The number of pre-school establishments in Lithuania declined rapidly at the beginning of the 1990s106, mostly for financial reasons. In 2000, there were 714 pre-schools, of which 12 used Polish, 27 used Russian, and 61 used other languages107. OECD notes that;
‘The number of children attending ‘zero’ classes (6 year olds) increases every year… The MoES plans to make these ‘zero classes’ compulsory. They are already compulsory for the children of national minorities (Polish and Russian) in Southeast Lithuania, who – without that kind of preparation – would not be able to follow instruction in Lithuanian108.’
A rather important claim is rather casually implied in this passage – that one year’s preparation in a kindergarten is sufficient to equip a child to follow all educational programmes in a second language. Regrettably, no evidence is advanced to support this contention.
However, this suggestion is not consistent with most research. “Research studies have shown that students can quickly acquire considerable fluency in the second language when they are exposed to it in the environment and at school but despite this rapid growth in conversational fluency, it generally takes a minimum of about five years (and frequently much longer) for them to catch up to native-speakers in academic aspects of the language”109.
2.9 Effectiveness of Education Programmes for Minorities
In assessing the academic achievement of pupils from minority communities, there are a number of dimensions requiring attention. Obviously, the standard achieved in (a) Lithuanian as the state language and (b) their mother tongue, are matters that have to be included in the assessment. Less obviously, but also of importance for students who may be receiving their education in their second language, is the standard achieved in other academic subjects.
No systematic assessment of the educational outcomes of the various provisions made for minority pupils appears to have been undertaken. Gudynas (2002) states that ‘The quality of teaching and learning in ethnic minority schools has not been carefully investigated’110. This deficiency is not unique to minority education. The authors of the OECD Report (2000) observed (p.49) that ‘as far as the team is aware, no studies have been undertaken on the effectiveness of educational expenditures in the context of examination results’.
With some qualifications, census data provides some insights into the general effectiveness of schooling. In Table 29, the linguistic repertoires of 0-4 year-olds (the pre-school cohort) is compared to the linguistic repertoires of 15-19 year-olds (i.e. the cohort at the end of formal general education). ‘Linguistic repertoire’ in this context, is the combination of the percentages reported to be native speakers of a language, plus those who have acquired the ability to speak/read/write the language. The difference between the two cohorts may then be attributed to the schooling system.
Before commenting on the table, two qualifications may be noted. First, this is not a longitudinal analysis where the same cohort is followed over time. It compares two different cohorts at two different ages. This particular 15-19 year-old cohort may not have had the same linguistic repertoire profile fifteen years ago when it was aged 0-4, as the one aged 0-4 in 2001. Secondly, the assessment in the census is made by parents or guardians and not by educational experts. The perceptions and assessments of parents and guardians are obviously important, but they are not necessarily the same as those professionally involved in educating their children.
Table 31: Linguistic repertoire of Lithuanian youth before and after school
The first thing to be noted about Table 30 is that the number of speakers of all languages increased over the schooling period. Secondly, the number of percentage points gained over these years reflects the proportion speaking the language prior to entering school. For example, in the case of Lithuanian, the increase was limited to 12 percentage points, because 88% of pupils spoke it at the pre-school stage. Therefore, it has to be concluded that, in the opinion of parents and guardians, some 3% of students (i.e. about one quarter of minority pupils who began their education about 1990) came through their school years without learning to speak/read/write Lithuanian. Further analysis shows that only 1% of girls failed to reach this standard, compared to 3.4% of boys (see Tables in Appendix B). Thirdly, about 70% learn to speak Russian compared to 50% who learn to speak English. Fourthly, there is very little incremental change in the case of Polish or Belarussian. Finally, while girls generally outperform boys in learning languages, more boys appear to learn Russian. It is, of course, possible that pupil cohorts who began their education in more recent years will show different patterns and levels of achievement.
It is, unfortunately, not possible with the available data to separate the performance of minority students and Lithuanian students, although with the further co-operation of the Lithuanian Statistics Department, this is technically possible.
As regards performance in non-language subjects, Gudynas (2002) presents the results of the State examination in 2000 across different language schools in diagrammatic form111. Although the author states that the results showed ‘no significant correlation with the language of instruction, the actual percentages suggest that there are significant differences within minority schools themselves. While the average for Russian and Polish schools appears to be similar to the Lithuanian average (about 50%), the average score for so-called ‘mixed’ schools was about 37%. Although this difference may not have proved statistically significant in the context of a national study, it is surely significant in the context of differences within the minority schools themselves. Furthermore, as this analysis appears to have been conducted on the basis of school scores rather than scores of individual pupils, a fuller study would, in all probability, find wider variations among minority schools, classes and pupils.
None of the data presented in this section, however, can be considered a satisfactory substitute for a rigourous assessment of academic performance. Nonetheless, both the available census and the examination data do suggest, at the very least, that there are reasons to be concerned about the performance levels of some minority students and/or schools in learning Lithuanian and in learning mathematics.