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Wednesday 20.09.2017 | Name days: Marianna, Ginters, Guntra

Lithuania’s new school year: extended, with defence and sexual education classes in curriculum

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Fewer schoolchildren, and first-graders, too, but Lithuania’s new school year will be longer by 10 days, with the subjects of national defence and sex education courses added to the curriculum.

The former, officially known as a national security and defence education programme, is prepared jointly with the Defence Ministry and will be an optional course for senior secondary school students. Over 29,000 first-graders are expected to come to schools this September, down from almost 31,000 last year.

Education and Science Minister Jurgita Petrauskienė believes that the school year extension will allow to more evenly spread learning programs throughout the school year and that it should help students to improve their performance.

«Our objective is common: to ensure that each school is a place where the learning and the teaching is a good experience and that the children obtain knowledge that is useful in the modern life,» the minister underscored.

Interestingly, not the ministry itself will point how to use the extra days of the school year. The schools themselves will have to decide how to engage their schoolchildren during the first five days of the extension and the local municipalities, which are founders of local schools usually, will have to come up with ideas how to use the rest five days.

Only first graders’ school year will remain of the same duration, however it comes at the expense of shorter winter holidays.

Approached by BNN to weigh in on the decision to extend the school year, Laimutė Benetienė, the principle of Vladas Jurgutis secondary school in the Baltic sea resort town of Palanga, claimed that the school is «prepared» for a longer school year.

«As a result, our children will gain new skills,» she believes.

Meanwhile, her counterpart at «Baltija» secondary school, also in Palanga, was hesitant if the extension can do magic.

«Our school community largely opposes the extension. It will bring more unease and confusion only, I reckon. I have serious doubts whether it will help to tangibly improve the quality of the education. I’d rather want the bureaucracy that all the teachers deal with is reduced,» Alvydas Kniukšta, the school principle, told BNN.

Speaking about other novelties of the new school year, the Education minister discerned the emphasis being placed by the Ministry on the pupils‘ emotional wellbeing and safety.

Unlike in previous years, Lithuanian schools are obligated from the very first day of September to launch a school bullying prevention programme.

Among the other things, the schools with larger number of children who have lived in emigration will be requested to provide them extra three weekly hours of teaching at school if the children are bereft of proper conditions at home.

Throughout the new school year, the ministry intends to introduce an enhanced IT literacy programme. If all goes accordingly, even the first graders will be acquainted with it. Meanwhile, higher grade pupils will be given a possibility to learn the basics of finances.

In a major shift, the ministry spearheads another novelty: exhibiting public spirit at school and beyond it will add brownie points to the graduate’s diploma.

From this school year, the graduates will be able to optionally choose the so-called «essay of maturity.» In it, they will be encouraged to reveal their views of the world and the near surroundings. However, the essay will not replace the mandatory Lithuanian language exam.

Some of the hallmark changes may await the graduate students in the spring. After Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of Lithuania’s ruling coalition’s chief party, Farmers and Greens (LVŽS), opined that secondary schools should scrap the traditional graduation exam system, the Ministry of Education and Science is willing to embrace the idea and introduce a new evaluation system, one based on the graduate’s accumulative grades from the last two or three years. The idea of it is that the striving for academic accomplishments matters throughout all the years at school and they, not the grades from the graduation exams, must be of utmost importance.

«The essay of maturity we plan to introduce this school year would be a step to the accumulative grade,» the minister emphasised.

However, the conventional graduate exam system will likely linger in Lithuania.

«The secondary school graduation exams allow us to compare achievements among different schools.  Yet is the accumulative grade that most Western countries go with (in evaluating their graduate students’ academic proficiency),» the minister believes.

The duration of the ordinary class may also soon be subject to change with Gražvydas Kazakevičius, the deputy Education minister, calling the 45-minute class a «relic» from the 16th century.

«The learning ought to be ubiquitous – not only in the class,» he underscored.

The Lithuanian public, however, is not seemingly very receptive of the novelties and bristles against the prolonged school year and the optional defence classes in particular.

«Had we extended the school year not by 10 days but by two months, we would have the academic results on the level of the Singaporeans and the Finns…After the high school merge, our diploma will be tantamount to those from Harvard and Sorbonne Universities,» Darius Trečiakauskas posted a sardonic comment under a article on the school year.

Nastė Pakarklienė, another commenter, scolds the ministry for introducing military training in Lithuanian secondary schools.

«You big patriots, talk to some of the still alive elderly villagers who witnessed the post-war atrocities…They will tell you that only a mere 10 percent of the so-called «forest brothers” (that is how the patriotically inclined men who resisted Soviets are called) were partisans and the rest were ordinary bandits,» she wrote.

An anonymous poster quips that the ongoing reform of Lithuania’s education system reminds perestroika, an overhaul of the 1990s’ Soviet system spearheaded by the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

«What I see is a continuous process of changes without giving a thought about the aftermaths…Well, the Soviet Union collapsed. Is it what to expect from our national education system,» the commenter ponders.

Indrė Matulionytė, an adolescent commenter, suggested in the comments section under an article that a longer school year will do no good for anyone. «Look, with the days warmer in spring, nobody takes school seriously. It is silly to expect that schoolchildren will go to schools in summer. If the teacher is smart, she will simply let the children go home,» she says.

Meanwhile, the «traditionalists» and «liberals» -the latter on Lithuania’s social media are called despicably as «liberasts»by some – squabbled over the necessity of sexual education classes in Lithuanian schools. Many of the comments are filled with animosity toward each other’s notion.

But for many distinguished Lithuanians, talking about bees and birds is a natural thing that has been omitted in the Lithuanian education system until now.

«Things relating to sexual education are completely overlooked or snubbed at schools. All the teaching about sexual education is about a single thing: how to control sexual urges,» Artūras Rudomanskis, the chairman of Lithuania’s Association of Tolerant Youth (TJA), said.

He does not expect much from the new sexual education programme though, claiming that its authors have pandered to Lithuania’s influential Catholic Church.

A former Social Democratic parliamentarian, Giedrė Purvaneckienė, agrees, saying that Lithuanian educators shied away for many years from talking to schoolchildren about the birds and the bees.

«They just don’t have the obligation to do it. Of the European Union’s 28 Member States, only in eight of them, including Lithuania, sexual education is not mandatory at secondary schools,» she said. «Thus, we have a teenage pregnancy rate higher than the EU average, as well as homophobia and the consumption of contraceptive measures among adolescents is at a lower age in Lithuania among EU Member States,» she was quoted as saying recently.

Until now, two sexual education programmes – «Preparing for Family» and «Health Nurturing» – have been part of the school curriculum, but they have been optional, meaning the schools could choose whether to teach them or not.


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