Leveling-out classes in Lith
Even locals would probably admit that Taurage – a town in the southwestern part of Lithuania, in close proximity to the Russian border – is a pretty tedious place, ridden with social problems, and notorious for its bootleg alcohol and tobacco sales.
But one of its secondary schools has offered some rare, positive news, thus putting the media’s spotlight on the town for the right reasons. The school in question is called Jovarai, and this academic year it introduced a socalled leveling class for Lithuanian children, who have returned from emigration. Until now, only major urban centers and towns with abundant ethnic minority groups could boast of such classes – not the ethnically pure hinterlands. Journalists have come out to these parts in anticipation that such a school might also forecast what the new government, led by the Peasants and Green Union Party (LVZS), plans to do in the educational sector and beyond.
“As the new government’s primary focus is tackling emigration and solving education issues, our class may signal what to expect at secondary schools across the country,” said Egidijus Steimantas, Head of the Education Department at the Taurage municipality. “If there are more Lithuanians making their way back home from long years in emigration, such classes will be the solution for their children.”
More here than meets the eye
According to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, 153 Lithuanian children returned from emigration in 2015, compared with 177 in 2014 and 106 in 2013. The number for 2016 is “tangibly larger,” a source at the department said, but official data will be available only later this year.
Despite such increases, the emptying of Lithuanian schools, and the reflection of emigration and demographics, remain one of the new government’s biggest headaches. Just in recent years, the number of pupils has dropped from 357,481 in the 2013-2014 school year, to 330,826 this year.
At first glance, the leveling class in Taurage appears to be a garden-variety Lithuanian class with a bunch of kids scampering around. Yet one with keener eyes and ears would notice that something is different here. Perhaps it’s the pronounced drawl in some of the children’s Lithuanian or the terse exchange between siblings in another language than Lithuanian – be it English, Spanish, or Russian. And, certainly, the variety of tools that Ritonija Galkauskiene, the teacher, uses to patch up the language gaps among these kids, aged 8 to 14, is unusual. Such differences have even led other pupils in the school to taking sneak peeks into the classroom right in the middle of class.
To take over the class, Galkauskiene moved from Visaginas, a predominantly Russian town in eastern Lithuania known for its defunct nuclear power plant. There, she had helped Russian children master Lithuanian. At her new job, her eyes shine with happiness and confidence.
“Four months into the new school year, and my efforts have panned out. The children – all of them – have made great progress in figuring out the peculiarities of Lithuanian grammar and pronunciation,” she beams.
Such statements are definitely music to the ears of Ramunas Karbauskis, chairman of the LVZS, the ruling party that saw a landslide victory in Lithuania’s parliamentary
Algimantas Kaminskas, the school principal, said that he initially had just a few applications from local emigrant parents wishing to enroll their children into the school.