- August 29, 2019
Situation of Polish schools and education in countries involved in #KtoTyJesteś campaign
According to estimates, over 150,000 pupils are educated in Polish schools outside Poland.
In Lithuania, there are 76 schools and 84 kindergartens and kindergarten groups, in the Czech Republic – 28 schools and 33 kindergartens, in Latvia – 4 schools and 1 kindergarten, in Belarus – 181 learning points and 25 kindergartens with optional Polish language. In Ukraine – the only country where learning Polish is experiencing a renaissance of sorts – there are 6 schools with Polish as the language of instruction, 4 bilingual schools, there are classes with Polish, there are optional Polish classes, and in addition, there are extracurricular educational institutions, parish schools, and newly emerging, though still unregistered, weekend schools.
Although Poland has been actively supporting these educational facilities for years, more and more of our young compatriots use the [national] language of the country of residence or the Russian language during school breaks and in peer contacts. Every year, the recurring challenge is to encourage first-year pupils to enrol in Polish schools. It is also a headache to encourage students to communicate in Polish in everyday life, especially the youth who does not speak Polish with their parents.
The solution is identity- and tradition-based promotion of the Polish language – the implementation of social campaigns highlighting irreversible changes caused by loss of contact with the language of ancestors, and emphasizing the benefits of learning the Polish language.
Another core issue that the #KtoTyJesteś [English: #WhoAreYou, TN] campaign is meant to solve is the steadily falling number of pupils in Polish schools.
Polish education in Lithuania has been undergoing numerous trials for almost 19 years – from the abolishment of the Polish language matriculation exam, through the introduction of Lithuanian as a lecture language for some subjects in Polish schools, to the further extension of the curriculum in Lithuanian. This situation leads to a decreased interest in education in Polish schools. The popularity of the Polish language in Lithuania is also affected by the fact that students of Polish schools very often use Russian in peer contacts.
In Belarus, after the heyday of Polish education, a slow regression has begun 9 years ago, while russification is underway. The number of classes in Russian and in national languages has been increasing. There are activities aimed at lowering the rank of the Polish language and discouraging parents from sending children to classes conducted in our language. The policy aimed at the marginalization of Polish education is best evidenced by the undertaking of transforming schools with the Polish language of instruction into bilingual schools.
Ukraine is an exception here since as a result of economic migration to Poland, our language is extremely popular in this country. This interest, however, results from pragmatic reasons, and not from the need to cultivate family traditions.
Nearly 38 thousand people in Latvia declare Polish nationality. The introduction of Latvian as the national language in some of the Polish schools led to a decreased number of subjects taught in Polish. The knowledge of Polish among students varies, however, in peer contacts young people usually speak Russian, sometimes Latvian. At the same time, Polish schools in Latvia are perceived as institutions with a high level of education, which attracts non-Polish parents.
About 34 thousand people of Polish origin live in Kazakhstan, however, its inhabitants speak Russian and Kazakh in everyday communication, while Polish survived primarily in the sacral sphere. A great demand for the Polish language arose due to the repatriation efforts of Poles from Kazakhstan. Poland is also seen as an attractive place to study and a reliable economic partner. We have signed agreements with the Kazakh side that allow teaching our language in Polish minority schools. It is possible to create Polish classes, and in those with a humanistic profile, some subjects may be taught in Polish. There are also Polish diaspora organizations in Kazakhstan where Polish language classes are offered.
In recent years in Russia, the interest of the Polish diaspora in the language and culture of their ancestors has been on the rise, there has been a need for learning Polish. There are centres in Siberia where it is taught. The network of Polish educational institutions in Russia consists of schools that teach Polish as optional classes, interest groups and courses preparing youth to study in Poland. Parish schools play an important role, as they conduct Polish language lessons in addition to teaching religion. Teaching takes place at various levels and includes, among others, work in classes where Polish is taught as a subject of choice or a second language.
Every year, fewer and fewer students attend Polish schools in the Czech Republic. Polish-Czech classes are created in secondary schools and pre-school departments, but the number of primary schools teaching Polish is falling. A strong assimilation process is underway and children from mixed marriages are increasingly being sent to schools with the Czech language. In the Zaolzie area, tendencies to leave Poland are increasing, while the prestige of the Polish language is decreasing, which results in a falling number of students in Polish schools. The state of our education in the Czech Republic requires action to promote the Polish language and culture. It must emphasize the benefits of Polish-language education and multilingualism. In 2017, in search of new students for Polish schools, the Congress of Poles in the Czech Republic conducted an intensive educational campaign to promote bilingual education of children.
Translated by Marta Bednarczyk within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.