• November 18, 2021
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Will new school reform strike at Polish education?

Education department is preparing another reform concerning chain of schools in Lithuania. One of its primary goals is close-down of merged classes. Changes also apply to Polish schools in Lithuania. Józef Kwiatkowski sees positive aspect of proposed project, but worries it can lead to abuse damaging to aforementioned schools.

Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport prepared a gradual plan of closing-down merged classes and equalizing the level of education between schools from big cities and in provincial areas. “Today we present a project of changes that concerns shaping a chain of schools realizing formal curriculum. Behind all this bureaucratic wording hides fate of many children, their opportunity to study in good schools, as well as their future and perspectives. Our suggestions are supposed to improve their learning conditions and create identical ones, regardless of which schools does a child attend – in the capital, small town or in the countryside.” Minster of Education, Jurgita Šiugždinienė, emphasized at the start of press conference that took place on Wednesday, November 17.

Low level

In the middle of conference, education department presented the following data. In 50 self-government units exist merged classes. In such classes, more than 3 700 kids are being taught; 2 442 in classes 1-4, and 1 263 in classes 5-8. Most merged classes function in: biržai district – 16% of the total number, kupiškis district – 12%, alytus district – 10%, kalvarija municipality – 8%. In vilnius and šalčininkai districts merged classes represent 3% of all. Besides, according to the department, scores of schools in Vilnius and other big cities differ greatly from the performance of village and provincial schools. Those in smaller towns are not able to provide a proper level of education due to basic lack of faculty. That’s why starting from year 2022 government refuses to finance classes of less than 8 people.

Answering Kurier Wileński’s question of whether the reform will not shut down schools of national minorities in smaller towns, and were the communities appropriately consulted, Deputy Minister of Education Ramūnas Skaudžius said:

I have met in person with self-government representatives of Vilnius and Šalčininkai districts several times. I have also met with ambassador of Poland, Polish Debate Club [Lenkų Diskusijų Klubas] and other institutions, which is why specific exceptions have been made for schools of national minorities. If from the year 2022 none of these schools will be able to shape small classes, then there will be a possibility to form such classes in schools of national minorities between 2022 and 2023, and in the years 2023-2024 there will be an opportunity to create classes of 5 to 7 people. Classes of less than 5 will not be funded” explains deputy minister, stressing that “as for today, unfortunately, scores of national minorities schools, both Polish and Russian, are worse.”

“We understand the challenge laying ahead, hence we left out those exceptions, for we want these scores to improve” added minister Jurgita Šiugždinienė.

Proposed changes

According to the plan, in the years 2022-2023 in 1-4 classes it will be possible to join 2 classes on the basis of: 1st with 2nd class and 3rd with 4th. In classes 5-8 and two first years of lower secondary school classes must not be merged. Middle school classes cannot consists of fewer than 8 pupils. Exception applies to schools of national minorities and state schools in vilnius and šalčininkai, where classes of less than 5 students will receive only 50% of state funding. The ultimate goal between 2026 and 2027 is for 3rd class of lower secondary school on one year to have no fewer than 31 pupils. Smaller classes can be created only in national minorities schools and state schools, as well as the case where in one location operate 2 or 3 schools with different language of teaching or it is the only lower secondary school in autonomy. The ministry announced that schools will not be combined, if children have to cover a distance bigger than 30 km to get to the nearest school. Over the next few weeks project will be put to the government. Plan’s approval does not require approval of the sejm.

On introducing appropriate amendments department of education intends to spend approx. 49 mln euro, from which 26 mln euro is supposed to go on purchase of buses. 8 mln euro is planned to go on compensation for teachers leaving schools and on employing new ones.

Position of ‘Macierz Szkolna’ on the matter

Chairman of ‘Macierz Szkolna’ is surprised by excessive haste towards implementation of the reform. According to Józef Kwiatkowski, education department would have to give more time for getting acquainted with the project, in order to make any necessary comments or corrections. For now, in his view, there is a lot of questions and unknowns in reform’s proposed project.

Combined classes for sure do not favor the improvement of educational standards. Classes do not have to be combined, if possible. I do not relish the prospect of driving three kids for 30 km. In my opinion, it would be better for these tiny schools with no specific number of children – there are talks about 60 students, however limit for national minorities and ministerial schools have not been established yet – to become the branch of lower secondary school. It would be less damaging for children, parents and moods in this town or estate, if you ask me” informs Kwiatkowski to Kurier Wileński, hoping that concrete decisions concerning concrete schools will be made at self-government level, not in the ministry.

Furthermore, in his view, driving kids for one to several dozen of kilometers for school, especially when they just started education, is not always beneficial to them.
“The child wastes time just to get there. Besides it can just easily get lost in a big space like this” underlines chairman of ‘Macierz Szkolna’, adding that when in the reform it says about ‘a person’, it usually is about costs reduction, although it is not said out loud, as the representative of Polish organization in Lithuania claims.

Self-Governmental versus Governmental

Chairman of ‘Macierz Szkolna’ makes out another threat. Namely – according to current legislation, if a school with Lithuanian as the language of instruction and a school of national minorities both exist next to each other in the same town, then in a case of insufficient number of pupils, the latter is to be closed down in the first place.

As far as I can tell, for now such a solution has not been applied. But questions are being raised. It is important that this situation does not happen” highlights Kwiatkowski.

‘Macierz Szkolna’ is not an enemy of reform alone, but fears it may result in abuse.
There is a certain concern. The weaker always suffers in that case. Set goals are great and good, but these goals must be adapted to right conditions. Because in certain conditions the goals may result in negative result, rather than positive” Józef Kwiatkowski points out.

In this moment, approx. 70 Polish schools operates in Lithuania, of which 36 are middle schools.

In the last 20 years number of students decreased by almost a half. In the year 2000 over 600,000 pupils attended schools and 2 300 educational institutions operated throughout the country, while in 2020 the numbers were accumulated to 324,000 pupils and 997 institutions. In this year the number of students increased by three thousand, but it mainly concerns Vilnius alone.

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

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