Lithuanian schools facing a challenge – increasing number of returning emigrants children

School. DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

With the registration to the country’s schools ending, it is emerging that there will be more returning Lithuanian emigrants children studying in Lithuania than usual this September. However, Lithuania has only one school, which fully matches the schooling needs of such children. Others dragged around various education institutions in the country, become a headache for not only parents and teachers, but also municipalities.

From September 1, far more returning Lithuanian emigrants children are to study in Lithuanian state schools. For example, just in Vilnius from autumn, there should be 140 of them studying. 80 of them will attend state schools. The number was half of this last year. Based on 2018 data, 153 schoolchildren arrived from abroad in Kaunas from abroad, Laura Adomavičienė writes in

67 of them were Lithuanians. Klaipėda municipality will only know the exact number of re-emigrants’ children in October, however, the port city’s Department of Education representative Vida Bubliauskienė stated that there definitely is an increase in registrations to schools. At the end of the current school year, 45 returning Lithuanian emigrants children were studying in Klaipėda. This number has been stable over the past three years.

There is currently no data on how many re-emigrants’ children will study in Lithuanian schools. The Education Information Technology Centre is only currently expanding student register functions and establishing a returning students register, which will seek to know exactly how many students intend on attending which schools.

No accurate data on the returning children yet

Alongside state schools, Vilniaus Lietuvių Namai gymnasium, which has equalising classes and is the only one adapted to the children of Lithuanians from abroad, operates in Vilnius. Children from 37 countries study here. The school itself has been operating for 30 years and come autumn, 60 Lithuanian emigrants children will study here.

The gymnasium’s director Gintautas Rudzinskas says that an adapted study programme is crucial for children of those returning from emigration to Lithuania.

“If Lithuanian emigrants children return while unable to speak Lithuanian, we have equalising classes, where they study only Lithuanian all year. After a year, they take a test and go on to study general education classes based on their capacities. If a child knows Lithuanian, they take general education classes, but they still need help. For this purpose, there are extra Lithuanian language hours, furthermore, the children do their homework with the aid of a teacher. There are also psychologist consultations for children, who struggle to adapt,” the director listed differences in educating Lithuanian children from abroad.

The Lithuanian emigrants children differ not only in their Lithuanian language skills but also their knowledge of other subjects. According to G. Rudzinskas, there are notable differences in the study programmes of Lithuania and other countries. For example, the programmes of almost all South American countries are vastly different from ours. Parents, whose children previously studied in US or British schools also need to pay attention to. These children’s study levels are fairly low, thus children arriving in Lithuania will need equalising classes.

“The most difference is found in Lithuanian language and history, but in some countries, for example, they are not taught chemistry at all. We face this often. Because there was no requirement to study,” he stated.

Children’s skills evaluated by the school

The Ministry of Education, Science and Sports states that all equalising children’s study nuances must be defined in a contract with the school. Some municipalities, such as those of Kaunas, Šiauliai, and Alytus cities direct parents to schools that already have experience in teaching re-emigrants’ children. Other municipalities, such as those of Vilnius, Klaipėda and Panevėžys cities, recommend a school based on the family’s place of residence.

Re-emigrants’ children planning to study in Vilnius are distributed among the capital’s various schools and the same application procedures apply to them. According to Vilnius municipality data, there are 80 such children. Last year, the number was half that – 40.

“We do not know exactly what their language levels are, but all the children are integrated through individually prepared education plans. They improve their Lithuanian language skills through informal education, summer camps, and volunteering.

Knowing that there are teaching programme differences, these children receive individual education plans. The pedagogical psychological service recommends certain schools, education service providers, who would grant these extra services, which may be needed so as to accomplish certain education processes. The service designates and the municipality must create conditions,” Vilnius municipality administration director Povilas Poderskis said.

Situation in Kaunas

At the initiative of Kaunas city municipality, special measures for returned children’s further education have been put in place. Bilingual education (with English) has been launched in Jurgis Dobkevičius Progymnasium and Jonas Jablonskis Gymnasium, while International Baccalaureate programmes are to launch from 2020.

Kaunas’ S. Darius and S. Girėnas Gymnasium have experience in developing German language teaching, thus it accepts students returning from abroad, who studied in German thus far. Kaunas’ Aleksandras Puškinas Gymnasium has been teaching children of various nationalities – both those returning from emigration and those arriving from other countries to live in Lithuania.

Struggling with Lithuanian language

Following an evaluation of the child’s abilities by the school’s teachers, agreements are signed on the child’s extra study of the Lithuanian language, provision of educational aid, the child’s participation in extracurricular activities and other things.

Usually, the greatest strain falls to teachers. According to Vilnius Baltupiai Progymnasium interim head Linas Vasarevičius, educators sometimes have to work after school individually with special needs students in order to fill gaps in both the Lithuanian language and other subjects.

A survey for a Kurk Lietuvai project, which deals with returning emigrants’ questions, found that further financing is needed for Lithuanian and other equalising subject organisation, extra teacher payments and increasing their qualifications regarding integration, for seminars.

An education project prepared by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports outline that if returned children have no Lithuanian language skills at all, they can study in an equalising class or mobile group. 20 to 25 hours a week is set aside for studying Lithuanian in an equalising class.

Based on procedures prepared by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sports, children of Lithuanians from abroad are integrated into classes not based on skills, but age. If need be, they are provided assistance: an integration plan is prepared, individual education plans are formed, extra consultations or lessons are assigned. The state provides 30% increased financing for the education of every child arriving from abroad.

Starting next academic year, general education plans will outline the possibility of redistributing subject lessons for students arriving for abroad. The child will have the option to not study a foreign language for a time or take less time with other subjects and study Lithuanian more intensively for a time.

Some changes next academic year?

P. Poderskis notes that the Vilnius city municipality has not received funds for re-emigrants’ children’s integration. The municipality funds the education process and extra work for teachers on its own.

In order to ensure schools are suitably prepared to take in children of returning Lithuanians, there is a need to not only train teachers but also further finance their assistants’ work. Such schools must also have a psychologist, who works with not only the child and their family but also the class, into which the newcomer arrives.

“When they reshuffled the financing procedures, methods, and principles, when they changed the payment model, we now have overall a 13 million euro deficit for all these education aid activities, which we should enact. This is linked to specialist pedagogues, teachers’ assistants and such.

Based on the requirements they (the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports) have imposed upon us, we have to hire specific numbers of specialists, but exactly nothing was earmarked for it. Thus, we cope as usual – take from certain services and put it all into education, just as we have done for four years,” the Vilnius city municipality administration director said.

Smaller municipalities face such issues less. According to the Klaipėda city municipality Department of Education representative, in Klaipėda there currently is no need for extra assistants for teachers. There are also no plans for establishing equalising classes in the near future.

Optimal time to return – 7-8 grade

Alongside the education process, the director of Vilniaus Lietuvių Namai gymnasium urges parents to keep in mind the psychological challenges the children will face. Not only the subjects are changing – their entire social environment is changing, thus the child could face serious distress.

“I believe that if you are planning to return with your child to Lithuania or if the child returns on their own because there are such cases, then it shouldn’t be done in 10-11th grade, if possible. It should be done earlier because these children have to take the school leaving exams based on the same regulations.

I believe that the optimal variant is grades 7 and 8. This time span is sufficient for the child to catch up in terms of education. We have various arrivals, starting with first grade and ending with 11 and 12th grades. The thought that the little ones adapt easier is incorrect. The little ones adapt with difficulty. They need their mother’s help, especially if the child returns without their parents, to relatives or, as in our case – to a dormitory, it’s a tough situation,” G. Rudzinskas stated.

Nevertheless, the ages of those registered for this coming September to Lithuanian schools are very varied. Most of them are headed to primary classes, 58 of them. Most students wish to study in Lithuanian, 9 have presented requests for schools in Russian and 2 wish to study in English. The latter two requests have not yet been approved. These two students would go to 11th grade based on age group and wish to study in Vilnius’ Lyceum.

Klaipėda also encountering problems

Klaipėda city municipality Department of Education representative V. Bubliauskienė stated that nevertheless, it is primary schoolers, who adapt easier in their schools. They are faced with fewer challenges in catching up to their peers in Lithuanian language, history and they adapt in class psychological at a faster pace.

Based on data from the Institute of Public Policy and Management, in 2017, 1.4 thousand school-age children arrived in Lithuania. Of them, an entire 63% studied in the large cities in the 2017-2018 academic year, while more than half of them attended the Vilniaus Lietuvių Namai gymnasium. More than a third of the children attended schools in mid-sized or small cities, towns, and villages.

Based on Ministry of Education, Science and Sports data, for the 2017-2018 academic year, pre-school education institutions taught 187 re-emigrants’ children, with general education institutions teaching 738 schoolchildren (total of 925 children).

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