- February 26, 2022
Polish Language “Matura” Exam—Endless Subject
In the last issue of Nasza Gazeta, we once again raised the subject of the Polish Language Matura exam. Referring to the announcement of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports articulated during a remote meeting of teachers of national minority languages; we asked the question, what about the Polish language final exam because the Ministry’s message indicated that an obligatory native language exam is not planned.
Minister Spells out the Rationale of Lithuania’s Ministry of Education
We found the answer in the letter signed by the Minister of Education, Science and Sport Jurgita Šiugždinienė, which was sent by the Ministry to the Statement of Association of Poles in Lithuania’s General Board dated 20 January. According to the LR law, it states that the Ministry is fulfilling its obligations without violating the deadlines. According to Lithuanian law, the letter points out that the decision to introduce the secondary school leaving exam and approve its program is to be made no later than two years before the beginning of the school year in which the changes are to take place. The Ministry of Education, Science, and Sports, taking into account the deadlines for implementing the reform of the content of teaching, undertook to adopt the necessary documents for the state examination in Polish as a native language until August 31, 2023. Hence, observing the rules of introducing the exams, starting the implementation of the renewed programs of secondary education, and keeping the period of 2 years specified in legal acts, the first exams according to the renewed programs, and a new model of examination system will be introduced in June 2025.
The Minister also notes that during the bilateral meeting mentioned in the Statement of the General Board of Association of Poles in Lithuania, the Lithuanian side proposed a possible alternative that would allow to accelerate by one year the introduction of the state secondary school exam and thus of the renewed curricula of native languages of national minorities. For this purpose, as noted in the letter, the Ministry asked schools of national minorities for their opinion on whether the schools will manage to prepare to introduce the renewed native language curricula (Polish, Russian, Belarusian) already from September 2022.
The information presented by the schools shows that the schools of the Russian national minority definitely do not support the proposal of introducing the renewed programs from 2022, motivating it, among others, by the fact that teachers will not have enough time to properly prepare themselves. On the other hand, the schools of the Polish national minority expressed their wish to give up a year of preparation to apply for the new programs and to implement them from September 2022 so that the state exams in the native languages of national minorities could be organized in June 2024. The Minister also announced that in an effort to clarify whether introducing the state examination for one national minority one year earlier than for others would violate the principle of equal opportunities, the ministry had asked the Equal Opportunities Controller Service to clarify this issue. As the Minister points out, after receiving the response from this institution, final decisions will be made on the timing of the introduction of the state examination in the native language of national minorities.
In her letter, the Minister pointed out that the Lithuanian side has not obliged and does not consider (!) the introduction of a compulsory exam in national minorities’ languages because it would clearly violate the principle of equal opportunities – it would put more requirements for a certain group of students in acquiring the secondary school certificate. She pointed out that the currently binding legal acts stipulate that only the secondary school leaving exam in Lithuanian language and literature (school or state exam) is obligatory for all students who aim at acquiring a secondary education (changes in the system of secondary school leaving exams that are to be made assume that mathematics will be the second obligatory exam, editorial note by N.G.). The Minister also noted that the civil servants working in the Ministry carry out their duties responsibly, taking into account the requirements of the national law, and their actions do not create the possibility of non-performance of their obligations.
Association of Poles in Lithuania (APL) Concerned About State of Affairs
Having received a reply to the Statement sent to the Ministry of Education on 11 February this year, the Association of Poles in Lithuania sent a letter to the Vice Ministers of Education and Science and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Tomasz Rzymkowski and Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk. Here is the text of the letter signed by the vice president of APL, Edward Trusewicz:
“As I have the pleasure, on behalf of the Board of the Association of Poles in Lithuania, to coordinate the issue of the implementation of the compulsory state examination for the high school diploma in the Polish language, I kindly inform you that we have received a letter from the Lithuanian Ministry of Education on this issue. This is a response to the statement of the General Board of APL, in which, among other things, we called for the introduction of the Polish language exam and the implementation of a system of passing the Polish language exam for entering higher education from the school year 2022/2023.
As you know, the arrangements were made on 26 November 2021 during the bilateral meeting of the Minister of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania, Mrs. Jurgita Šiugždinienė, with the Vice Ministers of Education and Science and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland Mr. Tomasz Rzymkowski and Mr. Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk stipulate, among others, that the date of implementation of the exam will be agreed with the Polish community in Lithuania. Recently, disregarding the above-mentioned arrangements, the Lithuanian Ministry of Education has been attempting to introduce the school-leaving exam in the Polish language even in 2025. The Lithuanian Ministry of Education position, included in the letter sent to the Association of Poles in Lithuania, confirms our fears: the Ministry intends to introduce the school-leaving exam in the Polish language only in 2025.
In response to the Ministry’s inquiry, the Ministry informs that Polish educational institutions opted for introducing relevant changes to the curricula immediately, i.e., in 2022. It seems rather outrageous that the Lithuanian Ministry of Education ignores the will of students and Polish schools in the Vilnius region; moreover, the topic of restoring the exam from the mother tongue to the list of compulsory state exams does not even want to undergo consultation with organizations working in the field of Polish education, in particular – with the Association of Teachers of Polish Schools in Lithuania “Macierz Szkolna”. The above actions may serve as an illustration of the intentions of Lithuanian decision-makers in the field of education.
The issue of restoring the native language examination, which was downgraded in 1998 to the status of an optional school test, to the list of state exams is only one of the issues articulated by the Polish national minority. Other educational issues for which the Polish community has been striving for years are known to the Lithuanian Ministry of Education.
The Association of Poles in Lithuania still supports and insists on the traditional model of the Polish school, where all subjects, including innovative forms, are taught in the native language, and teaching of the Lithuanian language, as the state language, is conducted in an enhanced mode. Unified school-leaving exam in the Lithuanian language has significantly worsened the quality of exams, which makes it difficult for graduates of Polish schools to enter state-funded universities. In spite of numerous attempts to start a discussion, numerous conferences conducted research, and finally protests, the Lithuanian establishment does not want to acknowledge our justified arguments in this matter.
In the so-called catalog of problems concerning Polish language education in the Vilnius District, there is also the issue of unified programs of teaching the Lithuanian language in Polish and Lithuanian schools. APL has repeatedly postulated the importance of studying the state language; however, it cannot be accepted that the Lithuanian language is to be taught as a native language in Polish schools as it requires separate programs, methodology, and textbooks (forcing students of national minorities’ schools to learn Lithuanian language as a native language requires them to devote a disproportionally large amount of time to learn it, thus limiting the possibility to study other subjects). More than once, it was demanded that decision-makers take measures in translation from Lithuanian language and publish textbooks for Polish schools in the Vilnius district. The Association of Poles in Lithuania alarmed about the situation that had emerged in the area of teacher education after the liquidation of the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences and proposed appropriate solutions.
Moreover, the Association of Poles in Lithuania called for the abandonment of the practice of applying two educational standards in our country (individual Lithuanian schools in the Vilnius and Šalčininkai districts are not administered by local governments but under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, and since the latter allocates generous funds to them, it amounts to discrimination and is not in line with the self-governance respected in the European Union). Another problematic element is the new optimization of the school network, which may lead to a decrease – even by half – in the number of Polish educational institutions due to restrictive requirements concerning the number of students necessary to complete classes.
The return of the Polish language exam to the list of the state exams is only one of the topics of concern for the Poles in Lithuania, yet the Lithuanian Ministry of Education avoids a successful resolution of even this issue by all means. As a result, it not only demonstrates the way of treating national minorities but also fails to meet bilateral obligations, in particular those contained in the Joint Declaration on the Education of the Polish National Minority in the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian National Minority in the Republic of Poland, signed in Warsaw, and the schedule for implementation of the aforementioned document, which indicates the year 2022 as a deadline for the restoration of the state and school final exams in the Polish native language, with the recognition of its assessment when applying for higher education in Lithuania.
In view of the above, we kindly ask you to take actions aimed at encouraging the Lithuanian party to comply with its obligations and to articulate to its Lithuanian partners the other above-mentioned issues, which are the concerns of the Polish national minority as regards Polish education in the country of its residence.
We will also take appropriate steps to urge the Lithuanian Ministry of Education to fulfill its bilateral obligations and to speed up the successful resolution of the above-mentioned problems in the field of education, which are of concern to the Polish community in Lithuania.
We take this opportunity, on behalf of the Board of the Association of Poles in Lithuania, to thank the Ministers once again for all their support for Polish education in the Vilnius District and for fruitful discussions last November at the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sports of the Republic of Lithuania and during the meeting with the leadership of the Association of Poles in Lithuania”.
Position of the Polish Side on the Issue of Polish Education in Lithuania
A reply to the above letter was received on February 17 from the Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Education and Science, Poland. We enclose it in full:
Dear Mr. President,
With reference to your letter of 11 February to Mr. Tomasz Rzymkowski, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Education and Science, and to Mr. Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, requesting to take actions aimed at encouraging the Lithuanian side to fulfill their obligations in the field of education of the Polish national minority and to articulate to their Lithuanian partners other educational issues for which Polish minority is striving, I kindly ask for the adoption of the following explanations.
Referring to the content of the letter received by you from the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports of Lithuania on the implementation of the school-leaving exam in the Polish language (its content we know only from the message from the President), we welcome the information from the Lithuanian side on the result of the inquiry among schools on this issue. Polish educational institutions were supposed to support the introduction of relevant changes in curricula immediately, i.e., in 2022, which would mean that the aforementioned exam should enter into force in 2024 at the latest. This unequivocal position strengthens our position in talks with the Lithuanian side. At the same time, the declared intention of the Ministry of Lithuania to implement the school-leaving exam from the native language only in 2025 should be considered a deviation from the arrangements of the Polish-Lithuanian talks of 26 November 2021.
In order to regulate the status of the school-leaving exam and the date of its introduction, both sides agreed in November 2021 that an agreement on this matter would be signed by both Ministers of Education. The Polish side – in cooperation with Polish circles in Lithuania – developed a draft annex to the Joint Declaration on Education of 2019, which includes all the elements expected by Poles in Lithuania, i.e., compulsory state school-leaving exam in Polish language, taken at the expanded or basic level from 2024, and taking into account the grade from this exam when recruiting to higher education institutions. This year, the draft was handed over to the Lithuanian side in February.
We fully share the conditions of the functioning of Polish education in Lithuania and its main challenges, as presented by the President. Apart from the issue of Polish school-leaving exams, the Lithuanian side should also take up and implement other postulates of Polish communities in Lithuania mentioned by the President:
to maintain the traditional model of the Polish school, where all subjects are taught in the mother tongue, while the teaching of the Lithuanian language, as the state language, is conducted in an enhanced mode;
resignation from the unification of teaching programs of Lithuanian language and maturity exam of the Lithuanian language in Polish and Lithuanian schools;
ensuring translation from Lithuanian language and publishing textbooks for Polish schools;
systemic provision of teachers’ education for Polish schools;
resignation from optimization of school network in case of national minorities’ schools,
abandoning the practice of two standards of financing education (individual schools with the Lithuanian language of instruction financed by the Ministry of Education and schools with the Polish language of instruction financed by local governments, which results in larger subsidies for the former).
I would like to emphasize that the Ministry of Education and Science will continue to work for the benefit of Polish education in Lithuania, cooperating closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, as well as consulting Polish communities in Lithuania on an ongoing basis.
Monika Poboży, Director
Epilogue Without a Happy Ending
We would like to remind that after a bilateral meeting of the Minister of Education, Science and Sport of Lithuania Jurgita Šiugždinienė and the Deputy Ministers of Education and Foreign Affairs of Poland Tomasz Rzymkowski and Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk on 26 November last year at the Ministry of Education of Lithuania, the following information was made public (at a press conference called by both Deputy Ministers):
“Polish language in schools in Lithuania with the Polish language of instruction will return to the list of compulsory subjects at the secondary school graduation”. “Polish language will be compulsory at the secondary school graduation”. “The basic and good news, which we heard today, is that the Minister of Education of the Republic of Lithuania has signed a decree according to which Polish will be the language from which the school-leaving exams will be compulsory. The decision has been made. The Secondary Polish exam will be compulsory. This is a definite matter. It is very important because until now, there was no written declaration confirmed by a concrete decision. (November 26th last year, editor’s note: N.G.).
As we can see, the opinions of the Polish and Lithuanian sides differ in regard to the state and obligatory exam. However, we must emphasize that the Polish community in Lithuania is concerned with the obligatory two-level (state and school) native language exam. For more than two decades, we have been applying for its reinstatement on the list of obligatory exams, and we have been expressing this in all letters, opinions, and statements addressed to the Ministry of Education and decision-makers in this matter. For more than 20 years, practically one hundred percent of students of Polish schools took the exam in their native Polish language on the basis of annual decisions of School Councils (when it actually became obligatory in a given school). It is with the obligatory school-leaving exam of the Lithuanian language that the education in Lithuanian schools in Poland is finalized. It seems to be an obvious fact that it is a logical result of parents’ decision to send their children to a school with their native language in order for them to master this language to a proper degree. Following the deliberations of the Ministry of Education of Lithuania, children of national minorities choosing a school with their native language from the very beginning of education are condemned to “discrimination” because they learn one more language. But this is so-called “positive discrimination” because most Polish school graduates consider the knowledge of an “additional” language – their mother tongue – as a great advantage. For many, it helps during studies, finding a job, and making a career. The “optional” native language, as one of the state exams, may bring additional points for the graduates of Polish schools during the recruitment process, but it in no way solves the problem of raising the level of teaching this language. Passing a “compulsory” exam in the mother tongue by the decision of School Councils would have to be continued.
Coming back to the statement in the letter of the Minister of Education that the Ministry asked the Equal Opportunities Controller’s Service about the question of whether it is not a violation of equal opportunities for students of Polish schools to take the state exam in their native language earlier, a thought arises whether the representatives of the Polish community should not ask the above-mentioned institution with another question. I wonder whether the introduction of teaching the Lithuanian language as a “native language” in the schools of national minorities does not interfere with the principle of equal opportunities: students of Lithuanian schools have one native language, while those of national minorities – have two. The saying goes that ahead does not hurt too much… But how does it relate to “equal opportunities”? Maybe this is the way to solve the problem of teaching Lithuanian as a state language but not as a native language.
Translated by Karolina Glaubitt within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.