|Kwiatkowski: Decision Regarding the Graduation Examination was Taken Arbitrarily|
Polish school is a really good school. It is attractive and offers a good level of education. This is also confirmed by the rankings of 'Veidas', said Jozef Kwiatkowski, President of the Polish Educational Society (Macierz Szkolna) in Lithuania, in an interview with PL DELFI. However, since the mid of 1990s Polish schools must fight for survival by still building the ramparts, Kwiatkowski said.
Amendments to the Law on Education, made by the Parliament last year, sparked a wave of indignation among Polish and Russian minorities. Can you provide some information what are the basic problems of this law and how would it be possible to solve them?
I think that the outcry of our national minorities was and is justifiable. The amended Law on Education of 17th March 2011 clearly worsens the situation of national minorities' education in the Polish and Russian languages, because it eliminates the broadly comprehended teaching in their native language:
- it introduces an instruction of particular subjects and topics in the Lithuanian language (knowledge of the world, history and geography of Lithuania, civics) already from the primary forms, although it is well known that the best way of gaining knowledge is learning in the native language. The more, the knowledge of Lithuanian language of the pupils of primary and 5-7 forms too is not of such level that it would be possible for them to learn the subject in the non-native language without a problem. It should be noted that most of these students live in places where the Lithuanian language is not dominant in everyday life. So, due to the changes made, the knowledge of particular subjects will suffer, because instead of studying the subject, a child will be learning the Lithuanian language. We believe unconditionally that the language has to be learnt during the lessons of the Lithuanian language, while the knowledge of subjects has to be gained in pupils' native language during the lessons of particular subjects.
- the Law also initiates the unification of the Lithuanian native language teaching curriculum in Lithuanian schools with the Lithuanian non-native language teaching curriculum in minorities’ schools, leading consequently to the unification of graduation examination. This puts students from Polish and Russian schools in the situation where Lithuanian would become their second mother tongue. This action is contrary to the opinions of scientists, both from abroad and from our country too, that mastery of a language at the same level by people for whom the language appears to be their native language and for those for whom it is not their native language is impossible. The in-depth research conducted in 2006 by the doc. Dr. Loreta Vilkiene of the University of Vilnius 'The results of the Lithuanian Language Trial Exam and Conclusions of an Expert” showed that: “... during the national graduation examination in the Lithuanian language, students for whom the Lithuanian language is not native are not prepared to compete equally with students from Lithuanian schools.”
The above mentioned conclusions are accompanied by the findings of the research on “The Availability of Education among the Residents of Vilnius Region” conducted in 2006 on behalf of the Ministry of Education and Science of Lithuania by prof. Dr. hab. Gediminas Merkys from Kaunas, who in the conclusions and summaries of the research states the following: “The use of unified standards of competition in language exams for people of Lithuanian origin who communicate in their homes in Lithuanian, who learn all subjects at schools in the Lithuanian language and for national minorities who do not communicate in their homes in Lithuanian, and who do not learn all subjects at schools in Lithuanian, would be quite tactless and discriminating (...). The unification of the requirements og the Lithuanian language exams for non-Lithuanian and Lithuanian schools would make sense and it would be tactful only if the standards of education and programs of the state language would be unified before. Not only the formal requirements of the program should be unified by making entries in the relevant documents, but also all the other conditions of the education process. First of all, the number of classes should be unified; without these unifications of the exam is tactless both in relation to the criterion, and above all to the standards of assessment. It is evident that such unification of standards and conditions of education will require a lot of hard work and a lot of time. Ideally for the national minorities, who are learning in their native language, the requirements of an unified graduation exam could be used when a new generation of school graduates grows up and completes the entire 12-year cycle of teaching according to unified standards and programs.” (Prof.habil.dr. Gediminas Merkys, Sigitas Balciunas, dr.Aistė Balzekienė, Audrone Lapienienė, Žemyna Pauliukaitė, dr.Audronė Telesienė “Mokymosi prieeinamumas Vilniaus rajono gyventojams” Kaunas 2006; 158 pages)
The conclusions above are also confirmed by the trial exam of the Lithuanian language carried out on 12th October 2007 by the National Examination Centre. The exam was common for graduates of Lithuanian, Polish and Russian schools (it was written by a total of 22 835 graduates) and was assessed as a national graduation examination. The results indicate that such an exam was passed by 67,9 percent of Lithuanian schools' graduates and 39.1 percent of non-Lithuanian schools' graduates.
Also in the researches of foreign experts it is pointed out that there is no confirmation that a person is able to master the non-native language on an equal footing with those people, who are the native language speakers. They are separated by their language competence, which is different for both groups, hence the lack of possibility of comparison with the linguistic competence of native language speakers.
- the Law also foresees that in towns where there are schools with the Lithuanian, Polish and Russian languages of instruction, in the case when there are no students for completing the eleventh grade, the municipality is obliged to keep only the eleventh grade with the Lithuanian language of instruction.
I presented the fundamental changes in the amended Act, which clearly worsen and refine existing education opportunities in the native language in Polish and Russian schools.
The only rational solution is the return to an existing, proven over the years, mode of education in the native language and to the preservation and respect of the rights of parents and students for freewill decision to choose the language of instruction in whole or in teaching particular subjects in schools. What is more, the practice does not indicate that the teaching of mathematics, history, chemistry and other subjects in the Lithuanian language leads to better results in state exams than teaching of these subjects in Polish or Russian. Summaries of long-term rankings of schools indicate that schools with Polish language of instruction in no way inferior schools with Lithuanian language of instruction.
The condition of completing eleventh grades in places where schools with Lithuanian, Polish and Russian language of instruction exist alongside should be rejected as discriminatory and unfair. Also, the backing of Lithuanian schools at the expense of minority schools shall be stopped.
Reportedly, recently the Minister of Education and Science signed the decree, which introduces 8-year transitional period of unification of the Lithuanian language exam for graduates of non-Lithuanian and Lithuanian schools. Was this document in any way consulted with the Polish Educational Society, representatives of national minorities and how do you assess it?
Well, I consider it as a misunderstanding, a lack of willingness to listen to the arguments of national minority schools regarding this issue and a top-down push for decisions that would make our children 'happy by force'.
Firstly, contrary to the opinion of scientists and the results of a trial test in 2007, which I have already mentioned, the Minister introduces the regulation to unify the Lithuanian language exam in 2013. This will oblige minorities' schools' graduates to cover the material of the Lithuanian language in just two years, while their friend from Lithuanian schools had twelve years for that, not to mention the difference in curriculum.
Secondly, by introducing the regulation of the 8 year transitional period, the minister introduces some inaccuracies, citing the agreement with representatives of national minorities. Board of Polish Educational Society Schools addressed a request to the Polish-Lithuanian team of experts in education and representatives of national minorities as well as to the Ministry of Education and Science of Lithuania concerning the graduation examination in the Lithuanian language pointing on the necessity that such examination was different in content and separately evaluated. The common understanding on this issue did not happen.
Many times schools, parents, students, wide communities of national minorities addressed their protests and proposals regarding the graduation examination of the Lithuanian language to the highest authorities of Lithuania (including directly to the Minister), but all these appeals were without response, and traditionally, once again, it was decided from top-down again.
In 1989, 2,09 percent of the general number of Lithuania‘s pupils went to Polish schools. Over the next ten years this number increased reaching 4 percent in 2000. However, the following years were not successful for the Polish schools as many Polish families ceased bringing their children there. As a result, only 3 per cent of the general number of pupils choose to attend Polish schools at present. Why do you think the situation is like this? Why do you think only less than half of children from Polish families attend Polish schools and what is more, why is this number constantly decreasing?
With the national rebirth, Polish community has become exceptionally active and children from Polish families, and especially from mixed families, those who used to study at Russian schools, started to attend Polish school. A lot of different factors affected their choice. A significant improvement of the equipment at schools, renovations of schools, opportunities to go to summer camps and educational trips to Poland, growing cooperation with partner schools as well as opportunities to study in Poland, and, in addition, the newly awakened spirit of national identity were the most important factors to choose Polish schools. All this contributed to the increase of number of pupils in Polish schools in Lithuania. However, in 1990s measures have been taken to establish Lithuanian schools in places densely inhabited by Polish community; these schools were financed from the state budget. There were 20 of such schools in the regions of Vilnius and Salcininkai. The Polish school has faced many obstacles throughout the following years. Extensive agitation in favour of Lithuanian schools, as well as constant sowing of uncertainty and confusion around the Polish school and in addition the emergence of various difficulties and obstacles to their functioning were the main impediments. Moreover, measures have been taken to stop the translation and edition of Polish textbooks, the compulsory Polish language exam was liquidated. Apart from that, the pressure on the introduction of the so-called four model national school was experienced. The mentioned above school would imply a partial teaching of school subjects in state language in the primary school and the extensive teaching in state language in forms 11-12. It goes without saying that all these factors had a negative effect on the decisions of Polish families while choosing a school for their child. As you can see, the Polish school has been facing serious obstacles, and is in a constant process of trying to survive, building the ramparts.
An additional concern was the introduction of the examination of Lithuanian language category for all occupations. Then a lot of elderly people, who were not so successful in the Lithuanian language, even lost their jobs. At the same time, this new issue served as a pretext for a large scale agitation that only after graduation from Lithuanian school the young generation will have 'a bright perspective'.
The process of transformation of human mentality in the face of future prospects started. People who were less resistant to propaganda and suppler began to send their children to Lithuanian schools. There were also many overzealous people, who took not only their own children to Lithuanian schools but also urged others to do so.
Nowadays, the previous municipal, governmental schools (under the Ministry of Education and Science of Lithuania) in the vast majority are filled with pupils from national minority families.
It should also be stated that the decrease of population of Lithuania has also had a negative effect on the number of pupils in Polish schools.
The positive side in this situation is the fact that in the last 3-4 years the recruitment of children to the first grade in Polish schools has stabilized and this number is above a thousand pupils every year.
In conclusion it should be noted that this is a complex process which is heavily influenced both by subjective and objective factors.
We can hear the statement that Polish school is the best. However in this year’s magazine “Veidas” the rank of schools of Lithuania shows that the first Polish school is only among the first thirty. Is it possible for the Polish school to get into the top ten schools. And what should be done to achieve that?
I can assure you that Polish school is really very good. It is attractive and it offers a good level of education. This is confirmed by the ranking of “Veidas”. Can a Polish school get into the top ten schools in such a ranking? It goes without saying that it will be possible if the recruitment to a gymnasium will be conducted only on a competitive basis. It is not our goal however. As the general number of students in Polish schools is not very big, we would like all our pupils to have a possibility to acquire secondary education. It is worth mentioning that around 76-80 percent of our graduates, those who graduate from Polish schools, are quite successful acquiring high education.
'Veidas' statistics indicates that Polish school in Lithuania is leading and often occupies higher positions than the rest of the schools included in this ranking.
Among the 460 schools ranked in 'Veidas', we have 37 Polish schools and it makes 8 percent of the whole number.
The positions 1-50 have got 4 Polish schools and it makes 8 percent and is equivalent to the general ranking of schools; the positions 51-100 have got 6 Polish schools and it makes 12 percent (which is 4 percent above its average), 101-200 positions comprise 10 schools and it makes 10 percent (2 percent above its average). As it can be observed, in the first half of the ranking Polish schools make 10 percent of the general number. The positions 201-300 comprise 7 schools (7 percent); 301-400 has got 7 schools (7 percent); finally, the positions 401-460 have 2 Polish schools and it makes 3,3 percent. As it is presented above, Polish schools occupy only 3,3 per cent in the final positions of schools ranking.
In the second half of the ranking from 201 to 460, 6,6 percent represent Polish schools. It is also worth noticing, that out of 200 schools of Lithuania where students have not gained 90-100 points at their exam, there are only five Polish schools, it makes only 2,5 per cent, whereas overall share of Polish schools in this ranking is 8 per cent.
It should be noted that only comparable things can be compared. So it goes without saying that a small country school cannot be compared to an elite gymnasium in Vilnius, a high school in Kaunas or Jesuit gymnasium. Only school with the same or similar location, with pupils of the same or similar social, and material status can be compared. In my opinion if the above mentioned criteria were taken into consideration while assessing the schools the situation would be different. In fact Polish schools in many ways are ahead of ministerial schools (former municipal). In ten cases we are ahead of them and only in 4 cases we are slightly lacking behind.
Polish Educational Society also organizes its rankings, very often they differ a lot from those in “Veidas” or other Lithuanian rankings. Why is it so? What is the background of this difference?
Firs of all it is our society which introduced the ranking of schools 17 years ago. We are happy about the fact that we have our followers. Six years ago 'Veidas' also started its ranking. In my mind, our ranking system is much broader, more precise and it illustrates the achievements of every school.
'Veidas' has been fulfilling the ranking of schools exceptionally on the basis of the facts how many students have entered universities just after graduation from school. Only these graduates who entered universities according to the first preferred direction are taken into account by 'Veidas' ranking system. So it is obvious that not all students who entered universities and students who decided to study abroad ( up to year 2012) were considered. Polish Educational Society by contrast, includes all the graduates who entered universities both in Lithuania and abroad into the ranking system.
'Veidas' only now started providing the ranking of schools where pupils gained 90-100 points at the state exams of Lithuanian language, Mathematics, History and foreign languages. Our society on the other hand started conducting such ranking with the very beginning of state exams in Lithuania. We also keep taking into consideration not only the results of 90-100 at state exam but also 50-100 points. What is more, the participation of schools in different republican and international contests and Olympics is regarded as well. In my opinion, 'Veidas' does not reflect the real situation of schools in Lithuania by respecting only the percentage result of 90-100 points out of the number of all pupils taking some state exam. Polish Educational Society in its ranking system presents the percentage result of the exams passed with 50-100 and 90-100 points out of the general number of all graduates. This fact, I think, encourages schools and motivates the teachers to prepare all the pupils for their state exams, not only those who are the best and the most intelligent.
In addition, I cannot agree with the fact that 'Veidas' gives 15 points for a school, of which pupils enter universities in Lithuania and gives only 5 points for a school which pupils decide to study abroad. Does this fact mean that studying abroad is worth fewer points than studying in Lithuania?
What measures are being taken or planned to be taken by Polish Educational Society to make Polish schools attractive for the majority of Poles in Lithuania?
I would like to emphasize that Polish schools in Lithuania are competitive with other schools and retain good teaching quality, while the admission to higher education institutions is generally higher than the average. As there is always space for perfection, we still see room for improvement and raising the quality of teaching in the future, especially in the schools that have been at the bottom of the rankings in the previous years. Pursuing this aim, Polish Educational Society has been taking measures in different spheres in activating the students‘ and teachers‘ activities, including, for instance, the contest „Best School-Best Teacher“ which makes primary and secondary schools rival for superiority. Futhermore, the presentation of all types of schools and preschool institutions has been enthusiastically welcomed by the parents and community during the Schools Forum, enabling to demonstrate the achievements and exchanging experiences. On the whole, our society organizes over 20 different planned events for the students, teachers and parents.
Aiming at providing further education, the Society organizes further schooling for teachers in Poland as well as invites specialists to Lithuania.
We genuinely support the schools‘ idea in introducing new technologies and we are constantly looking for possibilities to provide schools with new and modern equipment. The schools, for instance, have lately acquired computer textbooks in mathematics.
Moreover, we assist schools in search for partnership and we motivate them to take part in international projects. We also promote experience exchange between teachers and students in Poland and Lithuania.
We also strive at promoting the achievements of Polish schools in Lithuania during educational events abroad, for instance at various conferences, congresses, etc., as well as in the media, emphasizing the role and significance of education in the mother tongue.
For many years one of the postulates of the Polish Educational Society has been the demand for restoration of the obligatory Polish language exam. Why? Won‘t this kind of exam be additional load for students who are not planning any future studies in Poland or studies of the Polish language itself?
Any mother tongue is a tool for cognition of the world, shaping the overall personality of a human being. Has modern pragmatism gone so far beyond its limits that an exam of the mother tongue is considered an „additional load“ for graduates?
Essentially speaking, Polish Educational Society has suggested a solution that is going to have a positive influence on both the improvement of the Polish language and literatute studies as well as the student himself/herself. Our suggestion is as follows:
„Reestablishment of the Polish language as a mother tongue exam onto the list of obligatory exams, including its result into the secondary school certificate, as well as incorporating its results as additional points at the entrance exams“.
A trial of the equalized state language graduation exam took place a few weeks ago. Are there any results? What is your attitude towards this initiative?
We are looking forward to an overall, accurate, and reliable analysis of the results of the trial exam that will make possible to give an accurate evaluation of it. For the time being, the aim of this trial exam is clear and, therefore, anxiety and worry for objectivity and accuracy of results is understandable. You only need to get acquainted with the statement of the Ministry of Education and Science on the subject: 97 percent completed the test in time. What can be implied by that?! If a graduate didn‘t know what to write about, he had no possibility to develop the subject, so he had even too much time. 38.2 percent of the students and 50 percent of the teachers said to have estimated the topics as ‚satisfactory‘, yet, it is unknown what schools (Polish, Lithuanian or Russian) they were from.
What is more, the idea of selecting schools for trial exams was also unclear and lacked objectivity. For example, in Vilnius all Polish and Russian schools took part in it and only 4 Lithuanian schools (not very prestigious ones) decided to participate. To get an average standard of representation, schools from remote districts of Lithuania were selected.
Taking such a choice into account, it might seem that Lithuanians, Poles and Russians are able to take the same equalized exam without difficulty. It sems that those in power have decided to implement new rules unconditionally, so they are constantly in the process of searching for proof of the inevitability of such changes.
Table composed by Polish Educational Society based on 'Veidas' ranking
29 maja 2012 r.