The MasterPage - All About Poland


by Jack Karczewski
Managing Director LMS Poland

The author has held leading posts in educational organisations and State-education governing bodies. The changes that came about in 1989 reached far deeper into every aspect of Polish life than many people think. The new political and economic system brought about a situation where every plan of the state economy and administration had to be reviewed to be in tune with the changes.

Included in this revision was the educational system, not least because of its role in shaping the next generation, the size of the teachers' work- force, and the cost to the State of schooling. From the start, there have been many groups interested in the way the schooling system changes, however, they have not always opted for the same solutions and targets.

The first and probably most important group is the business community, which takes in both secondary school leavers and university graduates. As the face of the economy has changed, with the number of Polish private businesses as well as foreign enterprises growing, so has pressure grown on the educational system to be more responsive to the needs of the workplace. Employers who in the first years after 1989 overlooked the educational deficiencies of potential employees, settling often for mere enthusiasm, nowadays are stiff in setting qualification requirements. The basic expec- tations today are at least one Western language and basic knowledge in such matters as sales, marketing, advertising, PR, HR or IT.

The response to those needs came from many sides. One of the biggest moves was made within the state system. It concerned moving from Russian to English as the basic foreign language taught in schools at all levels. To this end a national network of Language Teacher Training Colleges was set-up, with the biggest help coming from the British Government, with a 3-year Bachelor-degree-level programme. As an additional measure a programme of retraining teachers of other subjects (mostly of Russian) was introduced, with certain pressure applied by trade unions afraid of perspective unemployment. To coincide with this, new State examination standards were set, with the Cambridge FCE becoming the official English language test.

In relation to business subjects, a widely copied move was the creation of MBA and similar programmes at all of Poland's largest universities, even those that previously had little to do with this field. An extra incentive being the fact that a11 these courses are paid for, at least in part, by the students. With the costs of living and other resources constantly growing, the age of free higher education has gone for good, forcing many students to move over to non-resident programmes and take-up a full-time job.

However the state educational system could not possibly cope with the problems it faced. This opened the way to something totally new to Poland, private training institutions. Most visible are the private universities and post-secondary schools, that offer business related teaching programmes and diplomas. Although seemingly the underdogs, they have grown steadily and now compete on an equal basis with state schools, for Poland's best (and most aftluent) students. The coming years will show which graduates will be better suited for obtaining attractive posts and moving up the corporate ladder.

In the shadow of normal education, came the problem of training employees of both Polish and foreign companies, as well as retraining the jobless to give them a chance of getting employment. The state schools, could offer little or nothing. In the wake of this need, came a mass of training organisations offering courses in any subject one could name, a lot of them operating as branches of international training companies offering highly specialised courses.

The second group to have its word in the way education has gone in Poland, are its clients i.e., parents and their offspring. The growing middle class, made up mostly of private business people and company executives, as they has experienced improvements in other areas of their lives (e.g., food and clothing, homes and cars, leisure) they expected an improve- ment in the way their chil- dren were taught. They also understood that one could not expect much from under-funded State schools, with 35-pupil classes and poorly paid teachers. So came the private kindergartens, primary and secondary schools. The government quickly understood that private schools were not only the whim of well-to-do parents, but could also relieve state budget pressure. In return limited tax relief was introduced. Even schools originally created for diplomats' children were involved, accepting not only expatriates' youngsters but also Poles.

In recent years the Government has had trouble in financing all the educational needs of Poland's young. The administrative jungle has often led to a squandering of funds. To remedy this, it was decided to share the problem with others, by transferring responsibility for primary and secondary schools to local authorities. This enabled rich and well governed counties to improve their schools. Secondly, the green light was given to headmasters to try fundraising, e.g., by letting the premises or organising extracurricular courses.

A new measure that is planned both to spread evenly the limited. resources and to promote better teacher quality, is the coupon system in which each child is appropriated a sum of money equivalent to that spent on him from the State budget and this sum will then be transfemed to the school of the student's choosing. However this idea has a lot of opponents, including teachers' unions, fearing that some schools would have to close down because of reasons such as bad location. This has already happened to the majority of vocational schools which previously operated in tandem with big factories which subsequently went bankrupt.

The changes in the economic system in Poland have come a long way. During the last seven years most Poles have come to grips with the realities of life in a market economy. For many weak state enterprises the solution has been their privatisation. Yet, less than 5 percent of the population would accept total privatisation of the education system, as opposed to double this figure for privatisation of the health service.

Most Popular

Featured Products

Polish pottery

Buy Wholesale

Baltic Amber Stones