Several hundred students and parents from Vilnius and surrounding areas gathered outside the Gate of Dawn chapel in the heart of the Lithuanian capital.
The Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, the political party that draws its electorate from the country’s Polish-speaking population, said the protest action was organized by “parents of Polish-language and Russian-language students” and not the party. However, the service was attended by many of the party’s leaders, including its chairman MEP Valdemar Tomaševski.
The Education and Science Ministry told BNS that the campaign involved all 32 Polish-language schools in the Vilnius district and 18 in the Šalčininkai district, with no students present in classes but teachers continuing to work. The ministry said no schools in the Širvintos and Švenčionys districts were involved in the protest, four participating in the Trakai district and some of the schools in Vilnius city also participating in the action. About half of students attended classes in the protesting Vilnius and Trakai schools, with lessons proceeding as planned, said the ministry.
The majority of the students who skipped school and attended the service told BNS that they felt discriminated against by way of the hasty restructuring of the ethnic minority schools in the city of Vilnius, while some criticized the short transitional period for the unified Lithuanian-language exam.
The organizers demand that the standardized Lithuanian-language exam for non-Lithuanian schools be cancelled and the per-student funding for minority schools be raised by a factor of one and a half.
Meanwhile, Lithuania’s Education and Science Ministry says that graduates of ethnic minority schools are doing well in the unified exam of the Lithuanian language and literature, scoring top marks.
The ministry said that schools providing education in minority languages receive a per-student funding that is 20 percent bigger than the average.
Some 51 schools in Lithuania offer education in the Polish language, in addition to 32 in the Russian language, one in the Belarusian language and 36 mixed schools that teach in Lithuanian, Polish and Russian.
Over the past 15 years, enrolment in Polish-language schools dropped by 48 percent, as compared to 39 percent in Lithuanian-language schools, while the number of schools decreased by 35 percent and 48 percent, respectively.