School and Education in Poland


Changing education at all levels was a key factor in the political and economic transformation that took place from 1989 onwards in Poland. The financial situation made implementation difficult during the 1990s, but major changes have taken place in the 2000s and the school system has improved significantly, both in terms of results and availability and quality.

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Since the 1998/99 academic year, a new school system has been applied that is based on compulsory schooling between the ages of 7 and 18. Since 2004/05, one year of preparatory preschool class is also compulsory. The compulsory school is six years old and is followed by a three-year compulsory secondary education (gymnasium). The students can then proceed to a three-year liceum with a scientific or humanistic field or a four-year technical technician, who prepares for university and graduates with a degree (matura), or to various vocational and vocational schools.

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The higher education, which is free of charge, is announced at about 500 institutions, of which just over 300 are private. The oldest university is the Jagellonian University of Krakow (founded 1364) and the largest is the University of Warsaw (53,700 students in 2012). Transition from primary to secondary school, as well as from the latter to universities and colleges, is based on exams and degrees. In the early 1990s, only about a fifth went on to higher education. In 2010, about 70% read on at college or university.

Poland Country Flag

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The consequence of the split

In a country without its own national institutions, art and culture had a special significance. Language, literature and music became the linking elements and were important – also purely political. The main trend within the rich Polish romantic literature (Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki) had a profoundly radical political and national commitment. The demand for literature and culture to play a political role was prevalent right up to our day. Poets and intellectuals were important critical figures of society – even in the postwar period.

The division became of central importance for the development of the Polish class community. The freedom fighters were divided into an aristocratic and a democratic wing. The patriotic petty nobility continued to form an important social class after feudalism was in retreat in Western Europe. The new intelligentsia was largely derived from the impoverished peasantry, which had lost its properties either for political or economic reasons. At the same time, the old rich aristocratic land-sharing families such as Radziwill, Potocki and Lubomirski flourished. They owned huge areas. Especially in the eastern part of Poland, which since 1945 has belonged to the Soviet Union. In the first half of the 19th century, however, capitalist development took place in certain parts of the country, but the industrial leaders were often of German or Jewish descent. See for all countries starting with P.

Following the unsuccessful uprising in Russian Poland in 1863, a positivist movement developed which criticized the romantic tradition. “One must do a positive job here and now,” was the slogan. Politically, the positivists were progress-friendly liberals, such as the great realistic writer, Boleslaw Prus. During this period, the first approaches to a modern labor movement emerged – e.g. the group “The Great Proletariat” in Warsaw in the mid-1880s. But it didn’t take long for national issues to split. The labor movement was divided into Polish, German and Jewish groups.

Before the turn of the century, the Polish socialists were divided into a more moderately national conscious wing to which the later dictator Jozef Pilsudski belonged, and a radical Marxist and supranational wing with Rosa Luxemburg as the most prominent figure. The revolution of 1905 became an important event that led to radicalization, but the Luxembourg wing – the Social Democratic Party in Poland and Lithuania – nevertheless became a minority within the labor movement, which was also strongly influenced by the national struggle. Rosa Luxemburg and her supporters did not want a national Polish assembly, but a revolution in which all peoples of the Russian Empire should participate. This “Luxembourg” also characterized the new Polish Communist Party in the first years after the World War.

At the beginning of the century, the bourgeois mass party of the National Democrats emerged with Roman Dwoski as the dominant leadership figure. The party was politically oriented towards a compromise with Zarist Russia, and it was supported by strong forces within the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which also had considerable political power in divided Poland. The party had a clear front against the young workers’ movement and gradually developed a nationalist and anti-Semitic ideology, which to some extent pointed to the strong national fascist currents of Poland in the interwar period.

The outbreak of World War I brought the Polish question to the fore again. Russia and the Western powers, on the one hand, and the central powers – Germany and Austria-Hungary, on the other, tried to exploit the Polish national feeling to achieve their political and military goals. During the first phase of the war, Marshal Pilsudski created a Polish legion which was fought on the Austrian side with Kraków as the base, but later the legionaries came into conflict with the central powers, and Pilsudski was interned in Germany during the last phase of the war. Roman Dwoski fled to the Western powers, where he worked hard for these to agree to the restoration of a new Polish state if they won the war.

Large parts of Poland became a scene of war. The central powers occupied Warsaw and proclaimed a Polish state, which, however, never had any real existence. The war damage was great and the distress spread as the war dragged on. As in the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, the distress and social misery of the war radically affected the masses, but Polish politics continued to be characterized by the conflict between those who regarded national independence as the most important and those who had the social revolution as their main goal.