• January 26, 2018
  • 400

Polish Discussion Club debates issues with textbooks: We can’t back down

Will Polish students living in Lithuania study from textbooks appropriate for the twenty-first century? On Thursday, January 25, this problem was discussed in the Polish Discussion Club.

The debate took place in the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius. The speakers included Henryka Sokołowska, head of the Polish Language and Culture Centre of the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences; Danuta Szejnicka of the Education Development Centre; editor of the Warsaw University Press Kaja Kojder, and Józef Kwiatkowski, head of the Polish Educational Society. Teachers from Polish schools in Lithuania also voiced their opinions in the debate.

A historical perspective

 “The fact that we are here today bodes well for the future of Polish education in Lithuania. I myself have two children, and I never had any doubts over which school I should send them to. It had to be a Polish school. I believe such schools can still be good and competitive in the modern world, even if they struggle with more general problems of Lithuanian education. These issues can also be accounted for in terms of problems of education of national minorities. Lithuanian education still lacks a plan for dealing with them. We knew about all of this already, but we’ve found out that the problems are even more severe,” started the discussion Małgorzata Kozicz, its moderator.

“These are not recent problems. There have been problems with textbooks ever since Lithuania’s independence. Textbooks are one of the foundations of an educational policy. And such a policy in Lithuania is directed towards ‘depolonization’ and lithuanization of the Vilnius Region. Ever since 1992, people have tried to assimilate national minority schools with Lithuanian education. Just after New Year the ministry’s college voted on a resolution concerning textbooks for national minority schools. This resolution meant that some textbooks wouldn’t be translated into Polish,” said in his opening remarks Józef Kwiatkowski. The head of the Polish Educational Society added that his organization had never received any complaints about language errors in textbooks.

Free competition

Two issues were discussed during the debate: textbooks translated from Lithuanian into Polish, and Polish language textbooks.

The publishing business is governed by free market rules. Different publishing houses work on competing textbooks, because schools can freely choose between them.

As to the translation of textbooks, the publisher is responsible for translation and editing. “You don’t have to present the translated textbooks to any group of experts,” explained Szejnicka.

Besides it is not profitable for publishing houses to publish textbooks for Polish schools, because there are simply too few of them. According to Szejnicka, “This situation is even worse in Russian schools.”

It was suggested that a group of experts be called upon to control the quality of textbooks for Polish schools. An institution like this can be found in Czech Republic’s ministry of education.

Adapt or write anew

Another problem concerns Polish language learning textbooks. The issue is whether to use adapted textbooks from Poland or if new textbooks should be written. “Publishing modern textbooks is very expensive because of copyrights. Contemporary texts and illustrations would need to be included. The textbooks that were published before 2002 were financed by the state. We don’t know how to change the current situation,” said Szejnicka.

Importing textbooks from Poland collides with the guidelines of the Ministry of Education and Science, according to which only textbooks for foreign language learning may be imported and not native language learning textbooks.

Polish language teacher Danuta Korkus of the Władysław Syrokomla Gymnasium in Vilnius has worked in the school for 30 years. According to her, “We can’t write a textbook on our own. It’s impossible to finish writing a textbook in half a year, and that’s how much time we have on paid leave.” She believes textbooks should be imported from Poland, since that’s what teachers are already doing. Without support, however, she says this practice is chaotic when learning. “We would have an uninterrupted educational plan if everyone would import whole series,” added the teacher.

Kaja Kojder, a Polish citizen and professional editor, was skeptical of adapting the textbooks and adding supplements. Firstly, the education program is different, and secondly, textbooks have copyright issues. Not every author will accept having his or her work changed.

Kojder proposed that money set aside for Polish schools in Lithuania be primarily spent on correction, editing, and on writing new textbooks. “These textbooks should undergo professional editing and correction. And I think this should be done by a Polish editor and using Polish methodology,” said the editor.

Problems with finances

Kwiatkowski said that both options are possible, and that the problem is of a financial nature. According to the head of the Polish Educational Society, Poland can finance only already published textbooks, and this can prove problematic for the project’s prospects. He added that national minorities should demand from the Lithuanian government textbooks of a high quality, like it is in Poland.

All the speakers agreed that parents should feel like they had made the right choice by sending their children to a Polish school. “If parents trust a Polish school, it is because the students can be taught using exemplary methods. And not just in Polish language classes. The largest responsibility falls on the shoulders of teachers who have Polish language courses with primary classes and later years. However, it is important that students have contact with Polish in all the other subjects as well. This can’t be achieved in Polish language classes only. We can’t back down on this issue,” said Henryka Sokołowska.

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

Related post

‘Half a loaf is better than none’? New national minorities bill.

Up until now, the Lithuanian national minorities’ rights have been regulated partially by special laws (e.g.…

White-and-red march through Vilnius and a rally in schools’ defence. ‘Poles want normalcy’.

A two thousandth white-and-red march passed through the streets of Vilnius on Saturday, March 23. Participants…

Issues of Polish education have been raised in front of parents and teachers.

The discussion on current issues in Polish education in Lithuania was initiated by the Forum of…