Education Policies in Lithuania

In the Middle Ages, education was mainly the province of the churches, and that was true in Lithuania as well. The first Lithuanian school was begun at Vilnius Cathedral in 1387. Soon many church schools were providing elementary education. In 1579 Vilnius University was opened, and students no longer had to travel to Krakow for higher education.

This continued until the mid-1860s, when Lithuania was under Russian control and Lithuanians began a rebellion. Czar Alexander II cracked down, and put Russian officials in charge of education. The schools, which were still church-run, were ordered to teach the Russian Orthodox religion instead of Catholicism. They were also required to teach writing in the Cyrillic alphabet, not the Latin one.

After World War I and the Russian Revolution, Lithuania became independent, and began to re-establish and also modernize its educational system. For the first time, lessons were in Lithuanian rather than Latin. But in 1940, Lithuania found itself under Russian control again, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union. After World War II, the Soviets made a number of changes in Lithuanian education. They banned the study of Latin, religion, and philosophy, and required courses in Russian. They de-emphasized the humanities and focused on scientific and technical fields. They touted the virtues of Marxism. On the other hand, the Soviets introduced curriculums that were more modern and more suited to a growing industrial nation; they also made college available to workers and peasants.

In 1991 Lithuania again became an independent country. Today the Ministry of Education and Science administers schools and develops educational policies. Two of the Ministry's stated goals are "to implement the national system of formal and non-formal education" and to create "conditions for life-long learning in a changing democratic society." Education is taken very seriously in Lithuania; in 1999, 26% of the national budget was designated for it. Schooling through secondary school has been compulsory since 1978, and 100% of Lithuanians 15 years old and older are literate. Around 90% of Lithuanians speak at least one foreign language, and half the population speaks two.

Lithuania has 23 universities, and students who do well in secondary school are guaranteed free college tuition. In 2002, 68% of students went to college free. About 1/3 of Lithuanians have college degrees, twice as many as the European average. Two of the strengths of Lithuanian universities lie in good policy decisions. The universities are self-governing, assuring academic freedom, and teaching and research are kept separate, leaving professors free to concentrate on teaching.

This sounds like an ideal situation, and Lithuania's commitment to education is admirable. But it's also backfiring somewhat. Lithuania's population is decreasing, as educated, multi-lingual Lithuanians leave to pursue better-paying job opportunities in western Europe. Since 2004, the population has gone down by about 180,000; since 2011 alone, by about 87,000.

Lithuanians agree that the answer is not less education, but an improved economy and more job opportunities. Lithuanians will continue to value education as they always have.

home page

© 2013, All Rights Reserved