The Difficulties That the Students, Belonging to National Minorities, Face, Have Opened up Another Difference of Two Lithuanias: There’s One Way in Vilnius, Another Way in Kaunas

Rugsėjo 1-oji / E. Blaževič/LRT nuotr.

Students, whose mother tongue is not Lithuanian, barely speak it, sometimes don’t at all, except for when they attend Lithuanian language class. This, Irena Baltakiene – the chairwoman of the methodological group of Lithuanian language teachers, working in national minority schools – states, is the main reason for the poor Lithuanian Language exam results.

Meanwhile, Erikas Griskevicius – the principal of Kaunas Alexander Pushkin gymnasium – says that this problem did not arise in his gymnasium, all graduates have passed the Lithuanian Language exam.

The exam results differ

As the data of National Agency for Education (NAE) shows, the graduates’ of schools, where subjects are taught in national minority languages, the Lithuanian Language and Literature national exam results are poorer than the graduates’, who attend Lithuanian schools, however, the difference between the results of the two groups is decreasing.

In 2020, the average score difference between the two graduate groups was 15 National Maturity Exam points, last year – 19.

The percentage of students who failed is also changing. However, last year the difference between the analyzed groups also decreased in regarding this aspect, for instance, in 2018, 24,5% of graduates from schools, where subjects are taught in national minority languages, have failed; and 6,8% of graduates, who attended schools taught in Lithuanian, have failed. In 2020, 19,7% of graduates from schools, taught in national minority languages, have failed; whereas 9,2% of graduates, who attended schools taught in Lithuanian, have failed.

Language correctness suffers

As Asta Ranonyte, the deputy director of NAE, stated, the biggest difference between the graduates of schools, taught in national minority languages and schools taught in Lithuanian, is in terms of language correctness.

“The difference in terms grammar, lexicon and writing is particularly huge. Having in mind, that grammar and lexicon are more problematic areas for graduates from schools taught in Russian, punctuation is a more difficult area for students from schools taught in Polish language. In terms of essay content, there is not a big difference between the graduates of the two groups”, – A. Ranonyte said. 

The education program of Lithuanian Language and Literature was unified in 2011, in 2013 national minority students took the unified exam for the first time. In fact, the graduates, whose mother tongue is not Lithuanian, get grading benefits.

As the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport has specified, the differences in the Lithuanian Language and Literature maturity exam, judging the work of national minority students, will be decreased according to the results of the Lithuanian Language and Literature exam results’ analysis carried out by the NAE, also according to implementation of renewed general programs.

LRT.lt points out, that an education law project, that is relevant to national minorities is currently under consideration in Seimas. This project aims to increase the hours of teaching Lithuanian in preschool educational groups from four hours a week to five. This would take effect at the start of the next academic year.

Have changed her mind on unified exams

I. Baltakiene is a Lithuanian language teacher at Vilnius national minorities school, where the teaching languages are Russian and Polish. She used to believe that it is fair for students to take a unified Lithuanian Language Maturity exam for both – Lithuanian and non-Lithuanian students, however, she has changed her mind, as she realized that the exam is too difficult for non-Lithuanians.

“I used to think it is fair, that national minority students would take the same national or school exam, as Lithuanian students. My opinion has changed.

Why did I think it is for students to take a unified exam? Because I thought that it would be fair. Because the exam was a pass to free university studies. Now, after many years, I now think that the exam shouldn’t be completely unified. Because our students do not get this course as well as Lithuanian students. Of course, we could talk about the fact that modern generation read less books. Also, not everyone can study very well.”, – I. Baltakiene explained.

She remembers the time, when heated discussions took place regarding the unified Lithuanian Language exam.

“When it was announced that the exam will be unified, one of my students said this is how it is supposed to be. Somebody said they would not pass the exam as well as Lithuanian students. It is understandable, that the fact that the fact that there will be less opportunities to get into university and fully feel like a citizen, made the parents and principals of schools to react negatively to this decision.

There are various families. However, they realize that you must learn Lithuanian. The word “must”… But a child thinks differently. It isn’t easy to learn. When they learn English or even Japanese from cartoons, they learn so effortlessly. But you have to put a lot of effort when you learn Lithuanian, so it is not as attractive”, – I. Baltakiene spoke.

I. Baltakiene says that this problem hurts the hearts of Lithuanian language teachers who work with national minority students.

“My colleagues and I say that education seems the same – we have books, exercise books, there are 5 weekly academic hours, in 11-12 grades there are even 6 or 7, we have modules, consultations, but the results differ”,– I. Baltakiene explained.

Everyone understands that learning Lithuanian is essential, there is no way around it

I. Baltakiene is also a class head teacher, she has asked the parents of students, whether their families watch Lithuanian television at home.

“You can watch cartoons in Lithuanian. They say they don’t have a Lithuanian channel, that they have no interest in it. However, everyone is different. I wouldn’t say that there is a resistance, everyone understands that learning Lithuanian is essential, there is no way around it. Children often speak and write fluently in Lithuanian”,– I. Baltakiene says.

The teacher points out that the reform of Lithuanian language teaching in national minority schools was started at the wrong end – the system had begun to be changed from 11-12 grades.

According to the teacher, a lot of national minority students cannot get help from their families when learning Lithuanian.

According to the teacher, the reform of Lithuanian language teaching in national minority schools was started at the wrong end

“Then, 9-10, 7-8 grades. It should have been started from younger students. I don’t mean to say anything bad, education is such field, which is constantly being reformed, aiming to achieve better results”, – Lithuanian language teacher spoke. 

What should be done? According to I. Baltakiene, there could be more subjects, such as geography or biology, taught in Lithuanian in national minority schools.

“Speaking of primary school students, I would like to discuss one problematic question. Lithuanian language should be taught by very good specialists for primary school students. Regardless, often, Lithuanian language is taught by foreigners, who had graduated Lithuanian philology, whose mother tongue is not Lithuanian. Then pronunciation issues arise. Correct pronunciation would be very helpful in this situation. Because when pronunciation is not correct, literacy suffers. So, there is this trail of issues”, – I. Baltakiene spoke.

Grading benefits should remain

I. Baltakiene does not have a firm answer on whether the exam should be changed – prepare a different exam for national minority students. However, she is certain, that grading benefits for national minority students should remain.

“When you learn Lithuanian, you do so many jobs – you recite, prepare presentations, during an exam you have to write an essay. However, foreign students don’t think in Lithuanian. 

It hurts my heart the most, when a great student, who gets a 100 in English, over 90 in Physics, does not reach a third level in Lithuanian – 84-86 points. And that child is gifted with talents. But we don’t think of Lithuanian language, we think of mother language, that is why this is the result”, – Lithuanian language teacher explains.

According to I. Baltakiene, it is crucial, that foreign children reach a high literacy level.

“I have been to Estonia, I asked them what their essay was. I was told, that it is a good thing to refer to literature, but when you write a problem solution essay, you can unpack the topic without referring to literature”, – I. Baltakiene assured.

This year all graduates have passed the exam

Kaunas Alexander Pushkin gymnasium, where subjects are taught in Russian, Lithuanian and mixed languages, the principal E. Griskevicius said, that problems regarding Lithuanian language only arise to those, who moved to Lithuania relatively recently. He pointed out, that this year all graduates have passed the Lithuanian language exam, that the students of the gymnasium win in competitions, where students, whose mother tongue is not Lithuanian, also participate.

E. Griskevicius told, that the gymnasium has been applying its own recipe for a long time – allocate additional hours for teaching Lithuanian, preschoolers are also given hours to learn Lithuanian, which is taught by well-prepared Lithuanian language teachers. 

“The ministry gives us some freedoms. Every school can use a fraction of funding – hours – to whatever they think is necessary. We have been allocating an extra hour for 5-10 graders for teaching Lithuanian. Say, they should have five hours, but they have six”, – E. Griskevicius talked about the path they chose to take.

“It is different in Kaunas, the social surrounding has to be more favorable. Children obviously speak Russian with their classmates. But guests have asked us a few times, what is our teaching language, because they heard Lithuanian being spoken in the school halls.”, – E. Griskevicius said.

Besides, A. Pushkin Gymnasium divides its classes in half, so there are 10 students during a class.

E. Griskevicius said, that there are more children learning Lithuanian every year. At the moment, half of the students – two classes, learning in Russian, two – in Lithuanian. Among the older students, the proportions is different: there are two classes learning in Russian, one – in Lithuanian.

Apart from that, the teachers of each subject must translate terms and concepts to Lithuanian. For instance, the teachers, teaching Math in Russian translate “diagonal”, “square root” and Chemistry teachers translate “acid” or “alkali”.

“Maybe thirteen years ago, when we were making changes, when we gave extra Lithuanian lessons, a discussion arose in one class, that maybe we need Russian, and not more Lithuanian. Then those students were second graders. But later, in fifth grade, everything turned around, the parents needed Lithuanian. 

When teaching children Lithuanian, we are not preparing them for an exam, we are preparing them for a life in Lithuania. 

“It is different in Kaunas, the social surrounding has to be more favorable. Children obviously speak Russian with their classmates. But guests have asked us a few times, what is our teaching language, because they heard Lithuanian being spoken in the school halls.”, – E. Griskevicius said.

E. Griskevicius said that the parents agreed that Russian speaking preschoolers would learn Lithuanian too. Lithuanian language teacher comes to teach those students.

“Our students, whose mother tongue is Lithuanian, teach those, whose mother tongue is Russian and vice versa” , – the principal said.

Source: https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/lietuvoje/2/1251870/tautiniu-mazumu-mokiniu-sunkumai-atvere-dar-viena-dvieju-lietuvu-skirtuma-vilniuje-vienaip-kaune-kitaip

Tłumaczenie by Brigita Gerikaitė w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Brigita Gerikaitė within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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