Preparing for the future
English is not as widely spoken in Lithuania as it is in Ireland. Which is logical, but not always convenient for my project. I am speaking to fewer people here, and consequently try to obtain more information per single person. Today, I am trying to find out how the Lithuanian educational system is roughly set up.
My train trip from Siauliai to the seaport city of Klaipeda serves as a good opportunity for a first interview. I am talking to Tomas (23) who is a zoology student. One of the first things he tells me is that corruption is - still - an integral part of educational system. Many students buy grades and some even buy diplomas, although the last option is more complicated and less likely to happen. For grade increases, he knows plenty of people who have applied this type of fraud to their school career. They may even end up saving money, because pupils with high grades on their diplomas can go to university for free. This system will be phased out next year, making it less interesting for people to artificially top up their grades.
`I have about three months of summer holidays and spend much time working at the market`
What and when
Lithuania does not make a clear distinction between primary school and secondary school. Pupils enter 1st grade by the age of 6 or 7 and will stay in school for at least 10 years. 12 Years are required for those who want to make it to third-level education. By the age of 16, upon reaching 10th grade, a minimum of three subjects are chosen for the final exam. Lithuanian language is compulsory, and most people take one foreign language which is either English or Russian. German is optional but not very popular, the same goes for French. Other subjects include psychology, arts, history and mathematics. Economics and philosophy are not on offer. Pupils can choose to complete the last two years in level A (advanced) or B (average). Marks for tests are generally awarded on a 1 (minimum) to 10 (maximum) scale, with at least a 5 required to pass a test in university, 4 in school.
Schools provide both breakfast and lunch. Children go to school at 8, where they get served a quick meal that consists of salad. It takes only ten minutes and not everybody participates in it. Lunch consists of soup and a hot meal, and it needs to be paid for every single day in cash. An entire meal costs approximately 70 euro cents. Taking lunch to school is not recommended. `You risk being laughed at`, say Kristina (20) and Sandra (17). Christina will go enter college this year to become a lawyer. She studied journalism before, but chose to change her focus to law. Sandra is still in 11th grade and she has not yet decided what she will do once she finished school. Both think they will have a fair chance of finding a job, because many people left abroad and there should be plenty of vacancies by the time they finish their studies.
Working while or after studying
In the afternoon, I walk through Klaipeda`s old town and visit the local market. Vikintas (21, photo) is one of the few young people selling products. He is enjoying the long holiday season that Lithuanian pupils and students are used to. Summer holidays start around the middle of June and last until 1 September. Vikintas is helping his grandfather sell home-grown potatoes and does that a few times a week during summer. He is a student in ecology. I ask him whether he has plans to emigrate when he finishes his studies, just like many Lithuanians do. He thinks Sweden would be a nice country to live, but has not been there and he has not travelled a lot. His friends left on Inter Rail this summer, but Vikintas unfortunately could not join them because he is working.
In many of today`s interviews, the European Union and the idea of emigrating entered the conversation more than once. The EU memberships clearly offers Lithuanian students options that earlier on were not as easily available. The Scandinavian countries and the UK rank highest on the wish list. But unlike the problem some other Eastern European countries are facing, there seems to be no fear of massive brain drain: Lithuanians like their country and many will only leave it with the idea of returning to their birth ground one day.
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