Head of Klaipėda Lyceum: Schools of the millennium are born not in the offices of politicians

Can the definition of modern education and educational institutions of Lithuania be synonymous in the same sentence? Klaipėda Lyceum principal Dr. Regina Kontautienė claims that a status of a modern establishment of learning is upheld by the view on the process of education and a school’s community, not simply by computerised classrooms or a high-tech infrastructure of a school.

How should a modern place of education look like today? What tools should we use to knock on the minds of the youth? Why is it useful for children in Lithuania to study in International programmes? These and other topics important to the community of Lithuania’s system of education were discussed with the education experts and Klaipėda Lyceum principal Dr. Regina Kontautienė.

At the beginning of this school year the Klaipėda Lyceum community openly asked the question of what today’s modern school should be like. What primary principals, activities and regulations of a modern school could we point out today?

This school year helped strengthen the thesis, raised by our school’s community, that today’s modern school is not defined by computerised classrooms or infrastructure.

A modern and current school is, firstly, a place of education, which reflects current learning tendencies, which project a key regulation – a more personalised, individualised education and teaching in class. If we were to speak bluntly, a modern school has to pay great attention to the individual needs of a child and their skills, so that their personal strengths would help them strive for success in other fields of study.

More than two years ago Klaipėda Lyceum officially became an International school. How much does this status contribute to the process of creating a modern place of education nowadays?

We rose to this status naturally. We took the first steps in International education twenty years ago and, as the years went by, the numbers of students form other countries became noticeably larger. As time went by we also successfully established the International Baccalaureate programme (IB), which opened doors for even broader possibilities of gaining experience from teaching practices in other countries as well as provided the opportunity for students to study in the globally acclaimed educational system. That is why we can all unanimously say that the school’s internationality has been heavily influential in the development of the idea of a modern school.

Afterall, a modern school has to be open to changing global tendencies, influence of other cultures and good practices.

You mentioned the International Baccalaureate Programme. Klaipėda Lyceum has been teaching using this programme for many years. What results have you managed to achieve and how is the development of the programme coming along?

Last year we had our first graduating IB class, which’s exam results were higher than the average results of all the other IB schools. We also received exceptionally positive International expert evaluations during the accreditation process. The experts also praised our IB DP (11-12th grades) and IB MYP (6-10th grades) programmes. The accreditation team was exceptionally impressed by the professional preparedness of our teacher, nature sciences laboratory, wide array of afterschool activities, the work of the school’s psychologists as well as the involvement of the students’ parents in various school projects.

This shows that we are on the right path and encourages us to improve our Lyceum community even more. Currently, students from 6th to 12th grades in Klaipėda Lyceum, are able to matriculate in the IB MYP and IB DP programmes.

We are currently helping develop the IB PYP (Primary Years Programme) for children in primary years of their education. The preparation and accreditation processes will be finished up this year.

In your opinion, why is it a generally good idea for students to study in International educational programmes in Lithuania? What, in your mind, are the biggest advantages of these programmes in comparison to the national educational programme?

It is a standardised and globally tried and true educational programme, developed with the best modern educational practices in mind. Also, Diplomas from this programme are exceptionally valued in the best world-renowned places of higher learning. It is not a coincidence that the International Baccalaureate is the most direct way to the best universities in the world.

Students who have graduated from the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme study successfully in Lithuanian Universities, as the taught subject matter is closely related to the material covered in the first years of University, and the learning process requires a lot of independent work, creative problem solving, a deeper knowledge of facts and processes. If we were to compare our programme to the National programme, the IB Programme encourages students’ independence, curiosity and involvement in the learning process more.

IB MYP (Middle Years Programme) students are not only taught various disciplines and their subject matter but are also active in its application in other areas science and day-to-day life, and a lot of attention is given to developing other competencies. For example, students in the IB MYP programme participate in group and individual science and social projects and prepare public presentations of their projects. The purpose of these projects is to teach students information literacy, public speaking skills, social interaction, critical thinking and other personal competencies. International Students in International Baccalaureate programmes are not only evaluated on their academic achievements, but their social and societal contribution. The International Baccalaureate programme also provides the opportunity to support a continuum of learning for those students who travel to live abroad or come to learn in Lithuania.

Today’s student generation is called the generation of individuality. What tools, in your opinion, should establishments of education use in order to more competently adjust to the needs of today’s students?

Firstly, today’s education should be based on the development of a student’s strong capabilities and nurturing and strengthening of their personality traits. So that we could reveal each student’s abilities, character strong suits and personality traits we should work with the purpose to allow the student to follow the path of their personal individualised learning and achievements and encourage reflecting on their results.

In Klaipėda Lyceum students analyze their achievements with their teachers periodically, evaluate their participation in the learning process, speak openly about their problems, necessary help.

Liceum uses a Child’s Individual Progress evaluation system (CIP_ which helps each student and their parents to see their child’s strong and weak sides, solvable problems and determine an individualised plan of aid. This type of successful and purposeful monitoring and an open discussion with the teachers motivates a student’s to learn, encourages self-discipline, learning skills to acquire competencies and personal responsibility, helps a child improve their academic results, while a systematically evaluating the student’s effort and results allows for the students to evaluate their skills adequately, see their strong suits.

There are a lot of discussions about the boundaries of today’s children, the age at which they should start attending school or preschool/kindergarten. You have mentioned out in the open, many times, that Klaipėda Lyceum uses British educational practice models of learning. Children in England start attending school from 5 or even 4 years old. In your opinion, what is the most optimal age at which a child should start attending school?

There are many various educational practices in the world based on different models of at which given age a child should attend school. In most countries, children start attending school much earlier than in Lithuania – 5-6 years old. I agree with this kind of decision, because this time in a child’s life is usually the most actively focused on discovery and information gathering – 4,5 to 5,5 years old. That is why it is crucial to not ignore this age in a child’s development. Later in life many children need additional effort from their teachers in order to encourage this level of activity. Obviously, it is important to also pay attention to the individual psychological maturity and abilities of each child.

It has been proven in the Little Klaipėda Lyceum kindergarten that using this British model of education even five-year-olds and children younger than that can effectively participate in a game-filled exploration of learning – can easily pick up the basics of reading, counting and participate in various integrated educational activities.

However, what is crucial here is the role of a learning continuum throughout the various stages of a student’s learning. We use the net-multi-stage educational principle in the Little Klaipėda Lyceum. This means that we prepare a student for the educational system in Lyceum from an early age, where meticulousness and wholeness are assured as a student goes from one to another stage of learning. This model allows for the teachers to better know their students and be more conscientious of the student’s needs each year of their matriculation, assure better conditions for their personal development. This way, it is not the student who must adjust to the educational system in the school, but the system becomes more and more in tune with the student’s needs and abilities.

What is the role of a teacher in creating a modern current school nowadays?

The role of the teacher has always had a great importance on the achievements of the students. Afterall, it is the competency of the teacher, the skills to find a common connection with the students has always been reflected in a student’s motivation to learn one or another discipline. Also, the young generation is more free and brave to claim their position on various subjects, to disagree, to discuss. That is why a modern teacher has to constantly improve, to not fall behind modern educational practices, but also social and technological tendencies.

If they want to attract the attention of a modern student a teacher has to search for non-traditional solutions, present the learning material in a current fashion and not be afraid of an honest and, sometimes, uncomfortable discussion. Only this way can a teacher earn the respect and trust of their students, which is very important when trying to motivate students to achieve knowledge in their field.

It is often discussed in today’s society about the contents of educational programmes, which, in the opinion of some specialists, is not current in today’s living tendencies or learning needs? In your opinion, is this problem in the education content or the way it is presented?

It is said, for a reason, that every generation requires teaching tools that are appropriate for it. That is why, today, a school has to approach the minds of students in a language that is approachable to them. As we go through the audit of current education programmes, specialists have honestly come to a conclusion that a large portion of today’s teaching materials hardly ever involve or nurture a student’s curiosity, involvement, creativity or joy of discovery. That is why the entire country’s education community must undoubtedly search for more modern tools for today’s children to approach knowledge.

What type of teaching tools might be important for today’s student generation? How can the children of today be more engaged in the learning process?

I could use teacher-expert Ramunė Galdikienė’s lesson as an appropriate example of synergy between using technologies and teaching Lithuanian Language. In her lesson, students analyse Lithuanian and World Literary pieces through various events in pop culture, publicised news.

For example, students analyse current journalistic articles about today’s events, war in ukraine, Lithuanian and foreign ministers, presidential speeches on various topics, where there themes or character relevant to the studied pieces of Literature are present, f.e. George Orwell “Animal farm”, baron Miunhauzen.

This model of teaching teaches students to not only broaden their understanding of the literature they are reading, but to also critically think about both it and the contents of the publicised news, journalistic articles. This type of lessons also encourages deeper student interest in the taught subjects, and that is why a similar specification of presenting material is used by other Lyceum teachers.

What, in your opinion, social competencies and human values should a modern place of education try and nurture in their students?

If we were to speak on social competencies, then a lot of attention should be paid to the students’ ability to communicate, cooperate, work in a team, and the ability to critically think and solve problems. Now, if we were to talk about values, then I suppose we should pay more attention both in our families and in our school on teaching children interpersonal values – to share, to help each other, to be meticulous and have a sense of personal and social responsibility. It is for a reason that most world-renowned Universities pay great attention not only on the academic achievements of their applicants, but also to their well-rounded education, volunteering and extracurricular activities, participation in social and societal activities.

With the intent to improve our student’s communal and societal responsibilities we have many social and charity events in our school – aid projects, citizenship and environmental, as well as other projects and events, volunteering opportunities. For over two decades Lyceum has been organising the traditional charity-aid event, during which the collected funds are donated to various socially-vulnerable organisations, the ill and otherwise disadvantaged children. The entire Lyceum community – the teacher, parents, students – contributes to the organising of this event. For almost two decades the Lyceum spaces are beautifully decorated by works of professional artists, personal exhibitions of artists’ work are organised, the gallery of school’s art is created. This creates great opportunities for students who are constantly in an artistic environment, to, seemingly subconsciously, develop their artistic understanding, spiritual values.

When speaking about the education of today’s children a lot of attention is given to the psychological environment in places of learning. In your opinion, how should psychological safety be ensured in today’s modern school?

I think that it is unanimously true that a student can only achieve great results in an environment where they feel safe. That is why each institution of learning must first assure the physical and the psychological safety of children. A child who is psychologically comfortable in a place of education will feel that way if they know that they can trust the specialists working there, if they won’t be subject to bullying or psychological violence, will be valued as a person, and their efforts will be noticed.

That is why each school should have clearly set rules which reflect the human values of the school. The students must understand what is not-tolerable in the school, what is encouraged, what kind of help they might get in school if they are met with various problems. Afterall, a child’s life and learning in school are intertwined through activities, their spaces, experiences. That is why each modern place of education must nurture humane relationships, tolerance, positivity and kind-heartedness and the students’ self-expression should be encouraged. Only in this way can students consider their being at school meaningful.

It has been noted that, in the past few years, the results of the Mathematics exam have been in steady decline in Lithuania. Klaipėda Lyceum is one of the few institutions in Lithuania where the exam results in these disciplines have been continuously high. What is the secret of this stability?

There is no one answer to this question, probably. These kinds of results are determined by long-term work, applying various teaching practices and the attempts to draw in the best teaching specialists. The academically challenging environment, a good microclimate, early career preparation, the opportunity to have extra classes in a chosen sub-field of a subject, classes and consultations for deepening one’s knowledge, assuring a continuum as a student moves from one grade to another – all of these are important part of each child’s individual success, trying to reach their maximum learning result.

What solution, based on your professional experience and good practices, could you offer to other places of learning in the country, which have not received the best solutions from the government institutions, but want to independently move towards a more modern and current direction of teaching?

In my personal opinion, each school of the millennium should start building itself up from its community and its environment. We must all understand that the biggest change to a place of education can be made by us ourselves – teachers responsible for their work, active and motivated students as well as their parents, an active and collaborative school administration. Perhaps, it might sound too pretentious, but I feel like schools of the millenia are born in the classrooms of places of learning, not in the rooms of politicians. That is why, even in smaller Lithuanian cities today, we can find school so the millenia, which’s infrastructure and education levels far exceed those of big-city schools. This is proof that we cannot wait for solutions from above, but must constantly move forward with purpose even in the most difficult of conditions, seeking benefit for our school and its community.

  • 2014-2021 journal “reitingai” list of best primary and secondary education schools Klaipėda Lyceum took first place among Lithuanian secondary-schools not participating in the selection process of students.
  • From 2022 Klaipėda Lyceum received the status of an International School, where students have the opportunity to study in the National as well as the globally-acclaimed International Baccalaureate programme.
  • In the summer of 2022, Klaipėda Lyceum had its first graduating class of IB Programme students, whose exam results were higher than the global average of other schools participating in the same education programme.