum, but they have to choose material for every class and every subject out of various sources themselves.’ As the teacher said, the authors of the standardized curriculum informally admitted (in the discussion during the seminar), that they failed to unify the mterial, but the teachers had to stick to the curricular requirements in order to prepare the students for studies. What is more, educational authorities realize that in the regions the students’ knowledge of Lithuanian language is considerably worse. As the Lithuanian teacher and expert said, state education policy is created in such a way that the differences are only increasing because, paying no attention to the scientists’ views and reseach results, after the curriculum standardization the test results deterioration was planned. ‘The country created such programme so that the exam results are unequal.’ Rasytė Matulevičienė claimed.

Nida Poderienė, a senior specialist from the Department of High School Education in the Ministry of Education and Science assured that ‘for now’ the Lithuanian language exam is schools will not be discarded. As she said, the standardized exam was not introduced to facilitate or to make the exam more difficult to pass, but ‘to make our children understand what they will be taught about during studies’.

Ina Staikūnienė, senior teacher from Wł. Syrokomla High School, talked about the inconsequence of the curriculum and that the Lithuanian language course is unsystematized. She payed attention to the lack of resources, teaching materials, belles-lettres, methodological and didactic resources for teachers; hand books either do not meet the requirements or they are outdated. ‘The curriculum has been standardized but to the serious detriment of children’s health. The means which were used to improve the system were insufficient.’ Ina Staikūnienė claims.

Łucja Mickiewicz-Ozarowska, a Lithuanian teacher, emphasized the fact that nobody opposes the idea of a standardized exam.

We teachers, students and parents understand that any citizen of Lithuania, regardless of their nationality, is expected to use the state language in spoken and written form properly. Thus, the final exam has to show the languange culture and correctness. However, the favourable conditions, adequate handbooks and other sources have to be provided first. (…)The current exam focuses more on verifying the knowledge of literature. The majority sees it as the travesty of the students who are more interested into sciences. Is it the right thing to transform all students into literary critics?” the Lithuanian teacher asked.

At the end of the conference the participants outvoted the resolution in which the Seimas is “encouraged and requested” to change the Education Act and to introduce the legal record concerning Lithuanian language teaching according to the curriculum created with respect to the unequal Language use as the first and the second language.

The Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania was requested to correct the Lithuanian language curriculum and the exam requirements, to provide the handbooks and materials for the students of all grades, to increase the financing of school due to the higher costs of handbooks and additional training of teachers, to prepare the educational sources for Lithuanian teachers and to provide qualifying courses.

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

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