Educational Development in Lithuania: The Past, the Present and Perspectives for the Future

Rimantas Želvys


Following the declaration of Lithuania’s independence in February 1918, the Ministry of Education was established in November of the same year. After the devastating World War I the Ministry counted 8 operating gymnasia (upper secondary schools) and 11 progymnasia (lower secondary schools) with 360 teachers in the territory of the newly founded state. In addition, 1 232 teachers worked in primary schools. Thus, the system of education had to be built substantially from nothing. There was no tertiary education, no preschool education, and a few institutions of primary and secondary education were left with almost no material or human resources. The first kindergarten was established in Kaunas in 1921. The first university in the Republic of Lithuania was re-established in 1922 – after almost one hundred years when it was closed down. Compulsory primary four-year education was introduced during the period of 1928–1931. 32.6 percent of the Lithuanian population was illiterate in 1926. However, in 1940 the illiteracy rate dropped down to 2 per cent. World War II and the occupations intermitted the process of modernization. After the war the country had to adapt to the imposed Soviet model of education where mass education was one of the essential elements of the model.

After the fall of the socialist system, many Euro-Western researchers saw the trajectory of educational changes as very simple and straightforward. The “underdeveloped” former socialist countries were supposed to modernize their systems of education in order to catch up with the contemporary educational ideas and to meet the more “advanced” Western standards. The researchers based their belief on the assumption that “there is one Western educational model that needs to be replicated in the post-socialist countries and that there is only one way of implementing this model” (Bain, 2010). Post-socialist countries were perceived as “countries in transition” with the transition from a “failed” socialist system to a “superior” model of Western capitalism in mind. The concept of transition implied a temporary nature of the reforms. Reforms in all former socialist bloc countries started more or less at the same time – in the early 1990s. Consultants and donors also came from the same international organizations. No wonder that all these countries received “similar “post-socialist” reform packages supplemented with only few country-specific reforms” (Silova, 2009). The pace of the reforms could have been different, but the final outcome was expected to be more or less the same. However, that has not happened. Almost three decades have passed but the transition is not over. One can observe an increase of divergence instead of convergence of the systems. Perhaps the dependency theory can better explain post-socialist transformations than the modernization theory. The dependency theory suggests that the world is a single capitalist economic system where different countries perform different functions androles. “Core”, or “developed” countries produce industrialized highvalue- added products and sell them to “periphery”, or “developing” countries that provide low-value raw material to “core” countries. Therefore, countries do not have equal opportunities to reach the same economic level, and their systems of education have different possibilities of development. It seems that different roles have been allocated to post-socialist countries in the world of global capitalism.

Being a member of the EU, Lithuania seems to be among the more lucky ones. However, today the country faces four kinds of challenges: ideological, strategic, structural, and economic ones. The success of dealing with these challenges will determine the future of the Lithuanian education.

Keywords: educational development, post-socialist countries, modernization and dependency theories.

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