​School at the crossroads: it‘s time to choose a new way

Conservative education system in Europe does not accept and fears changes. Children are educated by using old-fashioned methods – school aims to make them obedient; therefore, persons who are afraid of creative thinking, critical view, expressing opinions and seeking for changes have been educated.

These topics were discussed by participants of the international conference “Global education challenges” – experts from Lithuania, the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, and Georgia, and Russia, managers of educational establishments and representatives of non-governmental organisations. Changes necessary for education system were discussed.

The conference was organised by the Lithuanian Centre for Children and Youth in collaboration with European Association of Institutions of Non-formal Education of Children and Youth (EAICY) and the Ministry of Education and Science.

The issue of prestige and salaries

In public discussion education representatives have noted that it is necessary to raise the prestige of teacher profession in Lithuania; it would allow for essential improvements in education system. They also argued that the number of higher education and primary education schools should be diminished, the gap between so-called elite and other schools should be closed; collaboration between educational and other institutions, such as non-governmental organisations, cultural and social actors, should be encouraged.

Tartu University (Estonia) Professor with Lithuanian roots Birutė Klaas-Lang spoke that Estonian teachers earn much more than their Lithuanian colleagues, pedagogical profession is considered prestigious and youth often chooses this profession.

“Lithuanian schools are currently at the crossroads – Estonia has been at this stage 10 years ago. Everything changed when we started increasing teacher salaries. In Estonia their salaries are higher than an average salary in the country. There are too many schools in Lithuania, this was the case in Estonia too. Gymnasiums should be larger, and all children must have equal opportunities to get the same education,” – B. Klaas-Lang noted.

Head of the Knowledge Economy Forum, Arminas Varanauskas agreed with the Professor. “There are schools in Lithuania, where teachers outnumber students. Does it create any added value? I don’t think so,” – he said.

Remains of the Prussian order

In the opinion of Cambridge graduate, teenage fiction writer Une Kaunaite, our education programmes are very conservative, and education representatives are afraid to change them.

“We speak that education system should educate personalities who would not be afraid of innovation, would adapt to trends of the contemporary world, and would be creative. However, one can say that we still use the education system that was developed in Prussia and aimed at educating obedient workers or obedient soldiers,” – she argued.

According U. Kaunaite, this creates a vicious circle. Having grown up, those people act in politics or education while being afraid of changes.

The writer added that due to old-fashioned, over-standardised study programmes teachers are limited and lack freedom. For instance, in Japan and the Netherlands one can not only teach according to study programme, but also get involved in its creation. They have the right to decide what education method is most suitable to achieve effective results.

U. Kaunaite hoped that in the long-term project-oriented lectures, and activities when questions and topics raised by students are discussed will replace standard 45 minutes lessons, and children, similarly to teachers, will become the developers of lessons and study programmes.

According to A. Varanauskas, the person who leads a school has a very important role in education quality. Directors of most education establishments are not capable to create such environment where teachers would enjoy their work. “According to the Lithuanian research, approximately 40 percent of school leaders are politicized. It means that they were assigned to take their positions by a party or they joined a party at the beginning of their career. Many of those people are not capable to lead,” – he persuaded.

Indicators do not fit the reality

While sharing experience of his country, which is considered to be among the best in Europe, Rene Clarijs, a journalist from the Netherlands and the member of EAICY regretted that despite indicators of the Netherland‘s education system in the reports of the European security and collaboration organisations are high, teachers in this country do not feel having a prestigious job and are disappointed with the state of education. Schools become more similar to business or market organisations.

“Parents behave like customers or clients and a school becomes a business providing education as a product. On the occasion of problems schools do not want to speak with parents, and director agrees to speak only when his lawyer is nearby. There are no close connection between teachers and students. We are certainly not satisfied with that,” – he spoke.

According to Clarijs, a big mistake has been made on the primary education stage when they start to evaluate children and put marks for their studies. “We begin to separate children from the first grades: you are better than him, and you are the best. It is a paradox that conflicts with our education values. In general we aim to create a united, communal society and youth and try to decrease social exclusion in different ways, “– the journalist explained.