• March 4, 2017
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Polish education in Lithuania vs state education policy

Today’s issue of Kurier Wileński has been mainly dedicated to discuss the subject of polish education. We present two distinctive points of view concerning, among others, stormy matter of teaching Lithuanian language as well as standardized matura exam on this subject. The answers on this issues are going to be given by the Minister of Education and Science – Jurgita Petrauskienė and the Chairman of The Association of Polish Schools Teachers in Lithuania – Juzef Kvetkovskij.

Jurgita Petrauskienė said: „ Integral educational policy will be continued”

The Minister of Education and Science, Jurgita Petrauskienė, has answered the questions of Kurier Wileński concerning the most essential actions taken by education department, controversial exam on Lithuanian language, verifying the knowledge of Polish language and telling opinion on model of school funding.

Lithuanian students keep performing below the average, in the international studies of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). The results gained from different subjects are poor even in the comparison with our neighbor countries – Latvia, Estonia and Poland. This indicated that the Lithuanian educational system needs qualitative changes. What educational system improvement plan does the ministry have, with its’ new members?

My as well as the current board’s idea is a qualitative educational system. My aim is to establish favorable circumstances in order to improve the quality of every educational aspect. Students must get good educational background in schools, universities and colleges. Specialists-to-be must be well prepared for the current work market. Students being unable to use their theoretical knowledge in practice, rise real concern. As well as big gaps in schools, atmosphere and underestimated teaching profession. It all is related. In order to achieve better educational quality, we need to improve teachers’ training along with their salary, rise school funding, update learning content, check educational establishments, universities and research institutions. These are our basic guidelines.

Sometime ago an idea of the education system of national minorities has been working. In what way the national minorities education policy is going to be led? Are you planing to establish any separate idea for minority schools?

Separate idea of the education system of national minorities has never existed during the restoration of Lithuanian Independence. There has been a chapter dedicated to education system of national minorities, in the first concept paper from 1992. Nowadays the articles on education system of national minorities can be found in Education Act. So the integral educational policy will be continued, based on the democratic educational system’s decisions. Besides this in 2012, The Ministry of Education and Science has prepared guidelines concerning the improvement in educating kids in minority languages and teaching these languages. Based on them, common educational actions projects are being held in various languages and International seminars for mother tongue teachers. They are funded by the Ministry of Education and Science.

After the education act amendment came into effect in 2011, it resulted in constantly decreasing grades on Lithuanian language state examination of students attending polish schools. These changes were clearly a political decision, as no proper teacher trainings have been carried out, no school books or educational facilities have been released, before implementing such important matter. Although the school books have not been published, students take standardized Lithuanian language exam. What is your opinion on examination results? Do you plan on altering Lithuanian language exam requirements for schools of national minorities?

According to the National Examination Center statistics, Lithuanian language matura exam grade average constantly raises. For instance, 2015 average – 44,1 points when 2016 – 48 points.

Standardized teaching of Lithuanian language is planned to take place in grades 1-10, from 1st of September 2017 on (the exam itself has been standardized already in 2013). National minorities school students have had slight concessions, but it has been treated as if it has been their mother tongue. Don’t the students additionally need 10 years of transitional period, so they could adequately prepare for this exam?

I would like to remind that during the preparations of standardizing the exam, exemplary test has been held, predicting 8 years of transitional period. During the transitional period (until 2020) we accept concessions on Lithuanian language exam and literature, for national minority school students, on the basis of exemplary test and annual statistical analysis of exam results. National minority school students and those from ethnic schools are marked on the basis of different evaluation criteria, on the Lithuanian language and literature exam. Each year, until 15th of November those criteria were being published on the National Examination Center website. They are corrected and adjusted to examinees from the previous session. Students and teachers also have chance to check the concession project held until 2020. There is a possibility to increase the amount of Lithuanian language and literature lessons in schools of national minorities. The main goal is to level out the teaching in Lithuanian language schools and schools of national minorities. The gap in number of lessons is decreasing, so exam results are expected to improve in 2020.

Do you plan on abolishing Lithuanian language school exam?

No, we do not plan on abolishing Lithuanian language or literature exams. This is the only obligatory exam for all the students who are about to finish school. It is important to have this possibility for the ones who do not plan on continuing their education in university.

According to lithuanists the Lithuanian language teaching program and educational facilities are too hard, especially for the polish primary school students, who often attend 1st grade without the knowledge of Lithuanian, while standardized teaching program assumes that 1st grade students in schools of national minorities are freely able to communicate in Lithuanian. Will the teaching program in primary schools be adjusted to students’ skills?

The amended of early school education teaching program of Lithuanian language does not assume that 1st grade students know Lithuanian. It allows teachers to adjust teaching materials to language skills of students, who can gradually learn all language fields – listening, speaking, reading and writing. The program has been prepared with teachers, discussed in an open forum with teachers from schools of national minorities, authorities and representative council of educational institutions. There also are educational facilities like Kalba mane augina, 3 teaching materials with tips on how to teach Lithuanian in grades 1-2 and 3-4, Lithuanian language primers for 1st grades and others.

Moreover, pre-school education is obligatory since 1st of September 2016. According to the Education Act, students attending pre-schools of national minorities have 4 hours of Lithuanian per week. When starting primary school in 2017, these students will already have language basis.

Students in Poland learn Polish for 12 years. Why don’t they have possibility to take polish state exam, although it is the closest neighbor country of Lithuania, the ally and its strategic partner, while they have possibility to take Russian language exam?

Students of two biggest national minorities in Lithuania – polish and russian – have possibility to choose the exam on mother tongue. It takes place after finishing 10th grade (2nd gymnasium) and after 12th grade (4th gymnasium). Russian state exam is taken by those students, who did not attend schools with Russian as a main language. It aims to examine Russian communication skills, as a foreign language. If the exam on Polish language as a foreign, would be taken under the same conditions, it would be impossible to take it for the students learning in polish schools.

Are you planning on resigning from student basket?

We are searching for a new funding model. Student basket used to be very helpful for the schools, but as the number of students has recently decreased, the situation has changed. Majority agrees that student basket does not fit to smaller, comprehensive schools – they hardly maintain having sufficient amount of students. At the moment we are analyzing trial project of the Ministry of Education and Science – class basket. It works out in 5 of the councils since 2016. Such funding differs from student basket in allocating funds in class, while educational facilities in student. Class basket guarantees providing rational funds. Both advantages and disadvantages will be analyzed. Funding model is constantly being improved.

Juzef Kvetkovskij: ‘Take care of developing the educational system in mother tongue’

Conversation with Juzef Kvetkovskij, the Chairman of The Association of Polish Schools Teachers in Lithuania „Macierz Szkolna”.

What kind of reforms do contemporary schools need?

Fundamental changes are needed to be made. Fundamental, meaning changing the teaching program , publishing new school books and educational facilities, training teachers and above all, proper funding of educational system. Ministry and subordinate institutions have to answer these questions: what to learn, what from, how and who is going to teach.

What are the new task of the new government and especially of educational department?

Every new government repeats over and over again how important the educational system is. Teaching process needs to be developed and teachers need to be supported. New decisions are being made, but nothing in particular is actually happening.

According to PISA studies, schools’ atmosphere is unsatisfying and grades of Lithuanian students are low. All of this is a result of misguided, not followed decisions of authorities. It al affects atmosphere at schools, which are uncertain about tomorrow. It concerns teachers, students and their parents. Instead of making real changes, only some simulated moves are taking place. For example limiting principals’ term of office. Not only it does not solve educational system’s problems, but also ruins it.

What steps does „Macierz Szkolna” take in order to enhance the polish educational system situation?

The Association of Polish Schools Teachers in Lithuania „Macierz Szkolna” has done a lot for polish schools in Lithuania. Attending all the meetings concerning educational system of national minorities, the association has many ideas on improving functioning of polish schools in Lithuania.

Assumptions of national minorities education” from 16th January 2002 is a legal document, describing national minorities school status and regulating it. We put a lot of effort in enforcing the ministry to record a possibility to hold lessons in mother tongue. The record has been shorten to educating teachers in mother tongue who teach in early schools and pre schools. Even this record has never been accomplished. On the 10th of May 2005 the „Developing Polish education system strategy in Lithuania” has been accepted. as a result of previous „Developing of Lithuanian education system in Poland”. It has been prepared with no discussions and arbitrary signed by the minister. It did not reach the expectations of polish education system community in Lithuania.

What is your opinion on standardized matura exam results on Lithuanian language?

Implementing this exam in 2013 was negative for high school graduates in particular, who are attending national minorities schools in Lithuania. These students had two years to catch up the material, which is thought during 12 years in lithuanian schools. Additionally, no school books have been published nor educational facilities or no teacher training has taken place. Standardizing the exam had a bad influence on continuing the higher education.

The students from polish schools do have concessions…

Written assignments concessions are slight. They are only taken into consideration when the grade is 3 or below it. Students getting 5 have the concession – they can additionally make one more mistake, than students from lithuanian schools. If before standardizing the exam in 2010 , 8.3% of students from lithuanian schools did not pass the exam, 8.2% of students from national minorities schools and respectively in 2011 – 7.8% and 6.4%, in 2012 – 7.5% and 6.2%. After standardizing the exam in 2013 – 9.5% and 11.4%, in 2014 – 11.6% and 16.3%, in 2015 – 9,9% and 16.1%. The main argument on the negative effect of standardization are the 2014 exam results. The number of points gained between 36 and 85 in the republic equaled 40.77% and in national minorities schools the percentage was equal 31.6. The results in polish schools is 1.3 times worse. The number of points gained between 86-100 (points deciding on getting into the university) was 3.1 worse. The republic’s average equaled 11.49% and in polish schools only 3.69%.

Is the Lithuanian language teaching program suitable for primary classes?

Standardization of teaching programs of Lithuanian language since 1st grade is also a problem, because school books and teaching facilities are close to those which are meant for teaching Lithuanian as mother tongue. It is undoable for the students from national minorities schools. In our opinion, teaching programs should be different for both schools, because minorities should focus on communicating and writing. It is important to educate Lithuanian language teachers, who could communicate in minority languages on at least pre-intermediate level. There are no „free” teaching ours available to increase the amount of time taught. The only way to achieve it, is to decrease the amount of lessons on mother tongue or other subjects. „Macierz Szkolna” not once has tried to increase the amount of hours taught, which would give opportunity to increase the number of lessons on Lithuanian language, without resigning on rest of the subjects.

Will the polish matura exam for polish school students take place?

The fact, that matura exam on mother tongue has been withdrawn from obligatory exam list in 2000, has negatively affected polish schools. After making the decision by the ministry, polish society in Lithuania has been actively appealing for bringing it back. The Association of Polish Schools Teachers in Lithuania „Macierz Szkolna” has collected 25 thousand signatures. 12 years of learning the mother tongue should be finalized with matura exam and its’ results must influence the university admissions. Mother tongue is not only language correctness, but also shaping the worldview and proving our identity.

How do you rate the situation of polish schools in Lithuania?

There is well qualified stuff, where 80% are senior teachers or methodologists, classes are well-equipped with modern technical means, where students achieve good results. Schools have overcame obstacles, met the accreditation requirements and out of 40 schools – 36 were qualified as middle schools. According to lithuanian magazines Reitingai and Veidas polish schools in Lithuania are ranked high compared to the rest. The number of 1st grade students has been stabilized as well. During last 4 years number of 1st graders oscillated between 1000 and 1060. Growing number of kids attending polish pre-schools in Lithuania instils optimism. There is a lot of work ahead of us, as we have to continuously take care of maintenance and development of education system held in mother tongue and to counter unfavorable decisions of authorities.


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

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