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National Round Table discussion on immigrant education in Vilnius: long journey starts with immediate steps

Last Friday, June 14, Lithuanian national round table (NRT) on education of immigrant children took place in Lithuanian Ministry of Education and Science Collegium Hall. The round table was organized by Lithuanian Ministry of Education in collaboration with PPMI within SIRIUS network activities. Participants of a wide range – education policy-makers, non-governmental stakeholders, researchers and school professionals – shared their views on the situation of immigrant education in Lithuania and agreed on the steps necessary to take to improve it.

Public Policy and Management Institute in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science, in the framework of Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission-funded project SIRIUS: European Policy Network on the education of children and young people with a migrant background organized the National Round Table on integration of immigrant children through education. The event was held in Vilnius, on Friday, June 14th, from 9.40 to 14.00, at Collegium Hall, A. Volano str. 2/7. Event was moderated by MoE senior officer Ona Čepulėnienė, who is an important national player in education policy towards minorities and migrants.

Aims of the National Round Table discussion were to identify the current situation of education of immigrant children, examine the policy implementation problems and gaps in policy making and explore potential strategies for integration of immigrant children in the Lithuanian education system. Basis for the discussion was the overview of the overall immigrant situation in Lithuania and challenges for integration of immigrant children (presented by Karolis Žibas, researcher at the Institute for Ethnic Studies, and Ona Čepuleniene, Chief Officer at Secondary Education division, MoE), findings of the SIRIUS network and other international studies on immigrant education (presented by Hanna Siarova, senior researcher at Public Policy and Management Institute) and introduction of on-going Lithuanian projects attempting to improve situation of immigrants in Lithuania (presented by Odeta Norkute, lector from Vytautas the Great University and Dovile Žvalionyte and Irma Budginaite, PPMI).

All participants have emphasized the necessity of system change to develop inclusive education in Lithuania: bilingual schools, which are a doubtless achievement of Lithuanian education on the way to inclusion and comprehensiveness, are capable to accommodate the needs of immigrant pupils who belong to the language groups of country’s minority, but along with Lithuanian public schools are facing major challenges in integrating immigrant children from other ethnic groups (e.g., Chinese, Syrians, Turks, etc.). In a more short-term perspective, education and immigration stakeholders did not undermine the role of targeted compensatory measures to improve integration of immigrant children into education. However, some participants mentioned that the lack of conceptual framework for accurate identification of target groups and data collection is one of the major hindering factors to the development of effective policy measures. E.g., in Lithuania, the number of foreigners composes approx. 1% of the total population; however, this number can include both Lithuanians who are returning from abroad and long-term residence permit holders, who are living in the country for 15-20 years and would be rather considered a minority, rather than an immigrant population.  At the school level, no information on the origin and immigrant status is either collected. Participants agreed that this prevents policy makers from clearly assessing integration challenges at the national scale and therefore, elaborating effective and inclusive strategies. Early school leaving was briefly mentioned during the discussion (in 2012, ESL rate in Lithuania was 6.5%); however, the main reason of immigrant students to leave school is family moving from Lithuania, rather than educational underachievement.

Many participants also emphasized the scattered incidence of immigrant enrollment at schools. National policy does not foresee gathering of immigrant children in 1 or 2 receiving schools; children are rather being enrolled randomly in the nearest school. Therefore, schools are not always prepared for working with a child who does not speak Lithuanian, especially if the number of such children at school is very small.  Financial aspect was emphasized by many school representatives as one of the stumbling block of developing effective policies.

As one of the potential solutions for preparing teachers to work with immigrant children, Lituanistic model project under the coordination of Vytautas the Great University was mentioned.  The project aims to create a handbook for teacher which would elaborate on strategies how to deal with children who do not master Lithuanian language. The handbook would include materials, practices, and guidelines for teaching Lithuanian as a foreign language. Every school or teacher, which encounters such a pupil, would have an opportunity to apply for the programme and receive necessary support.

Modeling policy implications, participants have emphasized the importance of collaboration and networking between different stakeholders. There was a sounded suggestion to create a school network for cooperation on migrant education topics under the auspices of Education Development Centre. Participants also urged Ministry of Education to pay more attention to the teacher training and introduction of innovative teaching methods. The discussion was concluded on a positive note about the necessity to diverge the views of policy makers and practitioners from migrant education as a problem to migrant education as a challenge to address but also as an opportunity to improve education for all.

Hanna Siarova,

Public Policy and Management Institute

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