March 22, 2023. Having won Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge for a city-wide open school concept in 2022, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, has launched the innovative education project “Vilnius is a School.” It joins other city-wide initiatives, like an open café and open gallery, where urban spaces are given to the public for artistic expression, entrepreneurial endeavors, and in this case—education.
The open school project, which involves primary and secondary education classes, brings numerous subjects—from history, languages, and mathematics to business, technologies, civil society, or disinformation—out of school into public spaces and business facilities throughout the city. The project’s e-platform contains detailed descriptions of the classes held in public and business spaces, the options for teachers to book a certain space with the company or select one in the city, and share the class with others.
Vilnius’ urban spots and public sector are opened up to students to combine traditional learning in schools with remote lessons and classes in Vilnius’ parks, museums, libraries, and business spaces. This way, the project promotes creative thinking, acquisition of labor force-necessary skills, and real-life experiences, at the same time encouraging the students to get to know the city they live in much better.
For instance, a history class is conducted in the Church of St. Anne, a late Gothic architecture gem in Vilnius, allowing the students to get a grasp of Gothing architectural style features; a mathematics class is taught in city streets where building numbers play into various mathematic tasks like algebra or equations; and students have to learn some marching songs for a music class to march around the beloved locals’ meeting spot, Vingis Park, and develop their tempo, rhythm, and music performing skills.
To introduce a new way to improve the educational system in the country that would correspond with the trends seen around the world and lay the grounds for future changes in schooling, an open school project converts the entire city into an educational knowledge-sharing platform with the aim to conduct at least 10% of classes in public spaces within three years. 90% of Vilnius’ schools are supporting the initiative, and almost 30% of the city’s teachers have signed up for the project within the first two months after the launch. The mixed learning model also explores phenomenon-based education—a multidisciplinary learning model encouraging problem-solving and active student enabling.
How does open school work?
Open school project expands the students’ knowledge of traditional school subjects and instills real-life skills and values. For instance, Waste Basketball, a climate/sustainability class, takes primary school pupils to Vilnius Waste System Administrator, where they are taught to nurture a positive relationship with waste management and recycling. Since basketball is the national sport in the country, the class features this interactive game, well-known to students, to break down the issue of waste management. In fact, the class is one of the most popular on the platform. The educators coordinate the game, at the same time telling the children about the waste management peculiarities. The pupils, in turn, deepen their knowledge of sustainability issues and develop the competencies of citizenship and social responsibility.
Ovoko, an e-commerce startup based in Vilnius, has created a class for last-grade students—Function Concept and Artificial Intelligence. The business representative teaches students how various mathematical rules—functions, vectors, matrices—are applied to modern science and their role in creating AI. The students also learn how AI works in real life, specifically at Ovoko, and analyze how it helps with image recognition, therefore acquiring skills applicable to the labor force and evolving their competencies of communication, creativity, digital creation, etc.
Interest by businesses and public institutions
According to Vilnius City Municipality and Vilnius Education Progress Center, the creators of the project, support by businesses and public institutions is crucial in pursuing the project’s goals as helping students to develop real-life professional skills is key to nurturing well-rounded future specialists.
“Learning outside the traditional school setting allows deepening the knowledge in a variety of subjects with the help of teachers and industry experts, and adapting the newly gained skills to real-world tasks. The classes were created in collaboration with teachers and specialists from institutions and businesses to maximize their effectiveness and boost student engagement,” said Unė Kaunaitė, director at Vilnius Education Progress Center.
The open school platform has received endorsement from public institutions—the Lithuanian Red Cross Society, the Ministry of National Defence of Lithuania, the State Data Agency, and others—which participate with their own classes. The State Data Agency unravels statistical data and its interpretation possibilities; the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority invites to act out a consumer dispute; and the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania teaches a class on disinformation origins and current cases of virtual disinformation.
A number of businesses are teaching industry-specific skills: Accenture, a Vilnius-based global company in consulting, digital, technology, and operations, is teaching students about the tech industry and the skill set needed to succeed in it; Profitus, a financing platform, shares insights into economics, entrepreneurship, investments, and financial literacy; and Lithuanian Railways explains the concept of sustainability, as well as how to prepare for a career with future means of transportation. The country’s unicorns, Vinted and Nord Security, are also planning to join the project.