• January 15, 2018
  • 388

Polish children in Lithuania learn from error-ridden textbooks

„Stack snowballs in the actual pile”, „Have you ever thrown blood from your nose?”, “Add comfortably”, “The fox sneakiest”: these are not sentences from the once popular satirical blog “Pulaki z Wilni”. They come from workbooks and textbooks used by children in Polish schools in the Vilnius Region.

“I’ve come from Poland to Vilnius with my family last year. My son attends first grade since September in one of the Polish schools in the capital. I am really satisfied with the school itself, but I was shocked by the quality of the textbooks and workbooks the children use. I’ve worked in correcting and editing for several years, so I’ve reviewed my son’s schoolbooks. I found many errors: phraseological, stylistic, syntactical, grammatical, punctuation, a lot of russianisms and lithuanianisms, archaisms, and dialect expressions. For example, literary Polish does not recognize expressions such as ‘gain someone’s name’, ‘important is to learn to write’, and you do not ‘compile’ leaves or eat ‘in time’”, writes to zw.lt Kaja Kojder, an experienced editor and mother of a first grader.

The editorial board at zw.lt has decided to verify this statement. We talked for several weeks with teachers, parents, translators, and the Polish Educational Society. We also leafed through schoolbooks for grades 1-4 (“Orzeszek” and “Żołądź”) from the Šokas series published by Šviesa.

Šokas – a real shock

The textbooks and workbooks are riddled with mistakes. There’s a few of them in “Orzeszek” (math) and lots in “Żołądź” (science). The instructions are poorly written, and they often don’t correspond to the content of the exercises and illustrations. Some of the exercises no longer make sense when translated from Lithuanian.

Jadwiga Stankiewicz, teacher of primary classes in Vilnius John Paul II Progymnasium, feels the schoolbooks in the Šokas series were translated hurriedly. “You have to be mindful of the errors, since there are a lot of them. Some teachers don’t use workbooks, and I was also against them. But parents didn’t want handouts because of the extra clutter. Besides, nowadays it’s impossible to encourage learning with a simple checkered notebook”, says the experienced teacher. She adds that, thanks to workbooks, the students have more time to learn new things. “It’s very good that we have the “Orzeszek” workbook; we didn’t have that before”, says the teacher. She adds that the problem is the translation from Lithuanian that often confuses teachers and students.

Irena Szostak, vice-principal of the progymnasium and a teacher of Polish, believes that errors in the schoolbooks are stressful not only for children but also for their parents. “Our teachers have a lot of experience, and they know how to handle this. They don’t assign problematic exercises, because both children and parents would have problems solving them”, she says. “Teachers are prepared for this, but obviously a faulty exercise would confuse the children. The students constantly learn new expressions and enrich their vocabulary, but they also retain all the mistakes. I believe the schoolbooks need to be corrected and reprinted”, says Szostak.

Complete faith in the translator

According to the guidelines of the Ministry of Education and Science, the publisher is responsible for the quality of the schoolbooks. “The schoolbooks are evaluated by experts prior to their publication”, says Nomeda Barauskienė, representative of the department of education, and she adds that the publisher should correct any mistakes or inaccuracies after consulting the experts.

The experts from the Education Development Center of the Ministry of Education and Science sent an email tersely informing us that “since workbooks aren’t compulsory, the publishing house is responsible for their quality, and so is the teacher who decides to use these teaching aids”.

The publishing house, on the other hand, blames the translators. “Polish editors and translators worked on these books. We trusted them. Lithuanian books are edited by Lithuanians, and Polish books are edited by Poles”, says project coordinator Agnė Krutulienė from Šviesa publishing house. How does Šviesa choose its translators? Is it competitive? “These people regularly edit Polish texts. We also have a translators’ list and pick from there”, says Krutulienė.

The publishing house

How true is this? Krystyna Zdanowska, who translated several books in the “Żołądź” schoolbook series, says, “I am not a professional translator. I worked at several positions in a publishing house, ranging from a secretary to a project coordinator. Šviesa reached out to me to translate these books. I know they also tried contacting teachers, but no one wanted to translate from Lithuanian into Polish”, she explains. Zdanowska worked as editor of teaching material in Šviesa for 42 years. When asked why the schoolbooks are full of errors, she argues that “she checked almost everything in a dictionary”. She admits that she doesn’t know what to do now. “This is the first time after so many years that I’m being told of these problems. I can do nothing about it now except call the publishing house and ask them to stop printing these books. I promise I will not translate again”, she says.

Rules of Polish

When asked why there’s a “wareński” region in the book (the correct form being “orański”, Ed.) near the Anykščia and Panevėžys regions, she explains that Lithuanian names are not to be translated. “Experts in the Ministry of Education and Science have disallowed the translation of such names”, she informs us.

Dr Elżbiera Kuzborska, Scientific Secretary of the Association of Polish Scientists in Lithuania, lecturer on human rights and expert in issues of national minorities, disagrees. “Texts in Polish are governed by rules of this language. For example, one may not use French language’s rules in a German text. Similarly you can’t use Lithuanian spelling in a Polish text. This is also true with proper names, where most foreign cities and geographical names have Polish equivalents. For example, we use Paryż for Paris, Rzym for Italian Roma, or Szkocja for Scotland. The same thing happens with Lithuanian cities. Poles use Kowno for Kaunas, Wilno for Vilnius, and Troki for Trakai. The same rule applies to smaller cities and regions. If there exists a traditional Polish translation of a city or region, it should be used in a Polish text”, argues Kuzborska.

Krystyna Zdanowska argues that authors have stringent expectations. For example, they want literal translations into Polish of Lithuanian riddles, but this is sometimes impossible. Synonyms used to be handy in such cases. Nowadays, because of copyright laws, you can’t replace a Lithuanian poem with Jan Brzechwa’s poem, which is a reason for a lot of inaccuracies. She also believes that expressions like “throw blood from nose” can be found in a dictionary. “The teacher is there to explain. Do the teachers not know these expressions? Students must learn all of them”, she says.

Wanda Miłto, translator of “Orzeszek”, believes parents’ claims are unsubstantiated. “I don’t think the parents who reported to you this problem are right. The textbooks and workbooks were edited by an experienced team of authors. (…) Kids are smart these days. It’s enough for the teacher (or parent) to explain a problematic expression, and there’s no problem”, she says.

The Šviesa publishing house closed down its editorial board responsible for editing of textbooks. Now there is no one responsible for the textbooks in Polish, and that is why there are so many errors. This is what Terasa Kolenda believes, teacher of primary classes in the Władysław Syrokomla Gymnasium in Vilnius. “I get the impression that there is no supervision”, she says. “Alicja Kosinskienė used to work at the Ministry of Education and Science, and she looked after Polish schools and textbooks. She was the one person responsible for all of this, and now there is no one”, says Kolenda.

Polish language textbooks are in bad condition

Another problem are Polish language textbooks. The very first book a first grader reads is “Magiczne literki” primer written by Marzena Grydź and published in 2004. Other textbooks are also several years old and in poor state. “Every grade has damaged textbooks, but we have no way of replacing them”, says vice-principal of Vilnius John Paul II Progymnasium.

“The Polish Educational Society should take care of this; something has to be done now. If someone loses a textbook, it’s impossible to purchase one, and what happens then? For this reason we ask the children to take good care of the books”, says Irena Szostak.

The publisher informs us that the oldest textbooks for Lithuanian schools are from 2008 and are being withdrawn, and Polish students still have to use even older books. “We wanted to stop publishing some of the books, for example “Magiczne literki” primer. Many Poles objected, as they need to learn from something, so sometimes we reprint these books. We have to choose: reprint the books or stop completely. There is no third option”, says Krutulienė.

No money for editing and correction

The Polish Educational Society, which has been supporting Polish education in Lithuania since the 90s, as of yet hasn’t undertaken any efforts to improve the quality of textbooks for children and teenagers.

Why are first graders still using 14-year-old and out-of-date textbooks? When talking to zw.lt, the chairman of the Polish Educational Society Józef Kwiatkowski says that the teachers simply don’t want to write a new primer. “They are afraid of criticism or they don’t feel competent enough. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and there is very little compensation. This problem remains, even though we’ve talked about it for several years”, says the chairman, and he adds that finances are also an important factor. “Poland is paying more attention to furnishing the schools and training courses for teachers, but recently not enough has gone into translations”, he complains.

Kwiatkowski says that he has been trying for years to import Polish language textbooks from Poland. At first Polish language teachers resisted, claiming that the textbooks wouldn’t accommodate for the needs of Polish students in Lithuania. But this has changed. “We want to import textbooks from Poland from grades 1-12. A meeting recently took place between the Polish Educational Society and the Association of Polish Schools Teachers. The teachers supported my idea, and hopefully we will be heading in this direction”, says Kwiatkowski.

“However, we don’t have money for Polish editors who could review textbooks translated from Lithuanian. The publisher chooses a translator and signs an agreement. Neither the Polish Educational Society nor the Ministry have any influences here”, notes Kwiatkowski.

The project coordinator in the publishing house explains that printing books for minority schools is not financially feasible. “There are only around 1400 first graders in Polish schools. What we have to spend on Poles and Russians is simply too much”, she says. She gives the example of a book published last year in the Šokas series for Russian schools. Six schools bought the textbooks and there are around 1300 Russian first graders. Yet only 130 copies were sold. “Even the translator’s wage wasn’t reimbursed. If Poles want to learn from adequate books, they should learn from Lithuanian textbooks. That’s our suggestion”, says Krutulienė.

“The Polish government spent around 240 000 euros on Polish schools in the Vilnius Region just this year”, says Kaja Kojder. “Why can’t next year a part of this sum be allocated for writing a new Polish language textbook and for editing and correcting of schoolbooks translated from Lithuanian? I have worked for many years in a publishing house, so I’ve calculated the cost of editing and correcting books of my child. The correction and editing of “Żołądź” textbook equals to around 260 euros (based on relatively expensive, Polish rates). Since there were 1200 copies of “Żołądź” printed, the price of one copy would increase by 22 cent euro coins. Even if it’s the parents who are to cover this expense, I doubt this is an unattainable price tag…”, remarks the editor.

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

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