• February 20, 2020
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Duchniewicz: Is there enough political will to solve problems of national minority schools?

Proms are right around the corner, final exams are approaching. And together with them revives the discussions about the unified Lithuanian language exam for students from Lithuanian and Polish-language schools and the restoration of the compulsory Polish language matriculation exam.

I am not an adamant opponent of the unification of the Lithuanian language exam, but the 2011 educational reform pushed by the conservative and liberal leaders, which unified it, was ill-prepared, hurried and – probably – anti-constitutional. In a state governed by the rule of law, one cannot standardize exam requirements and, at the same time, not give students the tools or time to prepare. Unfortunately, in 2011 the rule of law in Lithuania existed only in theory. In practice, a bulldozer tactic was employed – the right-wing in power [supposedly] knew better what national minorities needed. Immediately after the discriminatory provisions were passed and under the pressure from protesters, the Ministry of Education tried to fix the situation by introducing minor concessions for graduates from Polish and Russian-language schools during the Lithuanian language exam (e.g. they could make more mistakes during the exam). This way, by employing low-key measures, the faulty regulation was supposed to be at least partially repaired.

These concessions, however, were insufficient (which we see in ever worse results of Lithuanian language exams in the case of graduates from national minority schools; e.g. last year, the Lithuanian language state exam was passed by 90.6% of all graduates and only by 79.14% graduates from Polish schools) and temporary (they expire this year). Contrary to the promises made, no one even tried to evaluate the results of the subsequent matriculation exams to adjust the scope and character of the concessions. There were simply fewer and fewer concessions every year. And the results have been getting worse.

What is worse, apart from the concessions, virtually no other measures were taken to rectify the situation. The programme differences in teaching the Lithuanian language in Lithuanian-language schools and schools of national minorities are still massive, the teachers and methodology of teaching Lithuanian are lacking, there’s a lack of money, of textbooks and teaching aids, while the structure of the Lithuanian language exam is criticized even by Lithuanians.

Another issue is rooted in even more ancient history – the non-compulsory character of the Polish language matriculation exam in Polish schools in Lithuania. The compulsory Polish language exam was abolished at the end of the 20th century. At that time, it was agreed that only one matriculation exam should be compulsory – the Lithuanian language. All other exam subjects have become electives. Perhaps there was some logic in this decision, perhaps not – the fact remains that today the situation has changed. The number of compulsory state exams has increased. For those applying for state-funded university slots – the Lithuanian language was joined by mathematics and foreign languages. It is, therefore, reasonable to ask the question once again: why aren’t native languages of students from national minority schools among them?

Certainly, the formal return of the Polish language exam to the list of compulsory exams is only half a step ahead. [Completing] such an exam should also bring tangible benefits, e.g. when applying for higher education at Lithuanian state universities. The Poles in Lithuania belong to one of the most disadvantaged national minorities in terms of the number of people with higher education. When it comes to the number of intellectuals, they are only ahead of the Roma. Until this situation changes, one should not expect any major changes in e.g. electoral preferences or behaviours of the Polish national minority. Even the former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius understood that. It is no coincidence that the 3rd of May parliamentary group he founded a few years ago put forward a proposal to grant additional points for knowledge of the Polish language in higher education recruitment.

We can see that the current management of the Ministry of Education has a better insight into the situation of the national minority education than the previous teams. Moreover, it seems – I do hope this is not an erroneous impression – that Miniter Algirdas Monkevičius does not lack the political will to resolve these issues. Perhaps then, this political intent will be enough to resolve the yesteryear examination fuss in national minority schools? Both that related to the state exam in the Lithuanian language (extending the time frame of concession validity would be at least a first step in this direction) and restoring the compulsory matriculation exam in Polish.

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

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