Education in crisis

  • 2002-05-29
  • John Clark
Lithuania's move from its difficult past into a brighter future while seeking membership in the world's political and economic community is being disrupted by a deeply flawed educational structure.

The Ministry of Education is doing a disservice to the business and political climate in Lithuania by providing as an end product a class of students unprepared for today's world.

Democracy is a means to an end, and that end is a free, stable and prosperous society.

Democracy can offer a conducive environment where people can detect, develop and utilize their talent, skill, initiative, intelligence and brilliance unhindered for national development.

Democracy cannot till the ground for Lithuania; Lithuania cannot sit, arms folded and expect it to bring food to her table.

There are three pillars of a free and prosperous society: freedom of speech, movement and belief, economic freedom of the market, and a liberal education. Political freedom without economic freedom does not bring a prosperous society. Remove factors that impede free enterprise and economic prosperity follows.

It is the development of a solid workable system of education that teaches the concept of political freedom and provides incentives to work within the freedom of the market. An educational system built on a communist foundation is in direct conflict with an upcoming capitalist society.

While capitalism rewards the performance of the individual, communism protects the group. When an individual within the commune fails, the group fails. So, the encouragement is for all to succeed regardless of the indolence of the lowest individual.

Poor performance

Knowledge is not the only goal of education. The teaching of socially acceptable disciplines that encourage the rule of law and a responsible citizenry is also in the state's interests.

Profit on the basis of merit is the goal in market freedom. Advancement on a basis of merit should be the goal within the pillar of education. Obtaining profit through socially unacceptable means is condemned in economic markets. Obtaining educational advancement in a similar manner should also be condemned. It is not done so in Lithuania.

In the business community, employees' work performance is judged by timeliness and quality. Educational performance should be judged on an equal basis. Family lineage, hair color and tears do not determine profits.

The lowest acceptable level for passing the Lithuanian school system is a four on a 10-point marking scale. How many businesses in Lithuania accept workers who perform 40 percent of the time? Can Lithuania compete in the world market when non-performance of 60 percent is taught as acceptable?

In the business community hard work is met with profit. Non-performance is met with bankruptcy. Academic recognition for exceptional performance is justifiably given honor. Likewise, non-performance should be met with an equally opposite consequence.

One student sweats through all of the requirements for a course and gets a diploma. Another student in the same class does grossly less than a reasonable person would accept, but receives the same diploma.

The group or commune is protected. No recognition goes to individual achievement. The commune has succeeded. What is the value of the diploma for the accomplished student?

The current system of education in Lithuanian insults those who gain knowledge by diluting their efforts with the rewarding of diplomas to those less than worthy.

An ongoing dialogue expressing and debating the merits and flaws of the educational system would be healthy for Lithuania, a topic often given scant attention by the popular media.

At one time speaking one's displeasure could result in a ride to Siberia, and still brings strong reactions from school administrators who are the vanguard of the status quo.

Students who point out obvious contradictions within the system are punished with low marks, while teachers who speak too loudly experience the "Socrates syndrome" by being castigated with silence or termination at the end of their contracts.

A successful business entity must clearly state what it produces, what it considers to be an acceptable standard, and intrinsically and specifically knows what constitutes a flawed product. Can each and every Lithuanian school state what it is producing?

Currently, should a student not perform and obtain a failing mark, that student has three chances to retake exams. Rarely in life is a second chance offered.

In an effort to keep the non-performing student at the same level as the commune, the student is allowed to retake the exam at the beginning of the following school year. Often, a new teacher is confronted with having to test students on matters unknown or not taught, resulting in the teacher simply passing the student in frustration. The commune succeeds.

What to improve

Explicitly the Lithuanian Ministry of Education and Lithuanian MPs can do the following.

Reward individual student performance based on standards that apply equally to all.

Develop testing that establishes these standards, standards that show a clear picture of performance allowing comparisons of different schools and regions.

Require upper-level schools to clearly state to the public their entrance requirements, expected achievements to be accomplished in a specified period of time, and a minimum standard of attainment for graduation.

Require schools to hold open-door days where all lessons, and all areas of the publicly owned school are open to public observation during normal busy working days.

Require each school in Lithuania to clearly state in 25 words what the school is to instill within the student during the time the student is enrolled.

Provide incentives within the system that reward teachers who teach and students who achieve.

Require that students pass each course successfully as opposed to a core group of subjects. Require one exam at the end of every term in every course. Require students who fail to repeat the course.

Develop laws protecting the free speech of students and teachers regarding the education system, enforce the laws and do not pretend that the current legal structure is protection enough.

For the Ministry of Education to encourage the teaching of principals and disciplines that are contrary to the goals of the country at large, helps no one. Once educational standards are in line with the democratic and economic goals of the country, everyone wins.