• February 20, 2020
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Meeting of deputy ministers of education of Poland and Lithuania: The declaration provided a good basis for talks

‘In Poland and Lithuania, we have a different legal framework. In the Republic of Poland, the Act on the Education System is in force, which guarantees education to national minorities, as well as the Act on National Minorities, which stipulates specific provisions governing the use of these rights. Here, the basis of our conversations is the declaration we signed in November 2019’ – noted the deputy head of the Ministry of National Education Maciej Kopeć when answering the question on the subject of the meeting held in Vilnius.

Deputy Minister of National Education Maciej Kopeć is on a two-day visit to Lithuania, with the purpose of discussing matters related to the education of the Polish minority in light of the declaration signed in November last year in Warsaw by the education ministers of Poland and Lithuania.

‘During today’s meeting, we discussed the individual articles of the declaration and talked about how to implement them in detail. We also talked about the deadlines within which the declaration is to be carried out,’ said Deputy Minister Jolanta Urbanowicz.

As the representative of the Ministry of Education in Lithuania noted, one of the important problems raised during the meeting was the issue of mother-tongue teaching. ‘The talks concerned both educational activities and their assessment; the topic of raising teachers’ competences was also discussed,’ the deputy minister explained.

‘We have proposed to organise an annual conference dedicated to questions about the education of national minorities,’ Urbanowicz said.

Polish-language matriculation exam

One of the most important topics tackled during the talks was the Polish-language matriculation exam. Currently, pupils attending Polish schools in Lithuania are obliged to take it only because of their schools’ decision. The exam does not guarantee any additional points when applying to universities, which inevitably leads to decreased motivation towards the learning and the importance of the language itself.

Deputy Minister Urbanowicz noted that the question of mother-tongue matriculation exam had been included in last year’s declaration, and had been a subject of detailed conversations. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say exactly when the pupils from the Polish schools in Lithuania will be able to take the Polish language as a state exam.

‘It’s a question of renewing education programmes. If the decision is taken this year, [and] the programmes will be renewed, the changes to the examination could be made the earliest after approx. 2-3 years’ – the representative of the ministry of education explained.

Poland and Lithuania have completely different regulations

Maciej Kopeć noted that the declaration signed by the Polish and Lithuanian side constitutes a good basis for future talks and solving issues of the Polish minority in Lithuania, as well as demands made by the Lithuanian minority in Poland. ‘We have talked about the Polish-language matriculation exam, its importance, teaching, and textbooks. The topic of teaching the Lithuanian language appeared as well. These were very detailed, long talks, during which we wanted to precisely explain how both sides understand individual terms, as well as how can they be introduced in both countries considering specific legal conditions – Poland’s representative explained.

The deputy minister carefully explained the differences between the Polish students in Lithuania and the Lithuanian students in Poland in his interview with zw.lt.

‘The first difference is that Poles in Lithuania, when they start learning, often do not have a sufficient command of the Lithuanian language. We’ve talked that Poles in Lithuania want to speak Lithuanian well, but also about changes that had happened in the Lithuanian law. We have also discussed the question of teaching methodologies. In Poland we do not have this issue; children from Lithuanian families, when they go to school, they know Polish very well, and the system of education also ensures the strengthening of the Polish language [competence] for pupils who don’t know it well enough, like Poles immigrating from abroad or foreigners. When it comes to minority education, Polish law offers several possibilities. It’s possible to teach [one’s] mother tongue as an additional language, [and] it’s possible to teach in two languages, which applies to four subjects, and others in the language of minority and to pass the exams in that language’ – Kopeć notes.

‘The representatives of Lithuanian minority have the right to pass their matriculation exam in Lithuanian, they have [separate] exam sheets prepared for them. In practice, it means that a student can take an exam in biology, chemistry, or even mathematics in the Lithuanian language’  – the deputy minister explained.

The declaration that might outlast governments

“The declaration on the education of the Polish national minority in the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian national minority in the Republic of Poland” was signed in November last year in Warsaw by the Minister of National Education Dariusz Piontkowski and the Minister of Education, Science, and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania Algirdas Monkevičius. The document undoubtedly fits into the whole, so often emphasized, warming-up of the Polish-Lithuanian relations. However, won’t the autumn parliamentary elections and possible changes in the ruling camp in Lithuania bring cooling in education-related issues?

‘The declaration anticipates international meetings. Today, we have created a detailed action plan, we also agreed that we will meet and talk about these problems on a regular basis. We hope that this will cause the ministries of education of Lithuania and Poland to meet and talk. I think that regardless of the results of the autumn elections, the Polish-Lithuanian cooperation in the field of education has a chance to continue,” told zw.lt the advisor to the Minister of Education, Science, and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania Barbara Stankiewicz.

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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