Level­ing-out classes in Lith

The Baltic Times - - EDUCATION AND POLITICS - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

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.

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