Problems and Priorities of Education in Lithuania
Education is one of the most important, but also the most problematic policy areas in Lithuania. Numerous long-lasting problems in the education system remain unresolved, such as poor learning outcomes and their large gap between children from different social, economic and cultural backgrounds, exclusion (elimination of non-state education providers, discrimination against people with special educational needs), unfocused and unintegrated non-formal education program, low adult learning indicators and alike. We present here non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) proposals on the main challenges in education.
- Opening up the education system. One of the recommendations for Lithuania by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is to include NGOs into the modelling and provision of public services. Although the 2014-2020 National Progress Program had an indicator to procure at least 15% of public services from independent entities, including non-governmental organizations, this indicator reached only 2.9 % in the field of education in 2019. Lithuania’s education system remains very closed, focused on maintaining a network of subordinate institutions, and the involvement of non-profit organizations in education as social partners in both decision-making and service provision is very slow.
- to involve NGOs in the decision-making process related to education in non-governmental organizations’ councils and education councils at the national and municipal levels;
- to implement measures aimed at strengthening the capacity of local organizations and encourage non-governmental organizations to join associations;
- to set specific goals for the transfer of education services to NGOs at the national and municipal level and monitor their enactment;
- to involve non-state education institutions (pre-school, basic, non-formal education) in the general education system by offering legal and financial support instruments.
2. Quality of education. Although debates about the quality of education are ongoing in political and public discourse, no clear consensus has been reached on what it is and what we are aiming for. Quality education is not only about students’ achievements, but also about individual progress, the effect of the social elevator, the civic power of young people, socio-emotional maturity, and so on. Despite the declared aspirations to develop future skills and focus on the future economy’s needs, the education system is still inert in practice. The curriculum, even updated, becomes irrelevant before it is implemented. Respect for diversity and universal human rights, openness to the world, and global awareness, sustainable development principles and the European Green Deal provisions remain declaratory references in legislation.
- to establish and implement regular monitoring and updating of general education programmes, involving independent experts, higher education institutions, non-governmental organizations and other social partners;
- to advance targeted digital skills education from primary schools. To pay special attention to teacher training by ensuring the continuous development of teachers’ competencies in all subjects: a) knowledge of different technological tools and the ability to combine them; (b) ability to apply technological creativity in one’s discipline;
- to monitor the individual progress of each child in pre-school and general education institutions, taking into account not only academic achievements but also socio-emotional maturity and general competences;
- to seek synergies and complementarities between formal and non-formal education and involve NGOs in the education process (for more details, see the section on non-formal education of children);
- to expand citizenship education through hands-on participation in non-governmental organizations’ activities, voluntary and civic initiatives. Citizenship education should include global/international dimensions, sustainable development and the European Green Deal provisions, and reflections on the role of the Lithuanian-European-World citizen, i.e. active citizenship;
- to ensure continuous and high-quality teachers’ education and improvement of subject-related and general professional training with social partners’ help.
3. Inclusion. Children with special educational needs (SEN) are still denied the right to inclusive pre-school and general education, in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is related not only to an unsuitable environment, but also to the lack of a support system: teachers are not provided with methodological support, and schools lack educational support specialists. Previous attempts to include children with special needs have failed and have caused frustration and mistrust among children and parents, as the system has not been adequately designed for this.
Under current legislation, general education for children with special educational needs is only provided until the age of 21. Some children with disabilities in Lithuania do not finish school because the appropriate conditions are not created. Also, these children are often prescribed to be home-schooled according to simplified programmes, thus preventing them from learning or studying after leaving school.
- to adapt ALL pre-school and general education institutions for children with special educational needs before January 1, 2024, in consultation with non-governmental organizations and experts;
- to create a system of professional development and methodological consultations for teachers working with children with special educational needs, involving non-governmental organizations;
- to ensure that qualified educational support services are provided in pre-school and general education institutions;
- to provide transportation services adapted to special needs not only to kindergartens and schools but also to non-formal education activities;
- to extend the term of provision of education services and apply individualized case management, without preventing persons with SEN over the age of 21 from continuing their education;
- to educate the public and parents about inclusion, rights and support services with the help of non-governmental organizations;
- to eliminate the segregational system of special education institutions as soon as possible.
- Accessibility. National and international research shows that children for disadvantaged social, economic and cultural (SEC) environments in Lithuania experience significant exclusion in education, and their achievements are much lower than those of other children. Notably, these children’s parents often do not have a proper understanding of the need to educate their children. Therefore, additional efforts are needed to ensure opportunities for these children to attend pre-school or general education schools and participate in other non-formal education.
4. Accessibility. National and international research shows that children for disadvantaged social, economic and cultural (SEC) environments in Lithuania experience significant exclusion in education, and their achievements are much lower than those of other children. Notably, these children’s parents often do not have a proper understanding of the need to educate their children. Therefore, additional efforts are needed to ensure opportunities for these children to attend pre-school or general education schools and participate in other non-formal education.
- ensure the provision of pre-school education for children from disadvantaged SEK environment;
- to ensure that qualified educational support services are provided in pre-school and general education institutions;
- to increase the availability and diversity of non-formal education programs of children, especially in remote areas;
- offer transportation services (coordinated with public transport services) not only to kindergartens and schools but also to non-formal education activities and appoint an accompanying person for the transportation of pre-school children.
- Non-formal education for children (NFEC) is an integral part of the education system. Non-formal education is often perceived as a means for leisure time or occupational activities, less important than formal education. However, general competences are developed, and values imperative for the present and future social and economic life are strengthened through non-formal education. Non-formal education is characterized by various approaches and the ability to respond rapidly to changing challenges and needs. Therefore, NFEC must become a full-fledged part of the education system, along with formal education.
5. Non-formal education for children (NFEC) is an integral part of the education system. Non-formal education is often perceived as a means for leisure time or occupational activities, less important than formal education. However, general competences are developed, and values imperative for the present and future social and economic life are strengthened through non-formal education. Non-formal education is characterized by various approaches and the ability to respond rapidly to changing challenges and needs. Therefore, NFEC must become a full-fledged part of the education system, along with formal education.
- to finance the dedicated NFEC programme from the state budget, gradually increasing the monthly allowance and the funds allocated to the program;
- to update the Concept of Non-formal Education, taking into account modern needs and compatibility/complementarity with the renewed content of general education and the transformation of its programme that is focused on results (competencies to be developed), not on the process;
- to establish a sub-program for national NFEC programs, including updating the program accreditation system;
- to increase the diversity and quality of NFEC programs by creating a system of financial and organizational incentives to attract new NFEC providers, especially in remote areas;
- to monitor the quality of NFEC programs and its enhancement by reviewing the quality criteria;
- to ensure greater funding, conditions and necessary educational assistance for the participation of children with special educational needs in NFEC programs;
- to develop and implement an assessment and recognition system for the competences acquired through non-formal education.
6. Non-formal adult and senior adult education (NFAE and NFSAE). Non-formal adult education receives little systematic attention on the Lithuanian political agenda, resulting in the inconsistent formation and implementation of this system, often only trying to formally adhere to the general principles of non-formal adult education development as prescribed by the European Union institutions or “absorb” the Union’s structural funds.
The challenges of climate change, transition to a green and digital economy, the ageing society, and the probability of recurring pandemic waves require constant updating of general and professional competencies and skills. So far, no achievements have been made to reach the goal to increase the adult lifelong learning indicator to 15%, as set in the Lifelong Learning Strategy (LLP) of 2008. In 2019, 7% of adults (25-64 years old) participated in learning in Lithuania (the EU average in 2019 was 11.3%). This indicator has increased by only 2.4% over ten years. While in Estonia, the share of adult learners has increased from 10.5 to 20.2% during this period. The inclusion of older adults is even worse: less than 1% of persons over 65 in Lithuania study. In municipalities, NFAE is developed insufficiently and unevenly. Since the middle of 2015, non-formal adult education coordinators were appointed to build up lifelong learning services in municipalities, but their functions were not clearly defined, and no additional funding was allocated for either their activities or the implementation of these programs. The inefficient system of recognition of competencies also does not motivate the participation in non-formal adult education.
- to increase the population’s motivation and habit to learn, continuously improve and acquire new competencies. The development of key competences at any age, including the older generation, should become a useful tool for managing one’s career and social interaction;
- to establish a full-time position of NFAE coordinator in all municipalities and to allocate targeted funding for the implementation of NFAE programs;
- to work closely with municipalities and socio-economic partners to ensure that non-formal adult education and related decisions are taken and implemented through joint efforts;
- to provide well-defined coordination and create conditions for greater access to non-formal adult education for senior adults (64+) and modernize the content and tools of non-formal education, involving Third Age universities;
- to create favourable learning conditions (taking into consideration the place, time, and duration of learning) for all, especially vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups (e.g., the unskilled unemployed, economically inactive population, and people with weak skills);
- update and individualize learning services (according to the competencies being developed, training content, adaptation of training forms and methods) according to the needs of employers and learners and ensure quality and compliance with national and international goals (Social Rights Pillar, Sustainable Development and Green Deal goals);
- to update the system of assessment and recognition of competences acquired through non-formal and informal learning;
- to carry out systematic monitoring of LLPs, conduct regular research and surveys on learning needs and impact at the national and local levels and implement targeted interventions where necessary. The analysis of research results would substantiate the targeted planning of NFAE activities and resources in the regions.
7. Diversity in higher education. It is not always easy to measure the impact higher education institutions have on the national or regional level based on existing quantitative and qualitative criteria. Although various researches are carried out in Lithuania, they often merely focus on the quantity, not quality, of research and projects. This neither encourages researchers’ creativity nor has a positive impact on the quality of studies.
Today, there is growing talk that higher education needs to be geared toward economic needs, transforming the liberal arts, humanities, and social sciences into marketable professions. But the economy of the future is “green” and socially oriented. It can be developed by university graduates who are comprehensively educated, speak languages, think creatively, can present reasoned opinions and make economic, social, cultural and societal influences in tackling social exclusion and climate change.
- to form Lithuania’s higher education as an open and diverse space of creative studies, in which not only state-run but also specialized non-state higher education institutions operate on an equal footing.
The National Network of Education NGOs is the first and largest umbrella organization uniting NGOs operating in different fields of education. The Network has been operating since 2016 and brings together NGOs from across the country working in pre-school and general education, non-formal education for children, adults and older adults, and higher education. The network seeks a more efficient and high-quality education policy in Lithuania and closer cooperation between independent education actors and institutions in its implementation.
The proposals are based on the analyses carried out by the National Network of Education NGOs:
1. How did the NFEC system meet the challenges of quarantine?
2. Analysis of and recommendations for education service providers in municipalities (analysis of statistical data from 12 municipalities, 4 case studies: Kaunas city and district, Utena, Kazlų Rūda).
3. Analysis of education services in 5 municipalities: NGOs’ involvement (Šiauliai city, Alytus city and district, Tauragė, Vilnius city).
4. Situation of non-formal education for children and development perspectives.
5. Analysis and recommendations of the situation of non-formal education for senior adults in Lithuania.
6. Feasibility study “Citizenship education in formal and non-formal education”.
7. Analysis of the functions and public services provided by the institutions subordinate to the Ministry of Education and Science.