• November 13, 2015
  • 286

The only trilingual school for adults in Lithuania. Education in the Polish language also possible

We are the only trilingual school for adults in Lithuania, where education is also possible in the Polish language, says Natalia Kimso, the head of the Vilnius Adult Education Centre (VAEC).

The Vilnius Adult Education Centre located in the picturesque Žvėrynas (Vykinto street 11) was created in 1993. „Until now there was a night school for adults, before that – a school for working youth. However, Polish [speaking] classes have been present here for a long time”, states the head of the Vilnius Adult Education Centre, Natalia Kimso. As she highlights, the Centre is currently the only educational institution, not only in the capital but in the whole country, offering education in three languages: Lithuanian, Russian and Polish.

It is also the very first school in Lithuania, which was entitled to become a junior high school (in 2010).

At present, 30 adults learn in high school in the Polish language (2 junior high classess, 15 pupils each). This number seems quite small, considering the number of pupils in the whole school, that is 530. The most numerous classess are Lithuanian classes as they consist of 376 pupils altogether. Russian groups count 124 people.

„When I started working here back in 1999, we had two same-year Polish classes. However, the decrease in the number of pupils concerns also Lithuanian and Russian classes”, noted Jolanta Makowska, Polish language and Economics teacher, the head of Science and Technology Department of the Vilnius Adult Education Centre.

Coming back to the country and the school

The decrease in the number of pupils, according to the head of the VAEC, is the result of economic migration of citizens. „Before Lithuania has joined the EU we had 800 pupils annually. Now we balance on the margin of 500-600 people. The reason is, the ones who migrate are those citizens who don’t have appropriate education, thus cannot find employment in Lithuania”, states Kimso. Since the previous year she notices the tendency of returning to Lithuania. „Among our pupils there are people who realized how important it is to get education and possibility of higher income while they were working abroad as underpaid workers”, she says.

The head of the VAEC also notices a negative trend in the Polish-speaking classes.

„I noticed that Poles who have mixed families and want to get high school diploma tend to not choose Polish-speaking classes. They justify it with the argument that they use Lithuanian on daily basis, so they do not see the need to attend Polish-speaking classes”, says Kimso.

The school tries very hard to encourage studying in one’s mother tongue. It does not only consist of advertisement in media or public transport but also it is the teachers who encourage the working youth to gain high school education. What is more, the pupils themselves try to persuade their peers to continue their education, because they not only learn but also have opportunity to broaden their horizons. „We are proud of the fact that we educate in three languages and are able to offer education in one’s native language. We make a lot of effort to maintain Polish-speaking classes”, underlines Natalia Kimso.

Various forms of education

„We do everything we can to adjust to the students’ needs”, ensures the head of the VAEC. The school offers various forms of education: daily studies, evening studies and distance learning (online). The pupils can attend classes both in the morning and in the evening. It is quite obvious that the employed and people with families might be unable to attend every single class.

In the adult school it is possible to get not only high school education but also primary education. However, there are no Polish-speaking classes in the latter category as there are not enough people to open this type of class. „According to law, the classes of national minorities can consist of 15 people, if this class is the only one in the city. If the Polish-speaking group cannot be formed, pupils are offered education in Lithuanian or Russian classes, but with possibility to attend additional Polish classes so that later they can get high school education in the Polish classes”, adds Ms. Kimso. On the other hand, says the interlocutor, the lack of the Polish classes on the primary level might prove that there is no need to create classes on this level for adults living in the Vilnius area.

Polish lessons in the Cultural Center

Within the informal education the school also offers teaching any subject of choice (those lessons are paid). „About 10 years ago English and German were popular paid subjects. Nowadays, those are replaced by Lithuanian for the foreigners”, says the head of the institution.

Few years ago, there were also those who wanted to learn Polish as a foreign language. „Some people needed to know Polish in their jobs. Others learnt it for the sake of the language, because as they said, they belonged to mixed ethnicity families but they couldn’t speak Polish. They were acquainted with the Polish language and the culture not only during the course but also during parties in the Polish Cultural Center”, told us the Polish teacher.

Within the framework of european projects the Vilnius Adult Education Centre co-operates with many foreign organisations, including Polish institutions. In the years 2012-2013 teachers and pupils took part in an international training of Grundtvig „Forest for all, all for forests”. In Poland, in Podkowa Leśna there was a meeting of the partners of the project. The hosts, the local group „Green Neighbourhood”, introduced protected areas in Poland to the participants, as well as fauna and flora and the means of their protection.

From a night school to Cambridge University

The pupils of the Vilnius Adult Education Centre are usually young people aged 25-35. „Naturally, there also are younger or older students. Recently, the characteristics of the attendants are changing. There are more and more people in their forties”, states Kimso.

„We have a husband and a wife among our pupils. Both are 38. They said that they started their family early. They had to work, there was no time for learning. Now they have more free time on their hands, they want to succeed in their professional careers and set a good example for their children”, explains the head of the school. She highlights the fact that returning to school is a challenge, especially for an adult after forty. „However, at such age people don’t let themselves learn poorly. They are full of motivation to be an example for their families, increase their qualifications. To daily studies it is parents who send the children, evening studies students attend of their own free will”, notices Ms Natalia.

As the Polish teacher says, it is the youth who is less motivated to study as they don’t yet know what they want to do in the future. In contrast, older people have precise goals to achieve. They go to the adult school to improve their skills, to enrol on university and so on.

VAEC recently noticed an increase of pupils who are drivers, as the Vilnius car and trolley depots require them to have a high school diploma.

„During this year’s graduation ceremony I saw some of the pupils with tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces. They couldn’t hide the joy of having the diplomas. It’s really reassuring that people want to gain knowledge”, says Kimso. She underlines that over 30 per cent of the graduates enrol on university.

„One of our recent graduates of Polish-speaking classes enrolled on Cambridge University. At the beginning, she only wanted to work in England but she decided to continue learning and she managed to get into University”, says Makowska happily.

It is a shame to speak Polish incorrectly

Ms Jolanta has been teaching Polish and literature for 16 years. Polish-speaking classes have Polish and literature 3 to 4 times a week (depending on the chosen level).

„It’s not so easy to teach Polish to adults because they often speak Lithuanian or Russian at work. Most of them use Vilnius dialect. Moreover, Polish language that young people use is tinged with English and older people’s Polish is tinged with Russian. This is why I’m so happy when after a year or so I can hear a proper use of Polish language from my students. Progress is clearly visible”, says Makowska. She also adds that learners of VAEC are taught Polish according to the same schedule as learners of day schools. More focus is devoted to practical use of language and culture of language. She underlines that if a person comes to school after a longer period, the material from classes 7 and 8 is repeated to remind the rules of writing in Polish.

„Although taking the final exam in one’s native language is not obligatory, every year there are few people who pass this test” – the Polish teacher cannot hide her joy. She keeps in touch with most of her students. Former students call her and share their life achievements.

Adults who still attend school are keen on additional activities: various meetings and parties. „For example, last year we organised a soiree of Polish-Russian love poetry. In Polish-speaking classes we also organise St. Andrew’s party, Christmas meetings and so on. Those parties are being attended by families and children of our pupils”, says Makowska.

„Many adult Polish people continue their education in Polish-speaking classes in view of their children. They say that if their children attend Polish schools, it would be a shame of they used their mother tongue incorrectly. What is more, if one doesn’t know the Polish language well, one cannot help their children to do the homework. This is why we are so happy to see that children attend Polish schools and their parents continue their education using the Polish language. Therefore we hope that there won’t be a shortage of Polish-speaking classes”, says the Polish teacher.

Iwona Klimaszewska

„The project is co-financed within the framework of funds belonging to Polish Comunity Abrad from The Ministry of Foreign Affairs”

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

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