Country information for Lithuania - Systems of support and specialist provision
As in most European countries, the Lithuanian system for inclusive education is a multi-stakeholder and multi-level system. The Ministry of Health provides learners with rehabilitation services. It also finances public health specialists in schools. The Ministry of Social Security and Labour provides learners with technical aids, social assistance pensions and target compensations for nursing costs. Municipalities are responsible for the accessibility of buildings and extra-curricular activities and special school settings. The pedagogical-psychological services (PPS) that support schools are co-funded by the municipalities, the National Investment Programme and the European Social Fund.
Development of inclusion
In Lithuania, special needs education is the product of a long-lasting period when segregation of those deemed to be ‘different’ was state policy. After the restoration of independence, it was very clear to the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport that there was an urgent need to develop the special needs education field in accordance with the principles stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education. Another important issue is Lithuania’s commitment to the World Education Forum (Dakar), which highlights: ‘The key challenge is to ensure that the broad vision of Education for All as an inclusive concept is reflected in national government and funding agency policies’.
Lithuania’s first post-communist constitution (1992) affirms Lithuania’s determination to strive for an open, just and harmonious democratic society. It states that every child must attend compulsory education until 16 years of age. The first basis in legislation for inclusive education of children with special educational needs (SEN) is the Act of Special Educational Provision for Children with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Educational Institutions (27 May 1993). It was compiled based on the special education context in the country and the accumulated experience of other countries in managing special education. It stated that learners with SEN in mainstream institutions might be educated:
- in a mainstream group or class, following the mainstream curriculum, but with special methods applied;
- in a mainstream group or class, following a modified mainstream curriculum;
- in a mainstream group or class, following an alternative curriculum for those learners who cannot cope with a modified curriculum;
- in a mainstream group or class, following an individual curriculum which is specifically designed according to the learners’ needs;
- partly in a mainstream group or class and partly in a special group or class;
- in a special group or class in special schools.
This document started to legitimise the inclusive education of learners with SEN in mainstream institutions. It also mandates parents’ formal right to choose the educational institution. It recognises the unity of identification of SEN and serving these needs through a special education board of a mainstream school. Lithuania is improving its legislation, enhancing developments and processes which work towards inclusion.
The Ministries of Education, Science and Sport, Health, and Social Security and Labour started implementing the Regulation on Complex Provision of Education Assistance, Social Assistance and Health Assistance Services to Children of Pre-School Age and their Parents (guardians) in 2011. It aimed to foster co-ordinated and integrated systems for inclusive education to effectively address all the dimensions in learners’ education. The step forward was the inter-institutional plan on Integrated Assistance, Special Schools/Centres and Children Socialisation Centres’ Activities Quality Advancement for 2015–2017. (Source: Financing Policies for Inclusive Education Systems, p. 42).
The National Education Strategy 2003–2012 and a programme for its implementation (2003) in the field of special needs education aimed to:
- implement the ideas of ‘A School for All’ into real Lithuanian school practice;
- ensure accessibility of all school types, introducing formal and non-formal educational programmes for people with SEN;
- provide an opportunity for people with SEN to learn in an environment that meets their needs;
- gradually decrease the number of special (boarding) schools and facilitate the creation of resource centres; the most advanced special (boarding) schools were to be transformed into resource centres.
The National Education Strategy 2013–2022 and a programme for its implementation aim to:
- overcome social exclusion;
- strengthen the role of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport and municipal administration in co-ordinating special education;
- provide quality methodological assistance to special education specialists;
- promote rational, efficient school management;
- promote access to education (in particular, pre-compulsory and post-compulsory education);
- promote lifelong learning.
The proportion of pupils with SEN in schools is increasing: in the 2015–2016 school year it was 10.5% and in 2018–2019 it was 11.6% in mainstream classes in general education schools (Source: Education Management Information System).
In 2019, according to preliminary data, pupils with disabilities made up 20% of all pupils with SEN. In total, 61% of pupils with hearing impairment and deafness attend mainstream education institutions. Home schooling accounted for 2.8% of learners with disabilities and SEN who were enrolled in general education schools (Source: Education Management Information System).
About 45.7% of all general education schools and 51% of vocational schools are adapted for learners with disabilities. Some 45.5% of learners with SEN are engaged in part-time activity groups in general education schools (including special schools). In 2019–2020, according to preliminary data, 65.8% of learners with SEN in vocational schools study in an inclusive way, together with peers. The proportion of learners with SEN out of all learners in vocational schools was 4.1% in 2019 (Source: Education Management Information System). However, the schools’ adaptability for learners with disabilities varies greatly: only 10% of general education schools are fully adapted for learners with wheelchairs (59% are partially adapted); 54% of schools have external ramps or elevators; 29% of schools have entrance doors adapted for entering school in a wheelchair, and only 43% of schools have sanitary units adopted for the people with disabilities (Source: Education Management Information System).
Special education schools provide general education curricula to learners with SEN in adequately adapted learning environments. Special schools may be specifically designed, staffed and resourced to provide appropriate special education for learners with additional needs. These schools provide a wide range of necessary educational assistance. In the 2018–2019 school year, 3,686 pupils attended special schools and educational centres (in 2014–2015 it was 3,663 pupils). Of them, 92.5% had disabilities (Source: Lithuanian Department of Statistics). Approximately 25% of pupils learning in special schools and special education centres have minor intellectual disabilities, 12.4% have moderate intellectual disabilities and 40.4% have complex disabilities (Source: Education Management Information System).
Special classes in mainstream schools were created to enable learners with SEN to develop alongside their peers, closer to home, and to gradually reduce the number of special schools. EUR 10.5 million was allocated for this task of transforming special educational and socialisation centres in 2017–2019. The aim was to reduce the number of special schools from 47 to 20, while ensuring the case management of individual special schools.
The number of special schools and special education centres has decreased: in 2015 there were 47 special schools, in 2019 there were 44. However, the number of pupils enrolled in special schools has not decreased.
Six specialised education resource centres operate in Lithuania. They work at national and regional levels, providing methodical and counselling/consultation services. Specialist teachers (special pedagogues, etc.) provide consultancy to mainstream schools and parents. Transforming special schools into resource centres would provide further methodical and counselling/consultation services. It would also be possible to rent specific equipment for learners with physical disabilities or visual or hearing impairments.
Additional funding projects, financed by European Union Structural Funds (ESF) (Development of Inclusive Education, Phase I, 2018–2022) will develop the provision of specialised, special and social pedagogical assistance in the resource centres. These will provide counselling and methodological services to the country or region, and major pedagogical psychological services to improve the qualifications of professionals in these institutions. A new regional methodological centre (related to the regional development model) will also be tested, to strengthen the specialist team and the positions of education aid specialists.
Additional funding is also expected to create new special education teacher posts. Professionals will provide assistance to pupils with SEN, their teachers and parents in their workplace or in schools. A mobile team of different specialists will attend schools, providing child assessment and support. Staff will also provide teacher training, counselling and information material development.
Learners with SEN receive transportation services to and from school using specially adapted buses. Some 94.9% of pupils with SEN were transferred to/from special schools in 2019 (94.3% in 2016) (Source: Education Management Information System).
The National Agency for Education is an educational assistance institution founded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania in 2019. The Psychological and Special Education divisions of the National Agency for Education’s Department of Educational Support:
- create appropriate conditions for the implementation of special pedagogical, psychological and social pedagogical support systems for learners;
- provide methodical counselling assistance to schools and educational assistance establishments (pedagogical-psychological services, education centres, educational assistance services);
- consider appeals regarding assessment of the learner’s special educational needs;
- organise development of methodological recommendations for speech therapists, special pedagogues, psychologists, social pedagogues;
- organise the execution of national prevention programmes, financed by the Ministry of Education and Science and Sport (National Agency for Education website).
Due to certain national peculiarities, the Educational Classification of Lithuania (ECL) differs slightly from the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED-97):
Educational levels according to ECL
Educational levels according to ISCED-97
Level 0: pre-school education and pre-primary education programmes
Level 0: pre-primary education
Level 1: primary education (primary education programmes)
Level 1: primary education or first stage of basic education
In Lithuania, schools are grouped by the level and nature of programmes. Primary education programmes (a four-year curriculum) are implemented by: kindergarten schools, primary schools, basic schools, progymnasiums, special homes for children’s education and care, hospital schools, secondary schools and, in certain cases, gymnasium and special schools.
According to the Law on Education of the Republic of Lithuania, a child must start pre-primary education in the calendar year that they turn six (pre-primary education is obligatory). Pre-primary education may be provided earlier at the request of parents (guardians), but not earlier than five years of age. Children must attend primary schools when they turn seven during the calendar year. Accordingly, children may begin primary education before the age of seven if they completed pre-primary education at the age of five to six.
Primary education lasts for four years. Primary education aims to provide the basics of moral, cultural and social maturity and elementary literacy. In grades 1–4, pupils are taught only compulsory subjects, as defined in the General Curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. Learners can choose non-traditional curricula, i.e. curricula based on the Montessori, Waldorf and Suzuki pedagogical systems.
Lower-secondary education lasts for six years. Children usually enter lower-secondary education when they are 10 to 11 years of age. Education is compulsory until the age of 16. By then, the learner will usually have finished lower-secondary education (10 grades). Compulsory education is free of charge, except for partial payments for textbooks.
According to the Law on Education, in areas where a national minority traditionally constitutes a substantial part of the population, the community can request teaching in the national minority language or the learning of the national minority language. Lithuanian is the official language of instruction, but learners from national minorities (Russians, Poles, Belarusians) have the right to instruction in Russian, Polish or Belarusian.
Article 30 of the Law on Education states that the children of people with a right of permanent or temporary residence in the Republic of Lithuania will be given the opportunity to learn the state language, to receive instruction in the state language and, where possible, to learn their native language. Law No. 789 (2003) ensures children of foreign citizens the right to education in general education schools following the general curriculum. They also have the right to receive instructions in the state language, to learn the state language, and where possible, to learn their native language. Order No. ISAK-556 (2005) describes an order of admission to learning under general education programmes.
Children of migrants (foreigners and citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, arriving or returning from a foreign country to live in Lithuania) are entitled to an additional 30% funding in addition to their pupil’s basket, to fund specialists to help the learner integrate into classes faster. Children with no proficiency in Lithuanian can learn the language in a special levelling class to bridge the language gap (Source: Ministry of Education, Science and Sport).
Order No. V-417 on General education plans for the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 school year states that learners from foreign countries must have an individual education plan. Article 44 outlines how schools receiving these learners should:
- allow educational assistance or a certain amount of time to intensively learn the Lithuanian language;
- inform the relevant financial authorities;
- discuss additional language needs of the learner with parents/guardians and regularly collaborate with parents/guardians or legal representatives and provide information on their learning and progress;
- designate an individual (sometimes a student volunteer) to assist the newcomer in the smooth integration, education and training of the school community;
- establish an individual learning plan;
- provide additional support to the learner as needed, monitoring their individual progress rather than their achievement;
- offer non-formal education activities;
- provide for the learner’s class supervisor, the teachers and parents/guardians.
The education of learners with SEN takes place in general education schools, in accordance with special and adapted basic education curricula.
The Law on Education (2011) states that:
- General education curricula and vocational training programmes will be adapted to learners with SEN. Study programmes will be adapted in accordance with higher education institutions.
- Learners with SEN may take more or less time to complete formal education programmes than is set. They may study at intervals and complete programmes in separate modules. Learners with major and severe SEN may study in general education schools or classes designated for learners with SEN until they are 21.
- Learners with SEN can be educated in all schools that provide compulsory and universally available education, other education providers and, in certain cases, by schools or classes designated for the education of learners with SEN.
In 2017, the municipalities established Co-ordinators for Inter-Institutional Co-operation. The role identifies need and co-ordinates educational support, social and health care services to children from birth to age 18 (or to age 21 in cases of major and severe SEN) and their parents/guardians. In 2018 there were 70 co-ordinators in 58 municipalities. In 2019, 30% of all learners and parents have complex assistance. Hopefully, the functions implemented by Co-ordinators will increase the inclusion of learners with SEN.
In August 2019, Law No. V-831 ratified new requirements for teacher qualifications. It requires teachers working in all educational programmes to have no less than 60 hours of training on the education and inclusion of learners with SEN.
The Law on Vocational Education and Training (1997, new edition in 2018) aims to create the necessary conditions for individuals with diverse needs and capabilities to engage in lifelong learning and upgrade and change their qualifications.
Early childhood education
Early childhood education (ECE) in Lithuania is not considered formal education. It falls under the category of informal education, together with arts, music and sports education and training. Pre-school education institutions are under the authority of local governments which also implement centralised pre-school and pre-primary admission procedures. Pre-school attendance is optional in most cases. A recent amendment to the Law on Education states that pre-primary education is compulsory for children from the age of six (September 2016). In 2019–2020, 90.63% of all six-year-olds attended pre-primary settings. About two thirds of these were in pre-school education institutions and a third were in general education schools (Source: Education Management Information System).
The share of children with SEN in pre-school educational institutions is increasing and inclusion is improving. The increase could be due to improved methods for identifying special needs. In 2018, 1,338 children attended special purpose groups in 63 institutions (all of them in cities). These were mostly groups for children with complex disorders (35) and speech disorders (20). However, from 2015–2018, the number of children in special purpose groups has decreased by 23%. This indicates the increased inclusion of children with SEN in general purpose groups (Source: An Overview of the State of Education 2019).
Data from 2019–2020 shows that the percentage of 3–6-year-old children with SEN attending ECE settings has increased over time: 0.61% of 0–2-year-olds (0.97% in 2014), 20.9 % of 3–5-year-olds (15.64% in 2014) and 39.52% of 6-year-olds (26.94% in 2014) attending ECE settings had a formal diagnosis of SEN.
In 2015, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport released the Pre-School Education Methodological Recommendations for ECE teachers. They raise awareness about children who are ‘different’ or whose development is distinct from others and encourage teachers to focus on children’s strengths rather than developmental difficulties.
The transition from pre-school to pre-primary settings is facilitated by the continuity of the National Pre-School and Pre-Primary Curricula (Source and further information: IECE – Lithuania Country Questionnaire, p. 1).
The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport funds consultancy divisions at:
- Lithuanian Training Centre for the Blind and Visually Impaired
- Lithuanian Educational Centre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
- Lithuanian Centre for Pre-School Age Hearing Impaired Children.
Families and teachers from mainstream institutions can apply for consultancy services. The Lithuanian Training Centre for the Blind and Visually Impaired founded a counselling department for learners with pervasive developmental disabilities in 2019. It aims to increase the effectiveness of education for those children by providing counselling and methodological support to parents, educators and other professionals at national level. It offers mobile team services, including child observation, recommendations for educators and other professionals, support with individual assistance plans and in-service training for educators and practitioners.
ESF and the Lithuanian Government have funded the development of special teaching tools and technical aids to help pupils with SEN master learning materials. Various sets of special educational aids for learners with diverse developmental disabilities, behavioural and emotional disorders and intellectual and complex disabilities were created.
The ESF project ‘In-Service Training for Teachers and Educational Assistance Specialists’ (2018–2021) aims to improve the professional qualifications of teachers and others involved in the educational process. Professional qualifications are currently inadequate and should be improved.
The ‘Development of Inclusive Education, Phase I’ (2018–2022) project aims to reduce early school leaving by increasing inclusive education. The main objective of the project is to reduce early school leaving by enhancing inclusive education: creating an inclusive school environment, providing the support needed, and developing each child’s individual abilities. This objective will be pursued through a peer review of the educational aid delivery model, development and adaptation of methodologies to assess children’s development and provide individualised assistance that meets their needs.
More information is available on the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport and National Agency for Education websites.
Quality indicators for special needs education
According to the data available, in 2018–2019 approximately 1.1% of learners with SEN (3,686 learners) (out of the entire school learner population) were enrolled in separate special schools, 88% of learners with SEN (35,711 learners) were educated in mainstream classes (full integration), and 2.9% of learners with SEN (1,159 learners) were educated in special and educational classes (partial integration) (Source: Lithuanian Department of Statistics). Recently, the percentage of pupils attending special schools all over the country has been increasing, although national benchmarks seek to reduce this percentage.
At the school level, the inclusive education policy for learners with special needs is the responsibility of the school management, but teaching staff are involved in ensuring the quality of education. The key provisions for learners with SEN include:
- specific support measures to respond to the needs of learners with limited mobility;
- provision of objectives and ways to meet the needs of learners with disabilities in school activities;
- compliance with the equality of rights principle;
- creation of conditions for teachers’ continued professional development in the field of special educational needs provision;
- involvement of the parents of children with disabilities in the education process, etc. (Source: FPIES – Lithuania Country Report, pp. 18–19).
External evaluation in all schools must occur at least every seven years. The National Agency for Education conducts the evaluation. The Division of Schools Activities’ self-assessment and improvement at the Department of Educational Support carries out external evaluation of general education and formal vocational training programmes. It also evaluates institutions providing qualification improvement for teachers and educational specialists and selects, trains and monitors evaluators.
Since 2017, the evaluation has used a system of 25 indicators for four school activities:
- education and learners’ experiences;
- educational environment;
- leadership and management.
More information is available from the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport website and the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency website.
Last updated 07/02/2020