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11. Policy directions for the future

The conclusions drawn from the analysis of the Education for All indicators, as well as a preliminary assessment of the education reform which has been launched in Poland on the 1st September 1999, indicate a series of problems which need to be quickly and effectively solved. The most important issues are, as follows:

11.1. Equal educational opportunities

11.2. The provision of key skills

11.3. The improvement of external and internal systems of the evaluation of pupils’ achievement

11.4. The modification of the vocational education and training system

11.5. The improvement of the principles of funding

11.6. The implementation of new strategies of initial and in-service teacher training

11.1. Equal educational opportunities

Equal educational opportunities constitute a crucially important issue, as regards the right to education considered from the perspective of human rights that are recognised by the rules of international law and the basic legal foundations in Poland.

In spite of the absence of any formal barriers obstructing the execution of this right, many difficulties appear in respect of the system of values, the level of individual aspirations and abilities. The family context (internal obstacles), the social and economic environment (external obstacles) have their impact, as well. In Poland, there can be observed difficulties in the access to education that relates to social hierarchy and geographic location. A part of barriers is rooted in the historical heritage and the social development conditions; the other part is influenced by the circumstances of the country’s political changes and cultural processes presently occurring in Europe.

Before the difficulties are demonstrated more in detail, it needs to be stressed that, in the nineties, progress has been continuously made in Poland in several fields of the economic and social development which includes an increasing level of education throughout the country’s population.

The report titled Access to Education which was produced in 1998 under the United Nations Development Programme gives particular emphasis to the fact that Human Development Index (the HDI reflecting social progress) has recently increased in Poland. In 1995, it reached 0.883 which placed the country on the 52nd position in the international ranking of 64 states of the highest level of development (1998, Dostep do edukacji. Raport o rozwoju spolecznym Polska 98).

As it is generally known, the HDI indicator consists of four elements: life expectancy of the population, schooling rates, gross domestic product per capita (measured in USD) and learning achievement (the level of adult literacy). Human Development Index determines to what extent educational opportunities of various social groups have been equalled.

The outcomes of the report are not too optimistic. Firstly, in spite of some unquestionable progress, disparities between the country’s regions and provinces continue to increase. Secondly, the geographical scheme of disproportion has remained unchanged since the nineties. The lowest HDI indicators (from 0.760 to 0.770 are traditionally recorded in the northeast - the Chelm, Zamosc and Biala-Podlaska voivodships, in particular, as well as in the northern province of Slupsk. The highest HDI indicators (from 0.883 to 0.909) are exposed by the voivodships in which big cities are located: Warsaw, Cracow, Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Lódz. Two of them - the Warsaw and Cracow provinces have reached the HDI indicator at the level of over 0.900, which places them among developmentally typical regions of the OECD countries.

Basic areas of educational inequalities in Poland are, as follows:

· the internal mobility of the education system,

· the quality of education,

· adult education,

· the responsibility of the state,

· the financing of education,

· the policy on education.

The mobility area discloses the primarily important element of educational opportunities, which is the system of early childhood development programmes. The indicators showing general access to pre-school education are significantly lower than in the OECD countries. Gros enrolment for the age group 3 to 5 does not even exceed 29%, whereas the age group 3 to 6 records the proportion of 49%. The only satisfactory results reveal the indicators for 6 years old children who, in line with the Polish law, attend educational programmes preparing them for entry to school. Still, pre-school programmes do not ensure a proper level of the development to all children.

The situation becomes even worse owing to the fact that the entry age to school (7 years of age) is older than in the major part of the developed countries (5 years of age).

In the area of the quality of education, disproportions have increased in the nineties. They have mostly affected small towns and villages that are in a huge contrast with big urban centres. There are also observed dissimilarities of pupils’ achievement which strongly depends on the location of school within the city itself and on the type of institution - whether it is public (state) or non-public.

The inequality area of adult education shows that, in spite of a huge demand, no more than 14% of the population undertake some kind of training upon the completion of formal education. The proportions of adult students are extremely diverse and they depend on the social and geographical background. For example, barely 1% of adults living in rural areas participated in some forms of adult education. A very low proportion of 5.1% of the unemployed was offered training courses between 1992 and 1996.

The state has greatly contributed to unequal educational opportunities. Its responsibility for ensuring access to education among various social groups has been substantially reduced. As the annexes to the 1998 report read, this has been mainly caused by significant shortages of budgetary funds for education and its decreasing role in the social policy of the central government and local self-governing bodies.

Finally, the access to education has been affected in a very unfavourable way by several factors. The share of public expenditures on schools continuously decreases (the inequality area of financing). The transfer of funds to the local administration levels is not evenly balanced, which fates the latter to usually limited sources of extrabudgetary funding. The state policy on education (the last inequality area) of the nineties, focused on solving current problems, has neglected mid- and long-term plans of actions.

11.2. The provision of key skills

The Act on the Education System, which is in force in Poland, strongly emphasises the necessity to provide the learners with new kinds of skills and attitudes. Traditional knowledge and skills are insufficient to cope with the demands of the society and the labour market. New requirements become particularly urgent in the process of transition, in terms of structural changes and mobility.

The implementation of new technologies at an accelerated pace, the increasing globalisation of the world, the dangers resulting from the degradation of natural environment, the growing disproportion of the standards of living constitute important ethical and moral challenges. They call for appropriate attitudes towards the world, as well as for moral values - the driving forces in the life of the people.

There can be also observed growing importance of such "personal qualities" as social skills, creativeness, entrepreneurship, empathy. The education system is expected to offer much more than the transfer of knowledge as a set of facts and practical skills, but it primarily needs to develop ethical values and the personality itself. The school system has a chance to deal successfully with those requirements through the implementation of key skills.

The results of research, together with the general shortcomings of the quality of education show that the school curricula in Poland need to expand a set of the so-called basic skills. This necessity is also reflected by new approaches to the philosophy of education adopted by the European Union countries. Basic skills, apart from the ability to read, write and make simple arithmetic calculations, should include the ability to use the information (the understanding of new forms of communication and techniques of the access to information), the knowledge of foreign languages (at least two from among the European Union working languages), higher cognitive skills which are necessary to perform various complex tasks and adapt to the ongoing changes, and, finally, the ability to understand one’s own self and develop personality.

11.3. The improvement of external and internal systems of the evaluation of pupils’ achievement

11.3.1. The external system of the evaluation of pupils’ achievement and the school performance

In the light of the recently implemented reform of the education system, a competence test is recommended upon the completion of the primary stage of schooling (after grade 6, according to the new structure). The test will not be selective, but it will provide information on the primary school leavers’ achievement level to the pupils, parents and schools - both primary and the gymnasium. Tests will be administered in accordance with the adopted standardised requirements and uniform tools for the evaluation and assessment, in order to ensure comparability of the results on the national scale. First competence tests after primary grade 6 will be carried out on the basis of experiment in the year 2000.

A new formula of the final secondary school leaving examination - under the project called the New matura reflects most advanced works on the evaluation and assessment standards and an objective control of the level of education. The project aims at uniform examination requirements and the criteria for assessment. The ongoing works on the New matura procedure cover the whole country’s territory. The examination will consist of two parts. Its first internal part will be assessed by the school, whereas the second part (exclusively a written test) will be assessed externally by the examination centres.

The external evaluation of pupils’ achievement will be also implemented upon the completion of the first stage of secondary education - a 3-grade gymnasium. The level of students’ knowledge, competencies and predispositions will be screened through the aptitude test. The results will show points, instead of "passed" or "failed". The total number of points will decide on the access to various types of secondary schools of the next, higher stage, with no need to pass the entrance examination. In the gymnasium, not only the level of pupils’ achievement will be measured, but also the increase of knowledge and skills in the process of instruction. A similar approach will be adopted in regard to the results of the new matriculation examination, which will make possible to cancel entrance examinations to universities and other higher education institutions.

The implementation of an objective system of evaluation and assessment of pupils’ achievement is under the control of the Central Examination Board and the committees of the regional level.

11.3.2. Current and final assessment - improving the internal system of the evaluation of pupils’ achievement

The system of the evaluation of pupils’ achievement designed by the Ministry of National Education is only just an element of a broader concept of comprehensive evaluation of the performance of students and teachers. The ministerial proposal focuses on the external measurement that is exercised once a year in the last grades of various stages of schooling.

It needs to be stressed here that the general outlines of the central authority concerning the evaluation system bring attention to both the external assessment and the internal one in which significant responsibility is left to the school and the teacher. The evaluation, regardless of the environment in which it occurs, should be treated as an instrument for managing and controlling the learning process, and not as a tool for selection. Pupils’ attitudes, skills and ways of understanding the world will become more and more frequent subjects of assessment than the traditional knowledge of facts.

It is also worth considering diverse opinions of educators about the evaluation and control of the learning process. They often express attitudes that disapprove splitting the two elements - the process of learning and currently testing the results of this process. Educators suggest that the evaluation of pupils’ achievement should not depend exclusively on the number of points from subject-centred tests. The objections are grounded on the assumption that educational measurement by means of tests usually does not take into account social and economic conditions that might greatly effect the final result. It is recommended then to apply practical tests enabling to evaluate manual skills, agility, the ability to design, communication skills, instead of excessively "didactic" tests.

Some educators are of the view that educational measurement needs to evaluate standards of the acquired knowledge or the level of pupils’ achievement in relation to well-defined standards. It is very important to explicitly determine the skills that should be mastered by the pupils and subject to measurement afterwards. Pupils, parents and teachers need to be very clearly informed about the requirements for individual subjects and the level of knowledge and skills. This postulate has been partly accomplished by the Ministry of National Education.

The advocates of the educational measurement indicate that, owing to huge differences of pupils’ individual interests, dissimilar conditions of the school operation and performance, diverse backgrounds of the preparation of teachers, the adoption of one unique standard would be misleading. It is necessary to work out a hierarchical requirement system.

Taking the example of the final school leaving examination, it would be recommended to adopt a two-level procedure. The lowest level would embrace fields of basic, practical knowledge, regardless of the further educational track. The higher level of requirements would be compulsory for those students who apply for admission to universities or polytechnics. The subject of mathematics may serve as an example of unequal requirements. The lowest level applies to those students who finish education at the secondary stage or choose fields of higher education, which are not related with mathematics. The highest level applies to candidates of the university or polytechnics departments of mathematics, physics, etc. The new model of the maturity examination proposed by the Ministry of National Education should be regarded not only from the perspective of the internal (school) and external (examination boards) evaluation authority, but also of the hierarchical system of requirements.

The advocates of diverse requirement levels maintain that the external examination model, as the only assessment formula, does not solve either the problem of selection or the students’ recruitment to higher education institutions. The latter may demand more than prescribed by the curriculum of secondary schools. In addition to that, the system of points does not solve the problem of recruitment to faculties whose capacity is lower than the number of candidates.

The evaluation and monitoring system in regard to the school achievement should go beyond the framework of external tests administered by the Examination Boards. The best approach suggests the evaluation model composed of two parts: a system of coded written examinations recognised by the state authorities and the assessment performed by individual schools. The two-part evaluative pattern would sum up to the final two-element evaluation result. Even if the objectivity is a matter of concern, the final two-element evaluation result seems to be the optimum. It means that good students who have been negatively assessed on the basis of the coded external examination, have not lost their chances because the internal assessment provided by individual teachers and schools is still taken into account.

11.4. The modification of the vocational education and training system

11.4.1. The general objectives of the reform of the vocational education sector need to be regarded within the European and national context. On the one hand, the Polish economy aims at the integration with the European Union. On the other hand, it is difficult to precisely determine what kind of occupations and specialisations will be largely demanded by the state in the future. Owing to that, objectives should be driven by flexibility and competitiveness - the necessary conditions for increasing the effectiveness of the national economy and meeting the demands of a free labour market.

Flexible vocational education and training is the most rational approach. It ensures the adjustment to various possible scenarios of the labour market forces undergoing continuous changes.

Traditional narrow fields of study should be replaced by wide vocational teaching contents, which is already predominant in many countries.

The vocational school needs to draw attention to general, theoretical foundations that are applicable to occupational groups and specialisations. Key skills, which enable a smooth transfer to the labour market, would constitute those grounds. Enterprises and vocational education and training institutions, in co-operation with schools, would become responsible for specialised courses.

The movement towards wide vocational streams should be effected gradually, avoiding instantaneous close-down of basic vocational schools of narrow fields of study, the schools not offering the possibility to take the final school leaving examination - the matura. There are two chief reasons of this approach. Firstly, the location of some basic vocational schools determines the absence of any other possible choice - young people are "fated" to attend them because they are the only schools in the neighbourhood. If they are immediately closed-down, there would be no educational opportunities, at all. Secondly, a part of school-aged population is not prepared, either intellectually or financially, to continue education after the primary stage in schools that terminate with the final matriculation examination.

The direction of changes targeted at basic vocational schools should rather transform at least a part of the latter into full-secondary education institutions - technical schools or technical lyceums.

11.4.2. The flexibility, understood as the necessary skill enabling the performance of various jobs to which adjustment is required, can be ensured through general education. General secondary schools are expected to embrace a significantly higher proportion of students that the present approximately 34% of the total enrolment in post-primary education. It is recommended that general secondary schools are better adjusted to the social needs by offering diverse fields of study and making transfer of graduates to at least some sections of the labour market possible.

11.4.3. The vocational education sector needs to be more tightly linked with continuing education, regarded as an integral element of the entire education system. New multimedia and communication technologies reveal so far unknown educational opportunities. The use of those technologies for the purpose of education and training is a particularly meaningful prerequisite of the development of life-long learning.

The increasing importance of life-long learning is a result of a prolonged professional activity of the population owing to extended life expectancy. The accelerated pace of technological progress means not only the necessity to adjust vocational skills, but also change vocational qualifications several times in one’s life.

Life-long learning needs to be organised both by schools that employ highly qualified staffs and have sufficiently modern equipment, and by specialised institutions of intramural and extramural educational services. According to the demands and possibilities, continuing education may require involvement of state institutions, big enterprises, associations, as well as private individuals.

11.4.4. In spite of serious difficulties concerning the co-operation of schools and employers, or sometimes even its total breaking, new partnership links are extremely necessary to build. A stronger, although never predominant position of schools in such an alliance will enable to negotiate better terms of collaboration. This may occur under the condition that graduates find jobs and enterprises are willing to employ specific types of specialists. Vocational educational and training meets the labour market demands when, apart from the established attachment system connecting schools with firms, a responsive information system is in operation. On the one hand, labour market demands need to be reported, on the other hand, records of the supply of graduates, regarded as manpower, are indispensable.

The role of local employment offices, acting as intermediaries, is expected to increase. They will connect the employers’ expectations with the schools’ offer in regard to the number of graduates and the type of their qualifications.

11.4.5. The transition to the information society calls for a higher level of foreign language teaching, preferably English. The knowledge and the effective use of foreign languages more and more widely become obligatory among vocational qualifications, alike computer literacy or driving licence.

11.5. The improvement of the principles of funding

The algorithms adopted for funds on education in the financial year 2000 introduce a series of important changes in the calculation method of an overall subsidy. Three following rules constitute the chief objectives: "the money goes into the pupil", the unbalanced distribution of funds between primary and post-primary education is being corrected, support is given to the restructuring of the school network and the vocational education sector.

The school part of the subsidy supplied to education is calculated exclusively on the basis of the number of pupils who attend schools that are run or grant-aided by local self-government bodies. The calculation method per pupil is an entirely new approach. The level of funds is, however, not identical, but it depends on pupils’ characteristics and types of schools, which helps to justify the increase of educational needs. The subsidy amount per pupil is the standardised method of the distribution of funds. It represents a kind of the educational bonus per pupil received by local self-governments.

The balance system, taking into account the subsidy calculation method, equals primary school pupils and students of general secondary schools located in urban areas. New principles of funding avoid minimum and maximum limit levels in regard to the overall subsidy supplied to education. There is no guarantee of a stable, real value of the subsidy, regardless of decreasing scopes of educational tasks. This is the first step to correct the unbalanced funding of primary and post-primary education. It means, however, a justifiable transfer of funds from the communes (gminy) to the districts (powiaty). The former will probably experience a state of the adjustment shock which has to be minimised by the adoption of the following principle: 100% of the nominal subsidy value per pupil, compared with the base value of 1999, will be secured. The procedure is compensated by reducing the nominal subsidy increase per pupil up to 120% of the 1999 amount.

The principle of equal balance will apply to nearly every type of vocational school in the year 2000. The balance is of a slightly higher level than average individual costs of all vocational schools. On the one hand, it will encourage local self-governments to restructure the vocational education sector. On the other hand, it will enable to cover a part of inevitable costs of the restructuring.

11.6. The implementation of new strategies of initial and in-service teacher training

11.6.1. A part of teaching staffs has been produced by means of a long-lasting negative selection, as a result of low salaries and a low level of requirements. Increasing the quality of teachers’ work needs to be simultaneously accompanied with the growth of pay and requirements. The policy should be targeted at new teachers who start to perform their job and to those who upgrade their skills. The policy is expected to be continued on a selective basis regarding the rest of teachers, which would enable to rejuvenate the staffs and arouse the interest of men in the profession that has been traditionally dominated by female teachers.

11.6.2. Changes of the philosophy of teacher education and training, as well as the modification of the programme of studies are necessary if the old model of obedient, submissive attitudes and a reproductive transmission of knowledge are to be abandoned. If pupils are generally required skills from which they can benefit in the world of untypical and unpredictable situations, the expectations from teachers should include the knowledge of similar skills at a higher level of competence. Schools demand teachers who are beyond restrictive standards and have the ability to express personal character. They also need to be independent, responsible, creative, self-determined, know how to take initiative and be open to negotiation.

11.6.3. The programmes of teacher studies will reflect the following new aspects:

· The teacher will be susceptible to change teaching methods and prepare pupils for unexpected situations, instead of preserving traditional, old habits.

· The teacher will play the role of a guide assisting pupils to understand the world and take an active part in the process of changes, instead of transmitting narrow knowledge of separate subjects.

· The teacher will be prepared to perform his/her tasks both in the classroom and in the local environment.

· Integrated blocks of teaching contents, overall structures and processes will replace teaching strictly subject-oriented elements of knowledge.

· Training will be provided to teachers in the area of multimedia information technologies and communication systems (television, video, Internet - for the purpose of distance learning and virtual school).

11.6.4. The success of education reforms may also depend on the organisational changes of teacher studies. The following approaches, contributing to favourable outcomes, are also taken into account:

· A better adjustment of the programmes of teacher studies to the country’s demands through influence exerted on the elaboration of curricula and the decreased autonomy of higher education institutions and their staff members in this regard.

· An optimum balance between theoretical subjects and practical training in the curriculum of teacher studies.

· An effective teacher education and training in accordance with local needs (for example, the implementation of agreements between state authorities and higher education institutions at the regional and provincial level, in order to determine the number of students and equalise the demand and supply. Central education authorities (the ministry) and local self-governing boards would need to pursue a more dynamic policy in this regard. Mutual agreements would mainly consist in the provision of funds to most unremunerative fields of teacher education and training in a given region. The grant-aided system would embrace both public (state) and non-public higher education institutions. Subsidised faculties would have to control their future graduates who would be obliged to employment in the profession of teacher or, otherwise, they would be charged with the costs of their education.

· Modular programmes in teacher education and training, according to the needs and possibilities, take into account students’ abilities and specific features of given fields of study. Modular programmes, enabling individual approaches to teaching, apart from compulsory contents, put at the disposal of students a variety of educational paths which they choose in line with their own preference. Students are then better motivated to learn. Modular programmes are flexible and open because they eliminate old contents and admit new ones.

· Teachers who will be employed in rural areas of a low population density will be trained to teach two subjects and work in multi-grade classes. This approach means that teachers perform their job in accordance with the specialisation, have a full teaching load or work overtime.

In the regions of scattered settlement and small schools, instead of providing transportation to pupils, teachers should come to work in two or three schools. The idea of highly qualified, commuting teachers ensures instruction by specialists and eliminates full-time employment contracts. Local self-governments (for example, by means of low interest loans or credits for the purchase of cars) should give support to this initiative.


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