The children of immigrants. Education is not only compulsory, but also the best way to integrate

Written by a journalist Laima Karaliūtė

Collage by Tomas Terekas

Have you just arrived in Lithuania with children? In that case, you should know that education until the age of 16 is compulsory here. Your children will be obliged to attend school. The good news is that general education institutions must accept all children, no matter which country they come from. Your child doesn’t speak Lithuanian? That’s not a problem. Public schools have prepared an integration program. The child will be provided with additional Lithuanian lessons and will not be evaluated for two years. This time is dedicated for adaptation.

Are you worried that your child might not fit in? Specialists say the opposite. Children find it easier to learn Lithuanian and integrate themselves. The results of the immigrant children are impressive. The most important is not to be afraid of asking for help, talking to teachers, psychologists, and parents. In this case, communication is the key. This is the only way to make your child’s integration quicker and easier. By the way, specialists advise you not to choose English or Russian schools. Children who know these languages may find it easier to study; however, the result is often disappointing- the child doesn’t learn Lithuanian that well. 

Indrė Pajarskaitė, children’s psychologist, gives advice for parents 

First of all, you should explain your child why you had to leave your country. Why you will have to live in Lithuania from now on.
Often children find it difficult to leave the country. It is a traumatizing experience because something close and important for a child is left behind. That’s why you should not suppress sadness. You should simply try to understand your child and be sad together. 
Together with a child try to find something common between your homeland and Lithuania.
Explain to your child’s teacher which country you came from, what is your culture and moral principles. 
Introduce the teacher with your child’s learning history, personal traits. 
Explain to your child what he / she will have to face, what is the Lithuanian schooling system, and what he / she will have to learn.
Organize a presentation “Who am I?”. Tell the classmates a short story about yourself: Why did I come here? From where? What is my country proud of? Why is your support important for me? Why should we be friends? It gives confidence to the child.
Always communicate with your child, ask how he / she is doing, if there are any uncertainties or difficulties. Solve problems immediately. 
Always communicate with teachers, the school’s administration, parents of child’s classmates. By any means should you stay on the outside or remain closed in your family circle.
Together with the child, attend school events, get involved into school activities.
If you have faced a problem, look for help. Don’t hesitate to turn to the school’s administration, psychologists, social, and psychological services for children.

Children are not insecure about foreign language and culture

 Brigita Miežiūnienė, Lithuanian language teacher at Vilnius “Ryto” Progymnasium, has been teaching sixth and fourth graders from Turkey for two years now.  She emphasizes that children learn foreign languages quicker than adults. Usually children become the teachers of their parents. 

“Children are not insecure about language. They accept language as a natural thing. They are not afraid of making mistakes or pronouncing words incorrectly. You tell them a word and they repeat it after you. They are only stressed when they can’t express themselves due to lack of vocabulary,” says the teacher. 

The specialist reassures immigrant parents by saying that schools have special publications on how to teach foreigners Lithuanian. “Firstly, we use pictures. If there are any questions, modern technologies come in handy. We translate. For example, when I was teaching Turkish kids who came to me knowing only “labas”, I learned more about the Turkish language. Every philologist can do it if they want. This makes it easier for both the teacher and the student,” Brigita says smilingly.  

The Lithuanian language teacher says that fellow Lithuanian students make a great contribution to language teaching. They correct, give advice, show, translate something. That’s why it is important for parents to encourage their children to talk to Lithuanians. 

“For example, there was only one Turkish boy in the fourth grade and there were two brothers from Turkey in the sixth grade. Can you guess who learned Lithuanian faster? Of course, the Turkish boy who did not have a brother. Other Lithuanian kids started taking care of him. They would teach him, help him, and never leave him alone. And the brothers were seen as a company interacting with each other. That’s why I advise parents to put one child into a Lithuanian environment. The initial stress levels might be higher, but the effect is significantly better. Of course, it is ideal when siblings are in the other grades. They can discuss problems in their native language at home or during breaks,” says the teacher. 

How do classmates react to foreigners? Brigita notes that children don’t discriminate against foreigners.

“A classmate who speaks and looks differently is accepted as a natural thing. They do not have any preconceptions as some adults do. We find foreigners exotic, but kids don’t. Kids in such multicultural classrooms are usually more open-minded. They understand more cultures and religions. Sometimes older children approach me and tell me that they have seen Muslim terrorists on TV, that they are bad people, but their Muslim classmate and his parents are very nice,” tells the teacher. 

The teacher has tips for immigrant parents on how to make language learning and adaptation easier. If there is a possibility, you should introduce the child with the Lithuanian language before starting school. Listen to Lithuanian songs and fairytales, watch TV, movies and shows in Lithuanian. If the child is younger, cartoons in Lithuanian are a great option. 

How to find the right school for your child? 

You might want to turn to “Caritas” organization. It’s representatives will tell you who to turn to, how to find a suitable school, help you with documents, communicate with municipalities and provide a translator if needed.
The assistance is free of charge.
Address: Papilio st. 5, Kaunas. +370(37)205427, caritas@icn.lt, www.caritas.lt

Who to turn to if there are learning or adaptation issues?

You can’t solve the child’s problems neither with the school’s administration nor teachers? Your municipality’s Pedagogical-Psychological Center (PPT) will help you to find a solution.
The center’s mission is to provide psychological and special pedagogical assistance to children and pupils of the city, their parents (guardians, caregivers), teachers and educational institutions.
Specialists will analyze your case. They will find the problem, give you advice and recommendations. Confidentiality is guaranteed. The specialists can assist you in three languages: Lithuanian, Russian, and English. The assistance is free of charge. 
Address: A.Vivulskio st. 2a, Vilnius, office number 12, +3705 265 09 08, rastine@ppt.vilnius.lm.lt.