Success on the Horizon
The system of education in Poland has gone through many major reforms: both in terms of curriculum and structure (the establishment of lower secondary schools and the division of studies into two cycles). The results seem to be very good. According to the Learning Curve report prepared by Pearson based on, among other, PISA study, Poland ranks 14th in the world. Our country boasts the largest percentage of people with secondary education active in the labour market (68%; followed by 59% in Germany), and has been successful in PISA. In 2000, Poland ranked 25th in reading comprehension, and in 2009 it took the 15th place, leaving behind Germany, Italy and France, for example. As compared to other countries of the European Union, the percentage of school dropouts is the lowest in Poland, and at the same time the numbers of people with higher education grow fast. Moreover, teachers enjoy big autonomy and are free to choose teaching methods.
Polish system of education is based on public schools funded by the state and attended by 97% of pupils. The remaining 3% goes to non-public schools run by foundations and associations, which also obtain grants from the state budget, and private schools, which are funded from the fees paid by the parents. As of 2014, the starting age of compulsory education will be five. It includes one year of preschool, six-year primary school and three-year lower secondary school. However, majority of students continue their education in upper secondary schools and higher education institutions.
Preschools form the first stage of education. They are managed by local authorities or foundations. Preschool education is not compulsory, and the state guarantees at least five hours of free classes per day (the remaining time is subject to a fee). In the school year 2011/12, 19,900 preschools were attended by nearly 1.16 million children.
Primary school is the second stage. Upon the completion of primary school, pupils take a compulsory test, which allows them to start education in lower secondary school, but it does not play a selective role. However, the result of examination taken upon the completion of lower secondary school decides about the admission to upper secondary schools. In the school year 2011/12, 13,800 primary schools and 7,500 lower secondary schools were attended by nearly 3.4 million students.
After the completion of lower secondary school, students can decide to attend general upper secondary school, technical upper secondary school or vocational school. Upon the graduation from the first two types of schools, students take the matura final examinations, which are composed of an external written examination and internal oral examination.
The Ministry of National Education stages pedagogical supervision over schools. However, local authorities; municipalities (in the case of preschools, primary schools and lower secondary schools) and county authorities (in the case of upper secondary schools) are responsible for current management and administration of schools. Teachers enjoy large autonomy; they can select textbooks (from a list developed by the Ministry) and decide about the applied teaching and assessment methods. School year lasts from September 1 until the fourth week of June (in total 178 days or 38 weeks maximum) and is divided into two semesters. Compulsory classes are taught five days a week.
Higher education institutions are supervised by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Polish HEIs include universities, technical HEIs, agricultural HEIs, HEIs for economics, pedagogical HEIs, medical universities, universities of maritime studies, universities of physical education, arts universities, theological HEIs, military HEIs, public administration HEIs. All the above-mentioned types of HEIs can have the status of university if at least one of their organisational units is authorised to award doctoral degree (PhD). HEIs which do not have such right have the status of non-university (vocational) institutions. In the academic year 2011/12, 460 higher education institutions (public and non-public ones) operated in Poland and were attended by 1.76 million students.
Holding a matura (secondary education graduation) certificate is a precondition for applying for entry to higher education institutions. The first cycle studies last six or seven semesters and are completed with a vocational qualification diploma and the title of a licencjat or inżynier. Uniform (long cycle) master degree studies (medicine, law, psychology) last from 9 to 12 semesters.
Upon the completion of second cycle or long cycle studies, graduates are awarded higher education diploma and the title of a magister or a physician (M.D.). Holders of higher education diplomas can apply for admittance to third cycle (doctoral) studies.