• February 22, 2022
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Krystyna Dzierżyńska: We Are Hostages of Equal Opportunities

Ilona Lewandowska talks with Krystyna Dzierżyńska, a vice-president of the Association of Polish Schools in Lithuania “Macierz Szkolna,” about the high school diploma in Polish and the chances for the realization of the postulates of the Polish national minority.

Ilona Lewandowska: In November 2021, the media reported that the Minister of Education, Science and Sport, Jurgita Šiugždinienė, signed a decision to restore the compulsory matura exam from the Polish language for Polish students in Lithuania (translator’s note: matura exam is an exam, which is scored for college admission. It is taken in Poland at the end of high school.) It was the next stage of an over 20-year-long road to restoring the importance of the Polish language at the exam. Do you already know when and under what conditions students of Polish schools will take a state exam in their native language?

Krystyna Dzierżyńska: We are still in uncertainty because there is no legal act indicating that the matura exam in Polish will be compulsory in schools with Polish as the language of instruction. The guidelines signed by the minister of education only indicated that it would be a state examination. Whether it will be a compulsory exam has not yet been confirmed. Only two subjects are marked as mandatory examinations at all meetings, Lithuanian and Mathematics. The high school graduates will be able to pass these two subjects at two levels. However, mother tongues in minority schools are still not guaranteed this status.

Why are the arrangements and declarations made during Polish-Lithuanian meetings not implemented in practice?

I think that only the Ministry of Education can answer this question. We constantly signal our needs and remind them of their obligations. We do not lose hope that our demands will eventually be realized. Moreover, we write various types of letters and statements on this matter. After the last meeting between the representatives of the education ministries of Poland and Lithuania, with the participation of the deputy foreign ministers of both countries, which took place in November of last year in Vilnius, we sent a letter of appeal to the Ministry of Education of Lithuania to start the previously announced consultations on the matura examination as soon as possible. Accelerating consultations on this subject is extremely important, as two years must elapse from the submission of information about changes in the exam to the implementation of the new rules. This letter was signed, among others, by Józef Kwiatkowski, president of “Macierz Szkolna,” Waldemar Tomaszewski, president of the Association of Poles in Lithuania, Czesław Okińczyc, signatory of the Act of Independence, and representatives of 16 Polish social organizations. Therefore, it was supported by a huge group of people. Unfortunately, we did not receive any response. On January 13, a letter was sent to the schools of national minorities, informing them that examinations in the new mode are planned for 2025. Still, due to the raising of this issue by the Polish minority, the educational institutions were asked whether the communities of these schools would be prepared to introduce the changes as early as 2024. Of course, Polish schools responded to this letter very quickly, indicating that they are prepared to introduce a state exam in Polish. According to the information we have received, the ministry will proceed with a broader consultation once all responses have been gathered. So far, we have not heard that they are starting.

You are talking about the question addressed to all schools of national minorities. Does it mean that the problem of matura exam from the Polish language depends not only on Polish-Lithuanian arrangements but also on opinions of Russian or Belarusian schools?

We constantly hear from the ministry that there can be no exceptions, that all national minority schools must have the same rules. It is difficult to understand because various national minorities in Lithuania may not necessarily have the same expectations. For Poles, the issue of their mother tongue is critical; it has been raised for over 20 years. Instead, we hear that all minorities must have equal opportunities. It is essential for us that these opportunities exist, but whether the Russian or Belarusian minorities use them is simply their business.

You are also a member of the national minority education committee. Is the committee’s work producing the desired effects?

This committee brings together representatives of various minorities, and there is no doubt that these kinds of meetings have a point. You just have to talk; there is nothing worse in such matters than lack of dialogue. However, one would like the voice of such a committee to be more audible than it is now. At all meetings, Poles raise the issues of the matura exam from the Polish language and the implementation of the schedule adopted in relation to the Polish-Lithuanian declaration on the education of national minorities. The ministry, however, has its own arguments. The next meeting is scheduled for February 25, and we will see what it brings.

You mentioned the schedule for the implementation of the declaration. At what date was the matura exam in Polish planned in this schedule?

According to the timetable for implementing the declaration, the matura exam in Polish, as a state exam that is scored for college admission, was to be introduced in 2022. As you can see, it will not be executed. We are currently hostages of equal opportunities, at least, this is how the Ministry of Education explains the lack of fulfillment of obligations. We still have a long way to go because we are talking about a compulsory, two-level exam, similar to Lithuanian and mathematics, which gives specific points on admission to university. At the moment, there are no regulations that would guarantee this at any specific date.

In 1998, the Polish matura exam was relegated in Lithuania to an optional school examination, which contributed to the deterioration of the level of teaching of the mother tongue in Polish schools in that country. For over 20 years, Poles in Lithuania have been demanding that the exam be restored as compulsory.

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

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