• May 24, 2019
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PDC About Polish Language in Lithuanian Schools: Possible, but Not So Necessary?

Participants of the discussion entitled “Polish language in Lithuanian schools – mission possible?” organized by the Polish Discussion Club (PDC) emphasized that in order to increase interest in teaching Polish in Lithuanian schools, an initiative of the Polish community is needed.

At the very beginning of the discussion, the moderator, a member of the Polish Debate Club, Zbigniew Samko, said that he is a great example that proves the current relevance of this issue. He is a Pole, married to a Lithuanian woman. “It was natural for me to talk to my fiancée and my later wife in Lithuanian, it was also natural for us to talk in Lithuanian with our two sons. However, I would like my children, who are attending a Lithuanian school, to have an opportunity to learn Polish,” said Mr. Samko.

The Deputy Mayor of Vilnius, Vytautas Mitalas, who is also responsible for educational matters,  admitted that he has been already fulfilling his duties for a month now and it is a good time to “fill  up” with good ideas.

“Education in Vilnius faces a challenge that must be overcome – its structure is fragmented. Meanwhile, our city is extremely colorful: one can find many different links between education and culture, education and social life, if we start to learn from one another, i.e. schools from other schools, schools from universities, etc. Teaching Polish could be also such a clink, even although it is now facing numerous obstacles,” pointed out Mitalas.

According to Mr. Mitalas, a major obstacle to shape the conscious demand is that Lithuania is still seeking its identity as a state. “The answer to the question of whether we are a northern state, or a small America behind the Atlantic Ocean, or a country of Central and Eastern Europe, causes many discussions. The relationships with our neighbors and our attitude towards them also depend on that,” said the Vice-Mayor of Vilnius.

“Vilnius, being the city that it is, and the city it had been in the past, could make an important contribution to the content of teaching – in short, a multinational character of this city is a unique and strong message that should be used. I believe that if the headmaster of a Lithuanian school looked at the issue of teaching Polish from the perspective of the whole local multilingual community where the school operates, and thought about those children who play football in the schoolyard and speak different languages, he would finally see the need for such lessons.” 

In his view, it is difficult to impose similar initiatives top-down. Today, schools are focused on the implementation of the Ministry’s programs and at the current stage of reforms it would be very difficult to convince them to conduct further experiments, hence the initiative should come from the school itself, and the local government could help to carry it out.

Vilija Sipaitė who has recently been dealing with the issues of national minority schools at the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, also stressed the importance of cooperation with the Polish community in Lithuania. “I would like to ask you for your help to understand how to look at this matter through your eyes and how to solve the issues that are important to you together. First of all, it is the community that informs us about the need for such learning, and we deal with this matter institutionally – both at a ministerial and municipal level,” pointed out Sipaitė.

According to current figures, only 29 people are studying Polish in Lithuanian schools, most of them in Kaunas and Vilnius.

“In such a case, it is difficult to discuss all the matters concerning the learning of a foreign language, i.e.  teachers’ training, teaching methodology, and methods of assessment. It is rather an initiative of one or several parents. However, if there were more pupils interested in learning the Polish language, the situation may change, since Polish as a foreign language has the same possibilities as any other language,”  explained Ms Sipaitė.

Furthermore, Ms. Sipaitė assured that the ministry particularly encourages schools to teach the languages of neighboring countries, and as far as Vilenshchina (the Vilnius region, TN) is concerned, for Ms. Sipaitė teaching Polish is, first of all, important to preserve the cultural context. In her opinion, teaching the Polish language in Lithuania can also take other forms, e.g. cultural exchange between Polish and Lithuanian schools, which currently practically does not exist.

Dr Irena Masojć from the Center of Polish Language and Culture at the University of Vytautas the Great in Vilnius emphasized that we should distinguish two issues at hand, i.e. teaching Polish as a foreign language, which would be chosen by Lithuanians, Russians or students of other nationalities, and teaching Polish to Poles in Lithuanian schools.

The lecturer agreed that the demand for learning Polish is getting smaller and smaller. “First of all, English replaces all other foreign languages and each succeeding generation has a better command of this language than the previous one. Additionally, ever since the country had entered the UE, the whole of Europe and the world opened up to us, and there had been a great interest in languages that may not be very applicable in everyday life, but seem interesting,” claimed Irena Masojć.

She recalled that according to a survey conducted 10 years ago in the largest cities of Lithuania, Polish language took the 5th place in terms of popularity – after English, Russian, German and French. In a study conducted in 2014 by scientists from the University of Vytautas the Great in Kaunas, Polish language lost its position and fell to the 15th place, remaining far behind the Scandinavian languages.

In 2002, Grażyna Siwicka, a teacher, drew up a program of learning Polish language for beginners. Moreover, she is the author of a textbook that has not been printed but is available online on the e-mokykla platform. In 2016, a curriculum for teaching Polish and Russian as languages of choice was created. Dr Irena Masojć approves also other materials to use during the teaching process in Lithuania, for instance, materials that were prepared in Poland for teaching children of emigrants.

“One problem may appear at apractical point, however.  Simply put, if at a school in Vilnius there are 10 people interested in learning Polish, they may represent a very different levels of language – one will know the basics of the language, the second one will know the dialect, the third will not speak a single word of Polish. Such a group would be quite a challenge for a teacher,” remarked Dr. Irena Masojć.

You can watch the whole discussion here:

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

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