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The early school leaving rate in Lithuania remains one of the lowest in the EU (5.5 % in 2015 compared with the EU average of 11 %) and has been declining since 2008 when it was 7.5 %. Thus, Lithuania does not need to have a comprehensive strategy to tackle early leaving. However, the National Education Strategy 2013–2022 has established a national target of maintaining the ELET rate below 8 % by 2022. There is a gender gap - the ELET rate is 6.9 % for males compared with 4 % for females (still one of the lowest in the EU). Early leaving is not officially defined but other similar concepts are used: a) 'not-learning child': a child under 16 years not registered in the student register; b) 'not-attending child': a child included in the student register but who has missed, during a month, more than half of the lessons prescribed by the compulsory school curriculum without due justification; early school leavers aged 18 –24 with lower secondary or lower education and not in education 4 weeks. Those having started VET programs but not completed with a qualification are considered as VET dropouts.
Lithuania has developed policies to address challenges of ELET. Since 2005, the Education Law placed responsibilities on municipalities to have in place an optimal network of schools. This required the development and agreement of initial plans within all 60 municipalities and has seen considerable reorganisation of the school network, with the total number of municipal schools reducing from 1 429 to 1 107 between 2005 and 2015. Home to school transport was recognised as integral to the reform, with the purchase of almost 700 buses between 2000 and 2014. This was aimed not only to better allocate resources but also to increase quality of teaching which results in better motivation of students to attend school.
The main measures and policies related to early leaving are: increasing the number of children in early childhood education and care (ECEC) as of the age of 4, possible mandatory ECEC attendance for children socially at risk, providing quality ECEC via the 'Development of kindergarten and preschool education' project (2012-2015) (Ikimokyklinio ir priešmokyklinio ugdymo plėtra). This project is supplemented by the 'Promotion of Cohesion' Programme (2007-2013), which aims at a) investing in pre-primary education by updating the curriculum and improving school conditions and b) creating equal opportunities for young children in rural areas through the creation of 'Universal Multifunction Centres in Rural Areas' (Universalių daugiafunkcinių centrų kaimo vietovėse steigimas) for educational and social services within the vicinities;
Lithuania has developed early warning systems to identify and respond to early signs of ELET. Students who, over one month miss more than half of the lessons prescribed by the compulsory curriculum are registered in the 'National Information System on Children's Absenteeism and Pupils' Truancy'. This data is subsequently transmitted to the information systems of other agencies like social welfare, internal affairs or health care. An electronic school diary has been introduced for general education and vocational training schools. It allows parents to see information on their children’s recent achievements and progress, directly communicate with teachers and participate in forums on various issues. Some electronic diaries allow schools to send an SMS or e-mail to inform parents if the student is missing school or being late.
Another measure are the youth schools for students aged 12-16 who lack both the motivation to learn and social skills, and who are experiencing learning difficulties. They are engaged in practical activities linked to the basic education curriculum while at the same time receiving social rehabilitation. Youth homes are for pupils aged 12-17 who have completed a course of treatment for and rehabilitation from dependence on psychotropic substances and alcohol, as well as those who have behaviour-related and emotional development disorders and need to improve their mental well-being and motivation for learning linked to the basic education curriculum.
These measures are also in place: 1) supporting low achievers through individual learning plans and educational assistance for students with special educational needs; 2) providing language support for children with a different mother tongue. Teaching in ethnic minorities' languages is also provided in some schools; 3) establishing a procedure for the identification of groups at risk of early leaving with the participation of municipalities, school staff, parents and, if needed, the Child Welfare Commission; 4) developing the 'National Information System on Children’s Absenteeism and Pupils' Truancy' (Nesimokančių vaikų ir mokyklos nelankančių mokinių informacinė sistema) as an early warning system for students at risk of early leaving; 5) networking with parents and other actors outside school through projects such as 'Harmonic Family and Sustainable School Community – The Future of Lithuania' (Darni šeima ir tvari mokyklos bendruomenė – Lietuvos ateitis) in order to promote active involvement of parents in educational activities; 6) identifying school drop-outs and supporting them to re-enter education at the so-called 'Youth Schools' (jaunimo mokyklos), that offer one or two-year schooling for students with learning motivation or social problems. The course may lead to re-entering mainstream education and training; 7) the 'Trust Yourself' project (Pasitikėk savimi), which aims at increasing students' motivation to return to education or to employment. Target groups are persons aged 16-25 years old, who do not have any qualification, do not work or learn and do not participate in the active labour market. Persons below 21 years of age are sent back to education. The authority responsible for developing and implementing the project is the Lithuanian Employment Services in the Ministry of Social Security and Labour. Other bodies are involved such as the Department of Youth Affairs, 10 regional public employment services and 11 NGOs.
Specific targeted measures for groups at risk are focused on students from socially disadvantaged, migrant and minority/Roma backgrounds. The Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania approved the ‘Action Plan on Roma Integration into Lithuanian Society 2012-2014’. Its purpose is to promote the participation of Roma in society, to reduce social exclusion, to raise Roma community awareness and to make society more tolerant of Roma people and their culture.
VET teachers receive training on how to work with potential early leavers. Most VET providers have developed student attendance tracking systems and action plans to improve attendance. Since 2011, most VET providers have established child welfare commissions (vaiko gerovės komisija), which involve social pedagogues to work with potential drop-outs, their families and teachers to reduce early leaving.
Other measures include projects that have been implemented that seek to reduce ELET by improving the transition between general education and different types of vocational pathways or between different types of vocational programmes. For example a project 'Alternative Education in the Education System' aimed to identify people who have left education and training early and help them re-enter the system. This project also aimed at creating the conditions to facilitate acquisition of basic education for more students as well as increasing the number of students that continue their education or training after secondary education.Another project 'Providing Wider Possibilities for Choosing a Learning Pathway for Students aged 14-19, Phase II: Deeper Learning Differentiation and Individualisation for Ensuring Education Quality demanded by the Modern Labour World'. This projects aimed at providing wider possibilities to students aged 14-19 by individualising and differentiating the curriculum, increasing its attractiveness, and adjusting it to the labour market needs for the development of professional competencies.
Lithuania has policies and measures for enriching the learning experience through the provision of extra-curricular activities. These measures are also reported to impact positively on reducing the number of students leaving education and training early. In Lithuania initiatives to combat early leaving allow schools to put in place activities and programmes to meet students’ current needs, such as cultural, artistic, environmental and health education programmes, intercultural education etc.
The policy areas of employment, youth, social affairs, family, justice, health and housing are involved in cooperating on early leaving, but cooperation mechanisms are not yet established. Multi-agency partnerships at local/institutional level involve school heads, teachers, guidance specialists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, as well as speech and language specialists. Schools are legally obliged to have a school child welfare commission, in which the cooperation of each specialist is regulated by law; however specific cooperation mechanisms between the different policy areas have not yet been established.