Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Lithuanian Education Minister Jurgita Petrauskienė believes that Lithuanian children, unlike their peers in other countries, hit the books too little and while away their too long holidays, so prolongation of the school year is what the young generation needs.
Minister speaks of pupils’ workload
«Schoolchildren themselves say that the workload at school is huge, with tests every second day and homework for three hours daily. (What we propose) is to spread the same learning programs over a longer period of time,» she told Lithuanian MPs earlier this week.
The school year in Lithuania currently starts in early September and ends in early June: it lasts for 32 weeks for primary school pupils and 34 weeks for secondary school pupils. By comparison, the learning process in other European countries lasts for 37 to 40 weeks per year.
So far, the community of teachers and pupils has mostly bristled against the idea. Anticipating the backlash, the minister underscored in front of the Parliament’s Social Democrats, who were the first to learn of the idea, that the learning programs would not be changed if the Government greenlights school year extension already from the autumn.
«What would be different is that they (programmes) would be set out for a longer period of time, which would help reduce pupils’ workload throughout the entire year,» she insisted.
Whether the school year would be extended by two weeks or up to a month, is up to discussion, Petrauskienė emphasised.
If the plan does not meet any hurdles along the way, the Government is set to enact the changes to the duration of school year from the next school year.
In the minister’s words, only Greek, Portuguese and Turkish pupils enjoy longer holidays.
Dissatisfaction vented online
Some of the online zingers following the news on the school year extension reflect the school communities’ mood over the proposal best.
Laura Gasperovič, a teacher at Lentvaris Motiejus Šimelionis Gymnasium in Lentvaris, in proximity to Vilnius, fumes in her comment: «We are fed up with the studying. All have already constant headaches (because of the workload) and now (comes) this idea to extend the school year…»
Dalia Noreikienė from Vilnius University suggests in her online comment to submit first renewed and improved learning programmes and only then to start speaking about a school year’s extension.
«Is it for the minister so difficult to grasp the elementary principles of the work? Or is it more importantly to name some concrete number, like 14 (for now, the extension is planned for two weeks)? Where is the professional attitude in such sensitive matters? Besides, such decisions need a wider discussion in different formats than just the minister’s cabinet,» she posted.
Meanwhile, Marijus Marukas Bernotas, who introduces himself as «working for himself» lashed out at the ministry with this sardonic remark: «Let’s fill up schoolchildren backpacks with sand and let the ministers carry them all the day…»
Some educators see benefits
Some of the other educators were likely to nod to the idea, arguing that it would help tackle many issues.
«I am not quite sure whether we are matured for it, but it may play out quite well. I was in Germany last July and was told that the children were still attending the school then,» State Idienė, headmaster of Kriauniai school in the Rokiškis district told a local newspaper.
She pondered that, with summer holidays lasting over two months in Lithuania, many of the children, who idle away the time, are more predisposed to wrongdoing than those preoccupied with something.
«Some of the working parents do not have where to put their children while at work,» she noted.
The principle also believes that an extension of the school year would do good due to the other reason – the noticeable exhaustion of children in spring.
«By spring many of schoolchildren look tired because of the constant rush with the workload they deal with,» Idienė suggested.
Yet, she believes, that both teachers and schoolchildren ought to be granted holidays simultaneously- be it summer, winter and spring.
«That way the educators would not get too much tired as they would be able to work from home, not necessarily in the classrooms,» she reasoned.
Schoolchildren are exhausted
Meanwhile, Zenonas Pošiūnas, headmaster of Juozas Tubelis Progymnasium believes that the issue of a longer school year should be addressed in a differently way, having turned ear to the local community.
«I believe that local communities ought to be given a strong say when it comes to the matter,» he said.
A few years ago, the idea (of a longer school year) had been also brought up, but the school communities were not much supportive of it.
«Personally, I do not think that a longer school year serves the sake of progress of our schoolchildren. I’d rather take a good look at the content of our learning programmes. From the fifth grade, the workload increases dramatically as a matter of fact. I do not mean that the programmes have to be eased, but I’d consider scrapping some non-essential things in them,» Pošiūnas suggested.
He, however, would thumb down the idea of a school year’s prolongation with more classes added to the curriculums.
«The extra weeks should be devoted for participation in various projects, having trips with children,» he reasoned.
Six-year-olds ought to be at school
It’s not the first proposal by the Ministry of Science and Education that stirred up recently unease among Lithuanian schoolchildren and their parents.
Before, the Parliament’s Education and Science Committee chairman, Eugenijus Jovaišas, had all talking after suggesting that Lithuanian children should start school at the age of six, not seven years like now.
«Children in Lithuania should attend school from the age of six so that they graduate before they turn 19 or 20,»he emphasised.
The minister has also expressed her support for it, claiming that the «earlier children start school the better academics results they achieve.»
Government wants to overhaul university network
The Lithuanian Government is also determined to overhaul theLithuanian university network so that it reflects state’s interests.
This week, the Lithuanian prime minister, Saulius Skvernelis, has set up a working group to work out a plan for streamlining the network of scientific and educational institutions will represent the interests of the state, rather than those of individual universities.
«There are different interests and it is natural that the interests of the heads of institutions differ from those of the academic community or regional authorities. Our responsibility is to formulate the state’s interests,» Education and Science Minister Jurgita Petrauskienė said after the first meeting of the working group.
The group will analyse proposals from more than 40 interested institutions and is expected to have the plan ready by late April.
Skvernelis said in January that only up to five universities could be left in the country. He stressed, however, that the number was not yet final.
Lithuania currently has 14 state universities and several tens of the so-called universities of applied sciences.