Lithuania’s education system – between Korea and the US
Dar šiek tiek apie švietimą. Šis rašinėlis dalykui Amerikos kultūra.
Education is undoubtedly one of the most important areas of the nation’s interests, the inseparable part of the country’s policy and one of the most money consuming activities supported by any government. Undoubtedly, education defines the future of the nation. Curiously, it is also one of the most problematic area with many struggles and arguments. This paper will attempt to describe the situation of Lithuania’s education system, comparing it with Korean as well as American styles.
Since the very independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Lithuania began it’s rally of education reforms. Whether due to communist kind of thinking or pure incompetence, the national pride of a free nation didn’t last long and due to corrupt politicians the reform is still being planned, followed by numerous demonstrations and public dissatisfaction. First of all, let me describe Lithuanian education system in short.
Almost all secondary schools and all universities in Lithuania are national. There are only a few private collages that provide professional education and are not considered as high level educational institutions. This brings Lithuanian government to spending a big part – 5.89% of the national DGP, compared with European average of 5.22% on education. Comparing Lithuania’s education with other European countries, the outcome is quite promising – Lithuania is one of the leading countries in the fields of length of studying, relative number of young people studying, number of students with higher education, etc. However, Lithuania is at the bottom of the list when it comes to number of students with special needs or amount of money spent on scientific researches.
On May 22nd 2008 on the Independence square of Lithuanian capital Vilnius students held a demonstration against the currently planned higher education reform. The main accent of the reform is making universities non-free for all students and largely increasing the fee. Right now the universities have non-paying students, as well as paying the whole fee (approx. 500 $ a year) and half of the fee. The reform also plans to give more independence to universities. Lithuanian students fear that more independence would mean higher costs and less study programs, because such sciences as physics, chemistry, arts, etc. require a lot more means than, for example, economy, business management or administration.
The other major problem of Lithuania as a country, directly influencing education, is emigration of youth. Most common emigration countries are United Kingdom, Ireland, the Scandinavia countries. Lithuanian students argue that if the costs of universities increases, then there is no point in staying in Lithuania and getting the education there, rather than going to UK and getting a better education for the same costs and frankly, with better loaning conditions provided by banks.
This is all true, however, seeing Korea’s example, one starts to wonder how that kind of model works. Almost all of Korea’s universities are private and all students (or their parents) pay quiet a lot of money for their education. Moreover, there is a wide spectrum of available studies – from economics and business to physics, computer science and medicine, with private hospitals and laboratories. All of this is funded by student fees and no one seems to be extremely disappointed about that.
On the other hand, Korean universities are not in top universities of the world, or at least Asia. Even though Seoul National University is No. 63 in world’s best universities (2006), it being national doesn’t mean that the reason of success (or failure) of Korean universities lies in them being national or private. It is more an issue of how Koreans see education system as a whole. It is said that Korean universities are quiet easy compared with universities of other countries because Korean high schools are very difficult. If one succeeds in graduating high school and entering a university, he is considered to be worthy of the diploma even before graduating.
This also seems to be confirmed by a research, held in May 2008 in Korea’s Kyunghee university by the author of this article. There are no official results yet, but the hypothesis of Korea’s high schools being too difficult and universities being too easy will be confirmed. The author surveyed 30 Korean students and 20 foreign students in Kyunghee university, asking to state how many hours they spent in school and university. Foreign students were also asked to compare their home university and Kyunghee. The results are already obvious – average number of hours spent on studies in high schools a day is more than 8 and average number of hours spent in university a day is less than 3. The students were also asked if school and university curriculum is too difficult and are they happy to have studied hard in high school. Though most of Korean students answered to be extremely unhappy about having studied hard, most of them also answered that school was not too difficult (giving an average of 3 points out of 5), and same goes for university.
Looking though the answers of foreign students, the impression is that they find Korean university quiet different from their home university, the answers vary from 3 to 5 points out of 5. Considering this and the list of the world’s best universities where US universities occupy the bigger part of, it really makes you think that there is something wrong with the Korean attitude towards education and may be there is not so much wrong with US education. Returning to Lithuania, it seems that it hasn’t found its style yet. Being able to describe Lithuanian schools and universities both from the view point of an insider and outsider, the schools education is probably better that world’s average and universities – worse than average. There isn’t such a big difference between schools and universities as in Korea or USA, but it is closer to Korea with an ambiguous financing model that will surely cause some major reforms.