Tag Archives: Poland

Poland: Reforming an improving school system

A recent scan of the education news in Europe highlights that new education reforms in Poland are making the headlines.  While Poland’s PISA scores are going up, there is still considerable controversy over the direction of further improvement initiatives. The current reforms have been positioned as occurring within a broader political struggle in the country.

The proposed new reforms would change the system from a three-tier school system (with elementary, middle, and high schools) to just two levels.  In the new system, students will attend an eight-year elementary school, and then they will spend four years in either a high school or a vocational school.

The protest against the Law and Justice (PiS) party's education reform proposal (pictured) (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

The protest against the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s education reform proposal (pictured) (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Since a series of education reforms passed in 1998-1999, Polish students have attended 6-year elementary schools, three-year lower secondary (or, middle) schools, and three-year upper secondary schools. This approach had been a part of a broader school improvement effort that has contributed to Poland’s success on international measures of student achievement, such as the PISA exams. According to a 2011 OECD report, the structural changes of the 1998-1999 reform included the creation of a new type of school, called the lower secondary school “gymnasium,” which became a symbol of the reform. Vocational training was postponed by one year, allowing a greater number of students to be assessed. The reformers of the time argued that these improvements would allow Poland to raise the level of education by reaching more students in rural areas. Reformers also argued that these changes would allow teachers to use methods and curricula more suited to the needs of students, and that by linking the structural change with curricular reform, teachers would be encouraged to change what and how they teach.

Critics of the 1998-99 changes, like current Law and Justice MP Dariusz Piontkowski (and former teacher), however, complained that students were only being prepared to take tests. Piontkowski looks forward to curricular reforms that will come after the structural reforms:

“We are bringing back the teaching of history. We are bringing back patriotic education,” he declared. “It’s time that pupils understand what they are learning.”

Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people, mostly teachers, are reported to be protesting against the new reforms fearing dramatic loss in jobs and “chaos” in the schools. However, these protests are not focusing on schools alone; they are seen as part of a wave of concern about what is seen as the government’s broader populist, conservative agenda. Questions are being raised about restrictions placed on journalists and what is seen as new barriers to transparency in government, particularly as politicians were frustrated about the voting process that ushered in this new reform. Protestors reportedly chanted: “No to chaos,” and, “The death of Polish education.”

For more on educational reform in Poland see:

Eurydice: The System of Education in Poland in Brief

NCEE:  Poland Overview

OECD: Education at a Glance 2016, Poland Country Note

The Impact of the 1999 Reform in Poland

Deirdre Faughey

Age of school entry in the UK, Poland, Germany and Switzerland

AFP-JIJI

AFP-JIJI

At what age should children begin school? Over the past month, reports from the UK, Poland, Switzerland, and Germany, have shown that each country is considering, and in some cases implementing, changes in age of school entry.

In the UK, The Guardian cited Sally Morgan, the head of Ofsted, who believes children should be allowed to attend school from as young as two in order to establish a new type of “all-through” educational model that educates children from the ages of two or three up to age 18. It is a move that would, according to Morgan, help to close the gap between affluent and disadvantaged students. In contrast, The Telegraph and The New Scientist have both published reports that show the perspective of those who think students would be better off if compulsory education was delayed until the age of 7 years old, due to the belief that early education is too focused on the three-Rs, causing “profound damage” to children. While this topic has long been debated, the issue was reignited when 130 early childhood education experts signed a letter calling for an “extension of informal, play-based preschool provision and for the start of formal schooling in England to be delayed until the age of 7, from the current effective start at age 4.”

In Poland, tvm24.com reported on a narrow referendum vote (232 against, 222 in favor) on the age children should be obliged to start school. The vote followed weeks of debate over whether the education infrastructure is ready to handle the increased number of pupils when the age children are required to start school is reduced from seven to six-years of age over the next two years. Parents protested the vote.

In the World section of The Japan Times it is reported that 6% of children in Germany who started school in 2011-2012 had postponed entry, while some 3.8% were “early starters.” This article explains that fifteen years ago the country “sought to bring forward the age that children begin school to the calendar year in which they turn 6, to be more in tune with other European countries and due to a pressing labor force shortage. A year was also sliced off high school in many places.” At the time, the call for change did not consider parental objections, which ultimately prevented the plan from moving forward.

In Switzerland, the country enacted a plan called HarmoS in 2009 to ensure a nationwide set of rules to provide students with a “fairer educational start.” This plan went into effect in 2009, but cantons (or states) have six years to implement it. Genevalunch.com reports that Canton Vales, and in particular its right-wing UDC (People’s Party) political group (which considers that it defends family rights and has been one of the last holdouts to the national plan) voted to allow children to start school at the age of 4. The change means that students will be starting school one, and in some cases two, years earlier than in the past.