• February 12, 2022
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We still need to make people aware that Lithuania is multicultural

Within the “Kurk Lietuvai” project an analysis, “Education of the Polish minority in Lithuania. The problematics”, has been conducted. The Polish-Lithuanian co-author of the study, Renata Jankūnaitė, thinks that one of the fundamental problems of our country is the fragmentation of the state policy on the problems of national minorities.

The authors of the analysis, Renata Jankūnaitė and Agnė Župerkaitė, who conducted 44 interviews with 50 people, including 9 teachers and school principals, 10 employees of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports and 13 social activists and various experts. Among them there were 18 members of the Polish minority, who represented different organizations and institutions.

The analysis has been created within the “Kurk Lietuvai” project. The starting point was the results of the Lithuanian language exam. However, when we started to talk with the specialists, for example, the teachers, a much larger problem appeared, connected with more than just the Lithuanian language. We decided that further analysis was worth pursuing. – says Renata Jankūnaitė to “Kurier Wileński”

Jankūnaitė graduated with a master’s degree in economics from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Then she worked for 9 years in the financial sector in Poland and Scotland. Now she is in the Erasmus Mundus program studying Education policies for global development, which will give her the grounds to pursue this subject professionally.

Župerkaitė finished her philological studies in Lithuania and Netherlands. She completed her internship at the Lithuanian embassy in Italy. For 8 years she lectured in foreign languages.

To structure knowledge

The “Education of the Polish minority in Lithuania. The problematics” analysis focuses on three aspects: general challenges; challenges regarding the knowledge of the state language; challenges regarding the native language. – Before I did not realize how many varied factors influence Polish education in Lithuania. There is no one simple question and one simple answer. That is why we tried to structure the knowledge – points out Jankūnaitė.

She underlines that part of the problems does not concern only the polish schools in Lithuania, but the education system in general, or even the situation in the country. – For example, when it comes to the gap between the countryside and the urban regions: this is not the problem of the Polish minority, but Lithuania as a whole. The disparity between big cities and rural areas increases. Unfortunately, the opportunities of education, culture or even taking up jobs, are getting increasingly scarce. These are the challenges that influence the majority of schools and the quality of the teaching itself. – adds Jankūnaitė.

The authors of the document underlined that Wileńszczyzna, in Lithuanian terminology called south-western Lithuania, is “a region fragile politically, and important in international relations.” That is why the focus of the country—when it comes to creating new jobs or hiring young people—is something particularly important. The region is especially exposed to disinformation campaigns. That is why special social programs and training in critical thinking and intercultural dialog are necessary.

How do we perceive minorities?

In the document, there is an observation that the Lithuanian society very often does not even know that there are Polish-speaking schools in Lithuania. The minority members often fall victim to stereotypes and negative narratives, which significantly weakens the integration process. The authors emphasize, that at the state level “in every school in Lithuania and public spaces, there must be emphasized that Lithuania is a multicultural county.”

How do we see national minorities? It goes beyond the Polish minority. It is about building a narrative, it is about how we talk about our minorities: do we perceive them as co-citizens and help them, or do we see them as someone from the outside? – underlines Jankūnaitė.

She gives an example that she learned about while conducting the analysis: very often the graduates of Polish schools studying at Lithuanian universities do not reveal that they attended a school with Polish as a language of instruction. – In this case, we can only guess the reasons. Nevertheless, it is sad. – she added.

The authors seek the possibility of overcoming these problems in nonformal education, for example, in organizing joint camps for children from Lithuanian, Polish and Russian schools. “The local governments have to be encouraged to create more socializing and cultural spheres, clubs outside of the school boundaries, open to all the children in the area.” – we read in the document.

As an example, to follow the authors present a situation in Niemenczyn, where the students from the Polish and Lithuanian schools are in constant contact. The situation looks worse in the Soleczniki region, where “around 75% of informal education initiatives is focused on sport. It lacks variety and the language aspect, so the children would actively use the learned languages.”

Ad hoc decisions

The quality of native language used by the minorities leaves much to be desired. According to the authors, there are a lot of causes for that. For example, in Lithuania, no university educates specialists in preschool and primary grade education for polish schools and preschools. There is a problem with textbooks. There is a lack of training in minority languages.

We touched on the matter of quality of the Polish language used by the Polish minority in Lithuania. I am glad that there are initiatives that speak about improving the quality of its teaching. Nevertheless, the problem is significant. I am happy that there will be a state exam in Polish, but I hope that it will not be the end o the public discussion about the Polish language. – remarks Jankūnaitė

She thinks that the problem lies in the lack of a long-term state strategy for the education of national minorities. State attitude towards the minorities is fragmentary. – We see that the decisions about the national minorities and education are taken ad hoc. Each government had a different view and approach. – reveals Jankūnaitė.

Currently, the authors of the study are in a series of meetings with the representatives of public and social institutions and present the conclusions of the analysis. Renata Jankūnaitė states that now when the Sejm approved the bill on the spelling of names and surnames the time is right to start proper changes in the Education sector.

According to the latest census, Lithuania will remain a homogeneous country. 84,6% of the citizens declared themselves as Lithuanians. Poles are still the biggest national minority in the country. 5,7% of the citizens declared as Polish. The “Kurk Lietuvai” program aims at energetic and creative people who want to share their experiences from around the world to improve the public sector in Lithuania.

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

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