KLAIPEDA - The couple hundred litas many parents shoved into their children’s pockets before the new academic year to buy books and a knapsack may be just petty pocket money compared to the price tag of getting a better-than-average secondary school education. Regardless of the status of school -private or state - the costs are soaring and often catching to the university fees.
Private schools on top
If you opt for a private secondary school - high school - its costs will be on par with university studies. “A decent secondary education is becoming more and more expensive,” says Virgius Martinaitis, who has enrolled his daughter into a private school in Vilnius. To settle her secondary education bills, he needs from 600-800 litas (170-230 euros) monthly and nearly 10,000 litas per year.
“That is a lot of money, but the investment into my daughter’s future will, hopefully, someday pay off” he says.
As many as 13 private schools offer space for pupils in Vilnius. And their headmasters praise in unison private education, pointing to the popular weekly magazine Veidas’ (Face) annual secondary school rating list, in which private secondary education establishments, this year, take up six of the top ten slots.
“Well, a larger enrollment into private schools is characteristic to secondary education reality nowadays. And, student academic achievement-wise, we’ve been seeing lately a lot more academic achievement-oriented young people,” says Tatjana Liubartiene, head of Vilnius Private Gymnasium.
Different private enrollment motives
She maintains that not only learning quality matters in making the parents nod to the private school. “In terms of time arrangements, the parents who have their children signed up with our school are very time-conscious, counting every minute; and we are engaging their children into a very busy purposeful curriculum as well as the post-curriculum activities,” the headmaster stressed.
She says, as a rule, most parents enroll their offspring into a private school not only out of personal belief that private education is better and more efficient, but also assured that private schools can create a specific study-focused micro-climate, free of stress and the standardized teaching encountered at state schools.
Unlike in most state secondary schools, a senior class in most private schools, depending on the academic results of the pupils, is usually divided into three or four different groups according to the children’s capabilities. “That’s what I like about the private school most – variety and a personal approach,” says Martinaitis.
He says his daughter would often be distracted in the raucous classroom back in the state school, and he had spent lots of money for her private tutors to catch up with the rest of her class.
“I do not need to that in the private school,” the parent says.
Attention to post-curriculum activities
Though fewer than five percent of parents can afford getting their children into private schools, the numbers are slowly but steadfastly inching up. And more than just the personal approach and education quality have to be considered.
Differently from the average secondary school, most private Vilnius schools pay increased attention to the post-curriculum activities, the so-called informal nurturing.
“That gives an extra convenience, as the parents do not have to guess what other schools they have to take their children to for an extra foreign language or art classes,” Liubartiene relates.
The personalized approach, she says often produces education miracles.
“At the wheel of the school, I’ve seen cases when, in state schools, children would be suggested to learn to an adapted program, but in our school their academic performance blossoms. Often such children take state exams and pass them successfully,” the director says and adds: “Being talented, for many state secondary schools is kind of a diagnosis; for us it is a blessing.”
The headmaster says the Vilnius Private Gymnasium charges some 8,800 litas per academic year. “Does that seem like a lot? Take into consideration that we’re working with each child up to ten hours daily. Besides, the schoolchildren who’ve been signed up with us for eight or more years get a considerable discount of 25 percent. The price is not high, considering that the pupils can take a variety of foreign language programs,” the school owner says.
The school offers not only secondary education, but also invites parents to enroll their children as young as four or five into its private pre-school preparatory group. This is for the same purpose - to better prepare for the further studies.
Private schools edge out state schools
Irena Baranauskiene, head of the private gymnasium Saule, in Vilnius, says that interest in private secondary education establishments is on the rise, but she notes that only well-to-do and financially secure families tend to enroll their children in private schools.
“In fact, I see a lot of parents before a new academic year starts, inquiring into the opportunities we’re providing and willing to see the differences of state and private secondary education with their own eyes. Many ultimately back out, fearing they won’t be financially able to secure the funding for the child for ten years,” the Saule headmaster says.
According to her, the main difference between the regular secondary school and the Saule gymnasium is the atmosphere of work and culture. “In a private school, the nurturing and teaching plan is a lot wider and has more quality than at a state school. That turns into different levels of knowledge, skills and education quality,” Baranauskiene says.
Enrollment has been steady
Some parents sign up children with a private school not only because they seek a higher education quality, but also in the hopes of tackling the communication and socializing issues their children often unsuccessfully dealt with while in state schools.
“Enrolling in private schools often put an end to disagreements. Sometimes, by enrolling their children in the school the parents want to patch up academic gaps their children had at the state school,” says Baranauskiene.
Although state secondary schools this year see a steep plunge in pupil numbers, down by 20,000 from last year, this could not be said of private schools. “The enrollment had been steady even during the economic crunch and is picking up,” says the Saule gymnasium director.
The school charges 590 litas from its junior students per month, and an extra 220 litas have to be added to the amount if the pupils attend post-curriculum activities. Meanwhile, senior students are asked to pay 670 litas per month while the eldest students pay as much as 700 litas per month.
Closer to the reality
Besides heading the private school, Baranauskiene chairs Lithuania’s Non-state Secondary Education Establishment Association. “As from its chairwoman, you’d probably expect me only to blast state secondary schools, but I never do that. Although the state schools deal with many issues that we don’t, they have very modern and creative teachers,” says Baranauskiene. “But, nevertheless, private schools are a stride ahead in anticipating educational directions, challenges and employing [new ideas],” she adds.
Thus, recently, to respond to the need of a new generation of talented entrepreneurs in the country, the private school has taken on a project by the Lithuanian Industrialist Confederation, aimed to boost the entrepreneurial spirit among the pupils. “We’ve received very positive feedback from our pupils, as well as their parents. To hear a prominent entrepreneur sharing his business insights and personal experiences is a lot more compelling than having a notable economics scholar talking of things in front of the class,” says the director.
Tutors cost as much as private schools
Those 90 percent of parents who cannot afford private schools increasingly tend to hire private tutors to bridge the knowledge gap. According to an Education and Science Ministry poll, some 34 percent of senior schoolchildren rely on private tutors for help in their academic studies.
Among the most sought-after private tutors are specialists in the English and Lithuanian languages as well as teachers of math, chemistry and physics. Tutors can often cost parents 500 litas and more per month. “Demand for private tutors has been on the rise. Many canny parents do not wait even for Christmas and tend to look for tutors as early as September. In this case, the parents spend for extra teaching as much as if the child were in a private school. Either way, secondary education has become very costly,” says Rytas Jurkenas, representative of the foreign language center Kalba.lt.