Appeal of the Forum of Parents from the Polish schools in Lithuania

Posted on November 10, 2011

directed at the international Polish-Lithuanian committee of experts on education.

The Forum of Parents from the Polish Schools in Lithuania (hereinafter called the Forum of Parents) states the fact that some of the parts of the new law on education implemented by the Lithuanian Parliament on March 17, 2011 are discriminating because:

–          They greatly worsen the situation of the Lithuanian schools with Polish as the learning language,

–          They limit the rights of the students and the teachers of those schools,

–          They deprive the students and the teachers of the right of choice that they used to have until now,

–          They break the contracts concluded with the parents at the moment of sending their children to such a school.

Some of the elements of the law do not comply with the international law as they worsen the situation of the Polish minority group in Lithuania and violate a number of laws of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities ratified by Lithuania in 2000, and the Polish-Lithuanian Treaty on Friendly Relations and Good Neighborly Cooperation singed in 1994.

The Forum of Parents appeals to the Polish-Lithuanian committee of experts on education for creating recommendations that would allow the Lithuanian Ministry of Education to prepare and submit to the Parliament amendments to the current education law. In order to keep the previous freedoms and rights and for the welfare of our children we ask for:

  1. Withdrawal of the unified Matura exam in the Lithuanian language for the students of the Lithuanian schools and those of minority groups. Preparation of the new exam in the state language which will account for differences school curriculums (including the Lithuanian language) in both Lithuanian and non-Lithuanian schools.
  2. Preparation of new and better curriculums and a pool of textbooks for teaching the state (Lithuanian) language in national minority schools in Lithuania. Preparation of a Lithuanian language teaching strategy in those schools that has been previously consulted with and accepted by the Polish society.
  3. Immediate withdrawal of the mandatory bilingual education in national minority schools (history and geography encompassing Lithuania and knowledge about the society in Lithuanian.) Leaving the decision of the usage of the state language apart from teaching parents and teachers the Lithuanian language.
  4. Withdrawal of the law on primacy of the high school with the state language as the learning language above the school that teaches in the language of the national minority. Introduction of the equality in functioning of both types of school in the same area.
  5. Recognition of Matura exam in the native language as a second mandatory exam in Polish schools and its implementation into the central system of recruitment to institutions of higher education by an appropriate scoring system; at least at the level of the state exam in a foreign language.
  6. Preparation of a detailed, long-term strategy for the development of education system of the national minorities in Lithuania and its acceptation after previous consultation with the parties that have an interest in it (teachers, parents, social organizations.) The development strategy should reflect both the ideas of the Lithuanian educational strategy and the European and global educational tendencies, as well as to take into account historically shaped specifications of such education.

An open letter from the Forum of Parents from Polish Schools in Lithuania

on the appeal to the international Polish-Lithuanian committee of experts on education. 

We have welcomed with joy and great hope the appointment of the international committee of experts on education of the Polish minority in Lithuania and the Lithuanian minority in Poland. We have many a time appealed to the Polish and Lithuanian authorities for establishing a dialogue and cooperation in scope of the development of the education system of the national minority groups in our countries. Unfortunately, our appeals were usually ignored.

This is why the Polish society in Lithuania, forced by the worsening situation, collected 60 thousand signatures from the citizens of Lithuania to protect the Polish education. However, even this important voice of a significant part of the Lithuanian society has been completely ignored – and even laughed at – by the Lithuanian authorities. It is worth recalling that the project in the parts about functioning of the education of the minority groups presented to the Parliament has differed from the form of the eventually accepted by the MPs, which states that it were not the teachers or any other educational specialist that decided about the fate of the Polish and Russian schools, but the politicians themselves.

In the above-mentioned and yet another appeal only the most touching postulates that require immediate intervention were listed. It can stop the increasing fear, protests and social outrage that fill the Polish schools, strengthens the Polish-Lithuanian conflict, and most importantly disturbs the normal didactic process, negatively reflecting the achievements in education of our children. It does not favor the shaping of the citizen-patriotic attitudes of the young citizens of Lithuania or better respect of the state language. Here are the postulates:

Unification of the Matura exam in the Lithuanian language, already in 2013. This is a drastic discrimination of the students from schools of the national minorities, who for 10 years have been studying and – in our opinion, also confirmed by the research – should continue to do so, using different curriculums to those of their Lithuanian school peers. The process of the unification (even if it came down to this) requires a thorough strategy, preparation of the students, teachers and learning programs and a pool of textbooks. The parents of the students who attend minority group schools must know the final model and the course of their children’s education before they send their children to the first grade. Today we are not convinced with the rightness of the unified Matura exam. The exam in the Lithuanian language for some is the exam in the native language, and for others it will never be such – unless someone’s goal is to assimilate national minorities and not to care for keeping their national identity. The current situation forces the students of non-Lithuanian schools to master two languages as native ones; such a situation is abnormal, as there can be only one mother tongue. It is more so because in the last 20 years the educational process in national minority schools in Lithuania bas proved to be really good. It has been completely accepted by the Polish society and praised in international documents on many occasions (e.g. Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Second Opinion on Lithuania, Adopted on 28 February 2008, Published in Strasbourg, 4 July 2011, articles 120, 136.)

Improved teaching of the Lithuanian language. It is essential that teaching of the state language in national minority schools should be better, more modern and effective – this is the only point that nobody doubts; agreed on by students, politicians, parents, officials, Poles and Lithuanians. As a part of the unified Matura exam, curriculums and textbooks were also automatically unified, although the methodologies of teaching a foreign and a native language are different. However, at the cost of learning the Lithuanian language and quick preparation for the unified Matura exam, an increased number of lessons were introduced for the students of national minority schools without a thorough analysis. Currently it is 34 lessons a week in years 9 and 10 (in comparison it is 32 lessons for the Lithuanian counterparts.) The total number of lessons in a Polish school will be 198 (181 in Lithuanian ones), and lessons that a student can choose himself or herself will be 22 (26 in Lithuanian schools.) This means that students learn the Lithuanian language is at the expense of other lessons and knowledge in other fields of study. The number of lessons in the mother tongue decreased from 980 to 965, in mathematics from 806 to 793, in a foreign language from 630 to 621, etc. This does not only discriminate the students of national minority school but also deprives them of the right to an equal start in the Matura exam, a deciding factor in applying to universities and in paying tuition fees.

Bilingual teaching. Up till now, the national minority schools in Lithuania had the right to choose the teaching framework, between teaching only in the native language and partially in the state language, and we want to keep this right to choose. However, we are deprived of the most popular framework that is teaching in the mother tongue in classes 1-12, with a strong accent on studying particular Lithuanian terminology. It is this framework that is praised by the European Council in their report (v. Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Second Opinion on Lithuania, Adopted on 28 February 2008, Strasbourg, 4 July 2011, articles 120, 136).

Mandatory Matura exam in the native language. Such an exam took place until 1999 and was removed from the mandatory examination list by the authorities, despite a strong opposition from the Polish community, signed by over by 15 thousand Poles. Moving this exam to the rank of a non-obligatory one and to the basic level of Matura exam have most definitely reduced the prestige and the knowledge of the mother tongue among students of Polish schools. Nevertheless, for over 13 years almost every Polish student has passed this exam under the rule of the school councils. But the results are not taken into account when applying to universities – could there possibly be a clearer appeal to the authorities to regulate this question according to the will of Polish society? And for the supporters of “parities” – just ad the Lithuanian schools in Poland did.

The strategy of the Polish education system in Lithuania. The obligations to create appropriate strategies for education system in national minority schools have been undertaken by both Polish and Lithuanian authorities a few years ago. Poland has recently commemorated the tenth anniversary of undertaking such a strategy, created together with the Lithuanian community. Such attempts were also undertaken in Lithuania, but the voice of the Polish community was not accounted for and so far no strategy has been created. We think that this fundamental to the future of the Polish schools document must be created, e.g. as a part of the new National Education Strategy, due to be prepared until 2013. The included principles have to create the foundation and the normative basis for the functioning of the national minority schools in Lithuania. This should also be reflected in the act on education, as it is the only way to let the Polish schools not fear the future and to focus on their main function – teaching. In our opinion the current system of multiple frameworks of teaching in the national minority schools should still guarantee the parents and their children the right to choose the language in which the children will be taught, as well as the range of subjects to be taught in the native and state language.

We hope that the international Polish-Lithuanian committee of experts on education will not limit their actions only to the search for optimal implementation of the new act on education in the current form, but also to work out better solutions to the cases yet to be brought up, for example minimal number of students in a class and translation of books and their publication (in the case of books regular and long-term partial funding from Poland would be especially appreciated.) We believe that they would improve the development of the Polish education in Lithuania and at the same time won’t worsen their current state, bring order and peace in Polish schools and speed up the normalization of the Polish-Lithuanian relations, which is of great importance to both countries. We also believe that the measures will be undertaken in accordance with the European standards and in the spirit of mutual respect and historical friendship.

We would also like to thank you for allowing us to participate in the work of the representatives of the Forum of Parents from Polish Schools in Lithuania.

Coordinator of the Forum of Parents from Polish Schools in Lithuania,

Dr Mirosław Szejbak

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

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