• November 20, 2017
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The Parents’ Forum Conference: It is impossible to learn two mother tongues

On Monday, the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius hosted the conference: “The official language teaching program in the national minorities schools in Lithuania”, organized by the Parents’ Forum of the Salcininkai District, with the participation of lithuanists of the national minority schools and parents.

The organizer of the conference and the president of the Parents’ Forum of the Salcininkai District, Renata Cytacka, at the beginning apologized to the participants for the lack of translation. “For technical reasons, there will be no translator, but let the officials feel like our first-grade students”, said Cytacka, addressing the representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science.

An offical – not a native

The representatives of the forum, the lithuanists of the national minority schools and the parents gave speeches that concerned, among others, meaning of the mother tongue and learning Lithuanian.

Diana Witukiewicz from the Vilnius Parents’ Forum of Polish Schools spoke about the meaning of language in the child’s development. She explained that the official language – Lithuanian – cannot be taught at the same level as Polish. She noticed that learning Lithuanian in a current manner can lead to permanent stress. “Lithuanian ought to be taught as an official language, not as a native”, she appealed.

Ana Marcel, a Lithuanian language teacher from the St. Rafal Kalinowski Gymnasium in Niemiez emphasized in her speech that teachers of primary classes do not have adequate teaching tools. Pupils in grades 2-4 do not have appropriate textbooks. “There is a lack of a method by which parents could get involved in the process of teaching Lithuanian (…). We will achieve the goal in teaching Lithuanian when we have the right program, tailored to the needs of both children and teachers”, said the teacher in her speech in Lithuanian.

Marcel was supported by Ines Suchocka, a lithuanist and a mother of second grade students and a preparatory group of the Jan Sniadecki Gymnasium in Salcininkai. “Unified teaching of Lithuanian language is bad, it is not directed at quality”, said the teacher also in Lithuanian. As she noted, a child from a Polish family cannot learn Lithuanian language in the same way as a child from a Lithuanian family. She stressed that hourly diversity is also a problem – in Lithuanian schools, students have more hours of Lithuanian language than pupils in minority schools.

The reality is different

“Creating one program for all sounds fair, but the reality is different. Children attend schools without speaking Lithuanian. They cannot even produce simple sentences (…) No one has explained to us how to implement a unified program. It is impossible to learn two mother tongues”, said Irena Samuleviciune, a lithuanist at the Jan Sniadecki Gymnasium in Salcininkai in her speech titled: “An analysis of the process of teaching an official language”.

Danuta Narbut from the Vilnius Parents’ Forum stressed in her speech that if “someone tells fellow citizens of non-Lithuanian nationality that their language ​​is secondary, it practically deletes us, Poles, from the register of our country, reduces our status and introduces discrimination. Thus, everyone who says to me or my children that Lithuanian is more important than our mother tongue, uses a language of discrimination towards us”, said Narbut, who emphasized that she takes the floor, among others, as a mother of two sons.

Jaroslaw Pieszko from the Parents’ Forum in the Salcininkai District argued that unified teaching does immense harm to his daughter, who is a second-grade student. “The child cannot handle a text, it is frustrated. It does not need the help of its parents with homework in other subjects, only in Lithuanian”, said Pieszko and presented a video recording in which the child tries to learn a text in Lithuanian unsuccessfully.

The lithuanists and some parents present in the auditorium began to be indignant, saying: “it is not true, it is impossible”. Agitation and discontent was noticeable in the room.

The Ministry: We will analyze everything

Arminas Varanauskas, a representative of the Ministry, in his short speech indicated that the participation of the department in the conference is very important. “We saw what challenges a teacher faces. I heard the lithuanists’ suggestions. I would like to point out that nothing stands still. We will analyze everything, there will be changes of the program”, assured the official.

“I believe we understand each other well when it comes to Lithuanian. There is only a lack of understanding between practitioners and decision-makers”, noted Jozef Kwiatkowski, the president of the Polish Educational Society. He pointed out that the authorities approached the unification of curricula from non-practical, but political side. “The unification of the examination reform was politicized. The top-down imposition brings the opposite results – reluctance, hostility. Permissible errors in education cost the public dearly”, noted Kwiatkowski. At the same time, he presented statistics, according to which the results of the matriculation examination in Lithuanian after the unification of the program, have been deteriorating from year to year. “The conclusions are: to create a separate program, textbooks, a methodology, to prepare teachers to work in the national minorities schools, and separate examinations” – summarized the president.

The problem with Lithuanian

Roman Juchniewicz from the Psychological and Pedagogical Clinic of the Vilnius District presented the results of the research, in which 1200 primary classes childrens’ parents were questioned about teaching Lithuanian. According to the report, 71% of parents think that a child encounters a problem while learning, which is connected with an emotional problem, because the child begins to feel reluctant to learn the language. 92% of parents believe that the difficulties during learning Lithuanian depress parents and other family members. 74% of respondents claim that the Lithuanian curriculum in primary classes does not correspond to childrens’ skills. A complete research will be announced tomorrow on ppt.vrsa.lt.

Marius Ablacinskas, the adviser to the Minister of Education and Science, gave his speech in Polish. He said that he grew up in Alytus, where he never encountered Polish on a daily basis. “I never studied Polish, my parents did not teach me either. I watched movies, cartoons. I cannot speak Polish well, but I understand correctly”, he admitted. He stressed that the ministry cares about the future of children of the national minorities and strives to ensure that pupils speak Lithuanian at the same level as their Lithuanian colleagues.

Grzegorz Poznanski, the Deputy Polish Ambassador, who was present at the conference, declared that at the very beginning of education, children face a huge amount of stress, and its deepening is dangerous. “You cannot experiment on children. Polish children have to learn Lithuanian because it is their future in Lithuania. It is important that learning takes place in friendly conditions, that it is pleasant. I take the ministry’s declarations at face value. Dialogue is the basis of contact between the ministry, parents and teachers”, he emphasized.

Tendential reports and Russian songs

After the conference, a heated discussion between lithuanists and parents took place. Opinions were divided. A Lithuanian teacher from the Primary School in Dukstas noted that the speeches given by the speakers were tendential. “Why is nobody discussing the results of maths exams? Biology? Lithuanian is being persecuted. Why will not anyone just say that nowadays children have stopped learning? They are worse in all subjects”, she said and added that all national minorities in the world start to learn an official language in primary school. She criticized the video presented by Pieszko, saying that “in Dukstas, first-grade students can explain this text”. The teacher was supported by Dalia, a mother of 4, whose children attend a Polish school. “It is necessary to work with children, encourage them”, she said.

Michał Rudnicki, a kindergartener father, discerned that Lithuanian is not taught in kindergartens, so that children do not get Lithuanized, but no one pays attention to a constant Russification, and it is not mentioned anywhere at all. “I had to ask for Lithuanian lessons in Lithuania. I was told that I may get them, but I will need to pay for them”, said the indignant father. He said that currently his son attends Lithuanian lessons, but Russification is another problem. “Children in Polish kindergartens learn Russian songs”, he added.

The parents from the Salcininkai District had on the other hand completely different opinions. One of the mothers said she does not know Lithuanian and hence cannot help her children. A mother of students from Jaszun explained that her children attend additional classes in Lithuanian because the program is unsuitable and too difficult to learn. “I want my children to speak Lithuanian, I love Lithuania, I live here, I have not left like most people had, but they need to treat us seriously”, said an outraged resident of the Salcininkai District, who was supported by Cytacka: “I want my children to speak Lithuanian better than me, but let there be appropriate programs”, she said.

Kaja Kojder, a mother of a first-grade student, who came to Vilnius from Warsaw this year, pointed out another problem – the correctness of Polish language in schools. “There are many linguistic and grammatical errors, as well as archaisms in Polish textbooks that are not used in Poland anymore”, said the woman who works in the Warsaw University Press.

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

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