The state institution responsible for education at all levels is the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. The Ministry develops one-year and long-term educational investment programmes; approves requirements for the regulations of state-run and municipal schools; approves the general curriculum content of formal education, and achievement levels; organises and coordinates the accreditation of the secondary education programme; approves the procedure of consecutive learning under general education programmes and the procedure for organisation and implementation of Matura exams; establishes, liquidates, and reorganises vocational schools; and approves general vocational education plans.
The principles of education in Lithuania are stated in the Law on Education (1991). According to the Law, the education system of Lithuania comprises the following: 1) formal education (primary, basic, secondary education, formal vocational education and training and higher education studies); 2) non-formal education (pre-school, pre-primary, other non-formal education of children (as well as the teaching supplementing the formal education) and of adults); 3) informal education; 4) educational assistance (vocational guidance, informational, psychological, socio-pedagogical, special pedagogical and special assistance of education, healthcare at school, consultation, in-service training of teachers and other assistance).
In Lithuania, school education is compulsory for pupils until they reach the age of sixteen. Compulsory education is usually provided up to the 10th form (2nd form of the gymnasium). After completion of the 10th form, pupils must take the basic education achievement test in the Lithuanian Language, Mathematics, and an elective basic education achievement test in Mother Tongue (Belarusian, Polish, Russian or German). After acquiring basic education and obtaining the basic education certificate, they may continue learning under the programmes for secondary education or vocational education and training or under the combined programme for secondary education and vocational education and training in order to acquire their first qualification.
Pre-primary education is compulsory from age 6 to 7. Its purpose is to help a child prepare for learning according to the primary education curriculum. Pre-primary education is carried out according to a one-year general pre-primary education curriculum approved by the Minister of Education and Science. Its content is focused on the development of the child’s general competences – social and health care, knowledge and understanding of the world, communication and artistic expression – through integrated development activities. Private, state or municipal kindergartens, school-kindergartens, schools or other institutions, as well as freelance educators or other education providers can provide pre-primary education.
According to the Law on Education, children who have reached the age of seven must attend the first form. The duration of the primary education programme is four years. Compulsory primary education can be obtained in kindergarten-schools, in primary schools and, less commonly, in basic or secondary schools. After completion of their primary education, pupils begin the 6-year basic education. The purpose of basic education is to provide an individual with the basics of moral, sociocultural and civic maturity, general literacy, the basics of technological literacy, to cultivate national consciousness, to foster an intent and ability to make decisions and choices and to continue learning. Basic education is acquired upon completion of the basic education curriculum and testing the pupils’ learning achievements.
Secondary education is not compulsory and usually lasts two years (11th-12th forms of the secondary school (3rd-4th forms of the gymnasium). The purpose of secondary education is to assist a person in the acquisition of general academic, sociocultural and technological literacy, moral, national and civic maturity, and the basics of vocational competence. Secondary education is acquired upon completion of the secondary education curriculum and the passing of Matura examinations.
Vocational schools provide both basic and secondary education training leading to a qualification. The duration of the programmes can be either two or three years depending on whether it is intended to provide basic or secondary education or whether it is adapted to persons with special needs. The duration of studies for students who have already acquired secondary education is one to two years. Requirements for vocational education programmes are set out by the General Requirements and Vocational Education and Training Standards of the Ministry of Education and Science. Vocational education programmes are developed by vocational education providers in cooperation with employers.
According to Law on Education, the higher education studies is provided to everyone who has acquired at least secondary education, has enrolled in a higher education institution and is capable to study independently. Foundations of activities of higher education institutions and studies therein are set out by the Law on Higher Education and Research (2009).
All levels of formal education are partly funded in Lithuania on the principal of pupil’s or student’s “voucher”, i.e. pupils and students can choose a school and the school receives funding depending on the number of students. The student’s voucher is a fixed subsidy of the state that is distributed through municipalities to schools and non-formal education institutions and through the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport to high schools. The size of the pupil’s and student’s voucher is set by the government. This model of funding was launched in 2002 and gradually introduced to all stages of education. The pupil’s or student’s voucher is provided to both state and private educational institutions. In state schools, the founder provides the remaining funds needed, and private schools can raise the money by charging tuition fees, receiving it through private sponsorship, etc. The money of the pupil’s or student’s voucher cannot be allocated to needs other than education.
In 2018, the 17th Lithuanian Government (counting from 1990 when Lithuanian regained independence) adopted the structural reform of the whole system of education. The reform addresses challenges of all levels of education; it encompasses measures and sets goals to be achieved till 2021. According to the concept of the reform, the main challenges in the field of general school education are an ineffective network of schools and the low prestige of the teaching profession. In Lithuania, the teaching profession is considered as unattractive due to the relatively low salaries for high qualifications, low workload for many teachers, which forces them look for additional sources of income, thus leaving little room for full focus on pedagogical activities. School network reform lags behind the declining number of pupils, one fifth of schools are very small, therefore the principle of a pupil’s voucher does not give equal possibilities for all pupils to have access to the same quality of education. In order to meet these challenges, the Government seeks to introduce the class voucher, promote school mergers and create an optimum number of full-time teacher jobs.
The issue of an ineffective network of schools exist in higher education as well. Over the last 15 years, the number of graduates and entrants to universities decreased (-25 % over 4 years), the number of universities and study programmes, however, remains relatively stable. Because of that, university admissions demonstrate ever-lower competition score; many programmes make no students selection whatsoever. In addition to that, similar study programmes are offered across many universities and colleges, and the scattering of scientific resources does not guarantee the quality of competencies and training. In order to meet these challenges, the Government seeks to optimise the network of universities and vocational education establishments.