• April 6, 2018
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The Parliament battles for two amendments to the Act on the Education System have begun

Lithuanian Parliament had to deal with two amendments to the discriminatory Act on the Education System which was amended in 2011 to the disadvantage of national minorities living in Lithuania.

The amendments were prepared by members of the EAPL–CFA political party and presented by Jarosław Narkiewicz during the parliamentary session on 27th and 29th of March. Both amendments have been approved by the parliamentary majority at first reading.

“I think we should be glad because it is an opportunity for a broader, official discussion on our issues, especially as not all politicians want to have this discussion. A great deal of effort was needed to ensure that this was discussed in Parliament at all. Many MP’s are not aware of the problem or are thinking of stereotypes. Some, in results, change their minds and claim that it is high time to stop politicising and look at the problem objectively,” Jarosław Narkiewicz pointed out in an interview with Kurier Wileński.

The aim of one of the amendments, presented in the Sejm on Tuesday, March 27, is to keep eleven classes lectured in Polish language in towns inhabited by Polish minority. This amendment assumes that if there are different schools in the same town, those teaching in the state language and those teaching in the minority language, they should be provided with such conditions that the secondary education curriculum can be continued both in schools that teach in the Lithuanian language and in schools of national minorities.

The Article 30, Part 8 of the Act on Education System states that in a locality inhabited by a national minority, teaching in at least one school (at least in one class) in the national language within the framework of a secondary school curriculum (for classes 11-12) should be ensured. In other words, if there is an eleventh class which is teaching in Lithuanian language and another eleventh class lecturing in other language that the official one, e.g. in Polish or Russian, then any other class shouldn’t exist. Therefore, the aim of the project is to provide national minorities with continued education at the secondary education level in their mother tongue.

“The amendment is consistent with the UN Convention which encourages abstention from activities that lead to the forced assimilation of persons belonging to national minorities. The acceptance of the amendment will ensure the obligation to maintain education in secondary classes both in the state language and in the languages of national minorities,” said Jarosław Narkiewicz.

Another amendment, placed on the agenda of the parliamentary session on Thursday, March 29, concerns the problem of teaching the Lithuanian language. The amendment to Article 38, Part 4 refers to two separate curricula of the Lithuanian language: one for schools with the lectures in Lithuanian and another one for schools of national minorities.

The initiative to amend the Act on Education System had been put forward three times by members of the EAPL but for lack of political will it was constantly rejected.

“We have already proposed that during the adoption of the Act on Education System in 2010. It has been submitted on the next closest date and several times later. Unfortunately, they were rejected at first reading. Then there were long individual conversations both in factions and at coalition meetings. It was difficult to even get through the agenda of the parliament sessions. This has now been achieved,” said Jarosław Narkiewicz.

The need for an amendment was justified by Mrs Narkiewicz in the Sejm. He said that in 2010 Lithuanian curricula were unified as state curricula (in minority schools) and native curricula (in Lithuanian schools) despite the fact that the research conducted in 2005, commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Science, showed that it is impossible to achieve an equal level of language proficiency among students for whom it is a second language and for those for whom it is a native language. One of the conclusions of the study was that this was also unrealistic because of the different language environments which make it impossible to introduce the same criteria for assessing knowledge – the introduction of such criteria could be discriminatory.

“It is important for us that students of minority schools have as best knowledge of Lithuanian language as possible. The only thing is that this should not be discriminatory action but rather constructive steps. Those steps are obvious: it is the improvement of the teaching process, and working conditions of teachers,” Jarosław Narkiewicz presented his point of view to MPs.

As he said the unification of the curricula caused a great objection. An international Polish-Lithuanian working group was set up to solve the problem, but half a year after the work failed because no agreement had been reached. The arguments were not heard and a political decision was accepted.

Jarosław Narkiewicz quoted further arguments from the Sejm. He recalled that in 2011 the law had actually entered its implementation phase and that the teaching according to a unified curriculum in eleventh class had begun. In 2013 all students, both in Lithuanian and minority schools, had to pass the unified exam. In results before 2013 about 6% of students could not pass the Lithuanian Matura exam, after 2013 about 16% annually, i.e. twice, and almost three times as many students in minority schools could not take the Lithuanian Matura exam. “Small deviations are possible, but if the differences in the results are repeated every year, it means that something is going wrong with the system. The idea of better knowledge of the Lithuanian language has failed, the process is more complicated,” he said.

The amendment to the Act on Education System has also had a negative impact on the results of talented students trying to get into universities.

“Before 2013 the percentage of students receiving grades in the range of 50-90 points was 40%, after 2013 this rate dropped to 20%. The performance of talented students fell by 50%. The percentage of the most talented students that have had grades in the range of 90-100 point fell by more than 4.5 times. Before 2013 10% of the students were receiving grades in the range 90-100 points and after 2013 it was only 2 % of the students. The results speak for themselves: there are errors in this system” Narkiewicz argued.

The change of the exam had a negative impact also on the results of Lithuanian school students. If 2% of students from Lithuanian schools did not complete their Matura exams after 2013, then this rate increased 2.5 times in minority schools.

“Error in the system” is visible when calculating the so-called student basket: the number of students from Lithuanian schools increased from 46% (in 2013) to 55% (in 2017) and at the same time number of students from non-Lithuanian schools dropped from 32% (before 2013) to an average of 28% (before 2013).

“The unified Lithuanian teaching programme was introduced also in the primary schools which dissatisfied students and parents. We propose reconsideration of the curricula to make sure that those differences is reduced gradually and that the students can achieve the same results in twelfth class. This is the basic idea of our proposals which is to allow teaching of Lithuanian language according to different programmes and to take into account different conditions,” he stated.

The future of the amendments depends on a number of factors. The battle for amendments will take place in the Sejm’s education committee chaired by Eugenijus Jovaiša. The Committee will consider the draft law and decide whether or not to support the amendments. If the committee does not support the draft then at second reading it will be necessary to collect at least 71 of MPs’ votes. The third stage is the return of the draft for reconsideration by the committee and then the amendments can be finally accepted. The road is quite long: the next reading is scheduled for 21 June.

“The committee includes people who are not very favourable to our affairs. But we have our own arguments, which I hope will be irrecusable. We will try to show that there is a need for change. Some can be done even without legislative changes and that is what we are working on,” said MP to the Kurier Wileński.

Meetings with representatives of the Ministry of National Education are also held on the subject of educational problems, and one of the latest meetings was held on 26 March with the participation of Minister Jurgita Petrauskienė, Eugenijus Jovaiša and teachers of Lithuanian language.

“We wanted the officials to receive arguments at first hand from the Lithuanian teachers, who have to deal with the problem on a daily basis. We have invited teachers from different schools. The Minister agreed that the programmes should be reviewed,” said Jarosław Narkiewicz.

The issue of the Act on Education System in Lithuania has changed from educational problem to the political issue.

“In 2010 the act was accepted by politicians who only considered their own ambitions not the real needs of education system. This was a clear aspiration to transform schools with Polish or Russian teaching language into Lithuanian schools leaving the mother tongue only as one of the subjects. We have managed to moderate this act, e.g. the idea that 60% of subjects should be taught in Lithuanian and only 40% of subjects should be taught in Polish. We have minimised this provision to an amendment which provides for teaching only some subjects in Lithuanian, such as Lithuanian history and geography, although this is also a narrowing down of the existing rights. Our latest problem is the unified Lithuanian language curriculum and the unified Lithuanian language exam, which students of Polish schools have to take as if it was their mother tongue,” said Jarosław Narkiewicz.

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

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