1. Key indicators
Figure 1 – Key indicators overview
|EU-level targets||2030 target|
|Participation in early childhood education
(from age 3 to starting age of compulsory primary education)
|Low achieving eighth-graders in digital skills||< 15%||25.3%13||:||:||:|
|Low achieving 15-year-olds in:||Reading||< 15%||15.0%09, b||14.7%18||19.7%09, b||22.5%18|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||< 9%||5.4%b||5.4%||13.8%||9.9%|
|Exposure of VET graduates to work based learning||≥ 60%||:||:||:||:|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 25-34)||≥ 45% (2025)||37.1%b||42.4%||32.2%||40.5%|
|Participation of adults in learning (age 25-64)||≥ 47% (2025)||:||:||:||:|
|Other contextual indicators|
|Education investment||Public expedienture on education as a percentage of GDP||5.5%||5.0%||5.0%||4.7%19|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per FTE/student in € PPS||ISCED 1-2||€4 94312||€5 84118||€6 07212,d||€6 35917,d|
|ISCED 3-4||€4 51912||€5 31818||€7 36613,d||€7 76217,d|
|ISCED 5-8||€6 53712||€7 89918||€9 67912,d||€9 99517,d|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||Native||5.4%b||5.4%||12,4%||8,7%|
|Upper secondary level attainment (age 20-24, ISCED 3-8)||91.0%b||89.9%||79.1%||84.3%|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 25-34)||Native||37.1%b||42.2%||33.4%||41.3%|
Source: Eurostat (UOE, LFS, COFOG); OECD (PISA). Further information can be found in Annex I and in Volume 1 (ec.europa.eu/education/monitor). Notes: The 2018 EU average on PISA reading performance does not include ES; the indicator used (ECE) refers to early-childhood education and care programmes which are considered by the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) to be ‘educational’ and therefore constitute the first level of education in education and training systems – ISCED level 0; FTE = full-time equivalent; b = break in time series, d = definition differs, e = estimated, u = low reliability, := not available, 09 = 2009, 12 = 2012, 13 = 2013, 17 = 2017, 18 = 2018, 19 = 2019.
Figure 2 - Position in relation to strongest and weakest performers
Source: DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture based on Eurostat data (LFS 2020, UOE 2019) and OECD (PISA 2018).
- The participation rate in early childhood education and care for children 3+ continues to rise. The enrolment of children under 3 is low.
- Poland has launched remedial measures to address the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, COVID-19 also made worse the existing challenges in education. The well-being of students and teachers needs to be improved.
- The Act 2.0 reform in higher education has progressed, but the recent decisions of the Minister of Education and Science have created uncertainty of the evaluation process.
- Poland continues to reform vocational education and training, and adopted the 2030 Integrated Skills Strategy.
3. A focus on well-being in education and training
While well-being is addressed in educational practice, major challenges persist. Well-being and some life competences, as defined at EU level (LifeComp), are present across all levels of the school curriculum. The key objective of the core curriculum for primary and lower-secondary is to ensure each pupil’s integrated development at physical, cognitive, emotional, social and moral level. The core curriculum for upper-secondary education aims to develop students’ communication and collaboration skills, critical thinking, as well as social and moral thinking. In recent years, however, challenges related to the well-being of children and young people in education have been in the spotlight. These challenges include using the internet safely, improving openness and building a positive school climate, reducing physical and psychological violence, promoting healthy lifestyles, and improving security in schools. To address them, Poland has implemented policy and support measures at national and regional level, also co-financed with the EU funds1. The non-governmental sector has been active in supporting child protection, cyber safety2, and fighting homophobia3. However, COVID-19 has heightened the existing challenges and the public debate on the mental health of students (Carretero Gomez, S. et al., 2021; PAN, 2021). The Ministry of Education and Science (the Ministry) plans to reform the pedagogical and psychological counselling system to improve the inclusiveness of education4. In September 2021, Poland will pilot 16 new centres for inclusive education.
The school climate requires attention. According to OECD (PISA), the proportion of students who reported being bullied at least a few times a month increased between 2015 and 2018 by 5.3 pps to 26.4% (EU 22.1%). Bullying affects reading performance significantly (by 28 points), and is also more prevalent among low-achieving students (36.3% v 21.2% for high achievers). At the same time, it is less condemned by peers in Poland than in other countries (OECD, 2019a). While research shows that homophobia is a source of violence in schools (Wycisk, J., 2018), very few schools introduce relevant precautionary measures in the context of political obstacles at national and often local level (Mazurczak, A. et Winiewski, 2020). In 2016, almost 70% of the surveyed LGBTI young people below 18 had suicidal thoughts5. The consequences of bullying can be severe, both in the short- and long-term, with impacts that can be both physical and mental (Pappas, S., 2013). The Supreme Audit Office recommended continuing the programmes concerning students’ online and physical safety (NIK, 2017, 2020). In view of COVID-19, the ‘Loguj się z głową’ programme6 promotes online safety. Further systemic measures will be needed to strengthen tolerance, and physical and online safety of all students.
Creating a more supportive learning environment, and enhancing social-emotional learning could improve students’ sense of belonging at school and academic ambitions. The low sense of belonging at school has been one of the main weaknesses of the Polish education system (IBE, 2020). Since 2012, it has dropped by 16 pps, and in 2018, the proportion of students who reported that they belonged at school (60.8%) was lower than the EU average of 65.2% (OECD, 2019a). Research shows that supportive teacher-students relations positively affect student achievement, both directly and indirectly through a greater sense of belonging at school. The proportion of secondary school students who declared that teachers give extra help when needed was slightly lower in Poland (67.7%) than the EU average (70.7%) (OECD, 2019a). A 2018 WHO survey showed that the proportion of 13 and 15 year-olds reporting high teacher support was the lowest of all the countries surveyed, and the high classmate support was below the average (Mazur J., et al., 2018). A comparatively small proportion of Polish students holds a growth mindset7, which may affect the academic ambitions of those from disadvantaged background (OECD, 2019a).
Improving the well-being of teachers combined with adequate support and removal of systemic barriers are essential to improving the well-being of students. Over half of teachers surveyed have participated in training on recognising and coping with students’ psychological problems. However, the overloaded curriculum and high administrative burden do not leave room for building teacher-student relationships (Fundacja Szkoła z Klasą, 2021). In international comparison, Polish teachers’ enthusiasm in teaching is among the lowest in the EU (OECD, 2019a). Maths and science teachers’ job satisfaction is the lowest in the EU, and only around a third of students (32%) are taught by very satisfied teachers (IEA, 2019). In the context of COVID-19, almost all teachers (93%) indicated a need for the administrative burden to be cut, more specialist support in schools for students (83%) and themselves (53%), and more peer cooperation (CEO, 2021).
Poland took several measures to counter the negative impact of COVID-19 on students’ health and inequalities, but their effectiveness and long-term impact need to be monitored. During 2020/2021, students had 43 weeks of distance education8. Despite the support on offer, a study conducted between April and December 2020 at the Ministry’s request showed that 23% surveyed boys and 36% girls had a low ‘mental condition index’ (general well-being and mental ability to cope with the situation) (Grzelak, S., Zyro, D., 2021). Cyberbullying affected students’ participation in online classes. In response, the Ministry launched programmes for the recovery and return to school: additional sports activities, psychological and pedagogical support for students, measures concerning eyesight problems and remedial classes. Mental health issues also affect academia (RPP, 2020). During COVID-19, 91% of university students surveyed agreed that mental health is a common and/or serious problem affecting their community (NZS, 2021). With the government support, the Polish student parliament created online psychological support for university students9. Given the short-term and long-term effects of COVID-19 in particular on children and youth, it will be necessary to continue monitoring its impact, the effectiveness of the measures implemented and further needs.
4. Investing in education and training
During 2015-2019, public spending on education increased in pre-primary and primary sectors only. In 2019, Poland spent 5% of its GDP on education (EU 4.7%) and 12.0% of the total government expenditure (EU 10%)10. In real terms, during 2015-2019, public expenditure on education rose by 9.8%, however, the rise was only for pre-primary and primary education (by 47.6%). This included the costs for reorganising the school system which was launched in 2016. At the secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary level, expenditure dropped by 18.5%, and in higher education by 2.5%11, which is also due to declining student numbers. Local governments cover 44% of spending on pre-primary and school education for which they are responsible, including teachers’ salaries (Statistics Poland, 2020). In the context of decreasing student numbers, local governments face challenges in maintaining the school network due to rising costs. In 2019, public spending per student at all education levels remained low compared to other Member States12. In 2020, 99 public higher education institutions (HEIs) which partly lost their income due to COVID-19 were supported with the additional amount of PLN 256 million (ca. EUR 57 million)13. Financial support was provided to disadvantaged students, and students who lost their income due to COVID-19 (one-off support of EUR 450 per student).
The attractiveness of the teaching profession remains limited, and teacher shortages are pronounced. The Supreme Audit controls (2018 - March, 2021) revealed shortcomings in the organisation of teachers’ work, including mainly allocating overtime in excess of the maximum limit, insufficient classroom equipment, obsolete teaching aids, and working in more than one school. In 2018/2019 and 2020/2021, almost half of surveyed school heads (46%) had problems with recruiting qualified teachers, mostly of physics, mathematics, chemistry, English and computer science. To address the shortages, they assigned overtime to other teachers (52%), employed retired teachers (38%) or people without the necessary qualifications (35%). There were also problems with the organisation of extracurricular activities and teachers’ remuneration for such activities. Most teachers (77%) believe that their work could be most improved by increasing the prestige of the teaching profession, teachers’ autonomy (45%) and providing better teaching aids and equipment (41%) (NIK, 2021). Teachers’ salaries remain far below the 2020 EU-22 average for teachers (OECD, 2021). The Polish Ombudsman called on the Minister for measures to reverse the negative trends concerning the teaching profession as teacher shortages may affect children’s right to education (RPO, 2021). To improve the attractiveness of the teaching profession, in September, the Ministry proposed changes to the Teacher’s Charter amending the salary, career progression and teachers’ evaluation systems, introducing more working hours, and modifying the holiday entitlement14. Stakeholders have criticised the proposal that it focuses predominantly on savings (actually, lowered hourly wage), lacks pro-quality solutions, the new career progression system decreases requirements for future teachers while the new evaluation system is oppressive towards teachers; experts and teacher community were not involved in the preparation of the two system proposals15.
The education ministry’s proposal to change the school governance raises significant concerns. The Ministry proposed strengthening the role of regional educational authorities, which are responsible for pedagogical supervision of schools. They will have the most important role in selecting and suspending school heads. They will also appoint school heads who are not teachers, take over management of schools when there are no candidates for the head’s post, as well as control the activities of NGOs in schools16. The proposals limit the role of local authorities, which are responsible for school management, and stakeholder groups and the Ombudsman see them as limiting the autonomy of schools, the initiatives of teachers, pupils and parents17. The citizens’ initiative ‘Free School’18 opposes the changes, calling for more autonomy, cooperation and tolerance in schools.
5. Modernising early childhood and school education
The enrolment rate of children 3+ in early childhood education and care (ECEC) continues to rise. In 2019, the rate was 90.3%, below the EU average (92.8%) and the new EU-level target (96%). Since 2017-2018, children aged 3-5 are legally entitled to pre-school education. Since then, the participation of 3 year-olds increased by 10.5 pps up to estimated 77.6% and 4 year-olds by 4.6 pps up to estimated 89.2% (Figure 3). Given the key role of high-quality ECEC in children’s development, it is important to address the urban-rural and regional disparities in accessibility (NIK, 2019). In 2021, ECEC facilities were closed briefly between 27 March and 18 April, when only children of medical and military workers involved in the COVID-19 prevention could attend ECEC services. Other children participated in some form of distance learning, adjusted to their age.
Figure 3 - Participation in early childhood education by age, 2013-2019 (%)
Source: UOE, educ_uoe_enra18, educ_uoe_enra19, educ_uoe_enra20
Since the participation rate of children under 3 in formal childcare remains low, Poland plans reforms to improve the availability of services. In 2019, the participation rate was 10.2% (EU 35.3%) despite visible efforts of the government to improve the situation (‘Toddler,’ ‘Toddler+’ national programmes in place since 2011). In 2021, Poland aims to create a further 19 000 places under ‘Toddler+’. Public provision of ECEC is an important factor in ensuring broad access to affordable and quality services. In Poland, 83% of all childcare facilities (4 600) are centre-based crèches, of which 76% are private (Statistics Poland, 2021).
In 2020, the rate of early leavers from education and training remains low at 5.4%. Broad access to secondary education contributes to maintaining the low rate for both men (7%) and women (3.7%). However, while the rate is significantly below the EU average (10.1%), it has increased since 2018, in particular for men (by 1.2 pps), which contributes to the growing gender gap in the tertiary educational attainment. The 2020 ELET national target (4.5%) has not been reached.
The reorganisation of the school system continues, but faces additional challenges due to COVID-19 and Poland launches measures to address educational inequalities. In 2020-2021, primary schools introduced the new organisational structure and the new core curricula in line with the 2016 law19. Almost half of surveyed teachers declare that differences in students’ knowledge and overcrowded schools and classes hindered classroom learning during 2018-2021 (NIK, 2021). The significant periods of distance learning and the new core curriculum requirements posed further challenges to achieving the expected learning outcomes. Although schools were open to students for direct consultations, overall, students had to largely rely on support from home in their learning, leaving some groups of students at greater risk of educational exclusion (Buchner & Wierzbicka, 2020). In 2021, the government allocated PLN 187 million (EUR 41.5 million) for the remedial classes programme. The scope of the eighth grader’s and upper-secondary school leaving (‘matura’) exams during 2021-2024 will be reduced by around 20-30%, depending on the subject. The oral part of 2021 ‘matura’ was cancelled and only the core subjects were compulsory. It would be important to monitor whether the support provided has been sufficient to address educational losses, as well as to address a possible labour market disadvantage caused by the reduced final exams.
Poland continues improving digital education, but challenges persist. Poland has continued to invest in online education (Box 1). While the digital competences of teachers have improved, challenges remain: the time-consuming process of distance teaching, equipment shortages, stress and fatigue. Despite the services available, only 5% of teachers felt they received substantial support from the national authorities during distance education. The internet or videos were the most frequent sources for preparing distance lessons. Teachers created learning community groups, and many teachers found that the online tools and methods could enrich traditional teaching (Buchner & Wierzbicka, 2020). Education professionals underline the importance of the quality of digital teaching methodologies, technology and online materials adjusted to students’ age (Fundacja Orange, 2020). The Supreme Audit concluded that the EU and national funds helped in providing the ICT equipment to teachers and in-service training on digital education. The proportion of teachers who had followed a training on digital education doubled between March and September 2020, reaching 81%. However, although schools were connected to the Polish online network and had ICT equipment available, 50% of teachers exclusively used their own equipment and internet. The key obstacles to online education indicated by teachers were also difficulties in student assessment (71%) and lack of adequate ICT equipment among students (52%). To improve digital education, two thirds (66%) of teachers indicated having a laptop with an internet connection, and better quality (31%) and availability (25%) of training on digital education, and its integration in initial teacher education. The Supreme Audit recommended carrying out a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of the barriers and opportunities of digital education to improve the overall educational process (NIK, 2021).
Box 1: The Integrated Education Platform (IEP) (ESF)
The platform launched in 2016 provides access to e-learning materials and solutions for pupils, teachers and parents. It provides opportunities for teamwork and supports individual learning style. Each pupil and teacher can collect their own materials through their profile account. The platform includes a content editor for teachers, allowing them to create, edit, share and adapt e-learning materials.
The aim of the projects supported with the European Social Fund that contribute to the IEP’s content is to provide high-quality, free and publicly available e-learning materials for general and vocational education at all stages, and for career counselling. So far 7411 e-learning materials have been published on the platform. By December 2023, a total of 19422 e-learning materials for general and vocational education, and the information on professions will be available.
Value of signed contracts: PLN 393534434.63 (ca. EUR 87452096.6).
6. Modernising vocational education and training and adult learning
In 2020, VET graduates fared significantly better on the labour market than their peers completing general secondary education. While the employment rate of recent VET graduates (aged 20-34) dropped by 0.8 pp. to 78% in 2020, the employment rate of graduates from general education dropped by 5.3 pps for the same period, down to 65.7%. In 2019, the proportion of VET learners in upper secondary education continued to rise, reaching 52.5%, (EU 48.4%). Since 2016, support measures for young people neither in education nor employed conducted by the labour offices and the voluntary labour corps were broadened. These measures now include: individualised comprehensive support through diagnosis and needs identification, vocational counselling and guidance, development of individual plans, job placements, and individual and group counselling and psychological support.
The new secondary school graduate tracking system will be operational in 2021. The legislative act on a VET graduate tracking system sets out new ministerial responsibilities to monitor the career development of vocational, technical and general secondary schools graduates, as well as post-secondary and vocational special schools. The monitoring will be carried out each year and will cover school graduates who graduated 1, 2 and 5 years before the monitoring year. It will use administrative data sources from the social security administration and educational databases, allowing the systematic tracking of all secondary graduates. The system will be supplemented with in-depth quantitative and qualitative studies focusing on specific aspects of the situation of VET learners and graduates. This data will inform national, regional and local educational policy. The Ministry produced a forecast of the demands of the domestic and regional labour markets.
During COVID-19, VET learners were supported by online education. Distance learning was provided in theoretical subjects and the VET curricula were adjusted to remote learning. Between November 2020 and April 2021, apprenticeships took place online where possible or where safe working conditions were ensured. In 2021, vocational exams took place as planned.
Poland continues to reform lifelong learning by adopting a strategic approach to skills. In December 2020, Poland adopted the second part of the 2030 National Integrated Skills Strategy20. It has the status of a public policy for shaping and developing sector-specific skills. In particular, the strategy targets the development of basic, transversal and professional skills for children, young people and adults, as well as skills development for management and teaching staff in formal education. The strategy also promotes lifelong learning, career counselling, the use of skills in the workplace and skills recognition. To support the green transition and efforts towards climate neutrality, a special attention will also need to be paid to the development of ‘green’ skills.
7. Modernising higher education
Despite a slight drop, tertiary educational attainment rate remains above the EU average, but the gender gap continues to widen. In 2020, the higher educational attainment rate among people aged 25-34 was 42.4% dropping by 1.1 pps compared to 2019 (EU 40.2%). The gender gap at 19.9 pps in favour of women has widened, being double the EU average (10.8 pps). The overall proportion of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fell to 20.8%, in contrast to the EU trend (EU 26.0%). The proportion of female graduates among all STEM graduates at 42.5% is comparatively high (EU 32.3%), and among ICT graduates, it is in line with the EU average (21% v 20.3%)21. The tertiary attainment rate among foreign-born people is high at 63.1%22.
Higher education effectively protects young people from the risk of unemployment, however, disadvantaged students rarely plan on getting a university degree. The employment rate of recent university graduates grew steadily from 83.7% in 2014 to 90.1% in 2019 (EU 85%), and has remained the highest of all types of graduates (see Figure 4). In 2020, the drop in the employment rate was the smallest among tertiary level graduates, by 0.3 p.p., while it was 0.9 p.p. among VET ISCED 3 and 4 graduates and, the highest among general ISCED 3 and 4 graduates, at 5.3 pps. However, the attainment rate among people below 30 drops. In 2019, only 29% of men and 48% of women aged 27 had a higher education degree compared to 32% and 52.7% respectively in 2013 (LFS, 2021) as fewer people enroll in higher education. According to 2018 PISA, despite increase between 2015 and 2018 (22.8% v 29.3%), the proportion of the socio-economically disadvantaged 15-year-old secondary students planning to complete a tertiary degree is significantly below the EU average (44%). The gap in academic ambition between advantaged and disadvantaged students remained unchanged at 57.2 pps, being the second highest in the EU (EU average 38.6 pps). Moreover, almost half (47%) of high-achieving 15-year-old secondary students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not intend to complete tertiary education (OECD, 2019a). As COVID-19 strongly affected disadvantaged students, these trends might hinder social mobility.
Figure 4 - Employment rate of recent graduates (20-34) by ISCED level, 2014-2020 (%)
Source: Labour Force Survey, edat_lfse_24.
Higher education institutions (HEIs) are implementing the reform aimed at improving quality23; however, the recent decisions undermine its objective, creating tensions with academia. The first overall evaluation of HEIs according to the new principles will be conducted in 2022, for the period 2017-2021. In January 2021, the Ministry amended the index of journals recognised in the evaluation of universities’ research activities, adding new titles and increasing the points for some journals, mostly in humanities and social sciences. Academia2425 criticised these changes as not being in line with Act 2.0. Relevant bodies were not consulted on the amendments and the newly introduced journals do not always fulfil the quality and relevance criteria set out in Act 2.0. Furthermore, the Ministry decided to set the limits of the evaluation levels based on the Minister’s decision, rather than recommendation from the Commission of Evaluation of the Scientific Quality. All this creates uncertainty of the evaluation process and undermines the reform objective to improve the quality of higher education. According to the amendment of 1 October, the ‘Academic Freedom Package’, the expression of religious, philosophical or worldview beliefs by academic teachers will not constitute a disciplinary offense. A possibility has been introduced to lodge a complaint against the rector's decision to order the disciplinary spokesman to start the case. Academia26 and experts27 significantly criticised the amendment for breaching democratic legislative principles, reducing institutional autonomy and for insufficient recognition of the role of ethical standards concerning academia.
Throughout 2020/2021, higher education institutions continued online teaching, assessment and recruitment. To facilitate distance learning, the government awarded PLN 55 million (EUR 12.2 million) to public HEIs28, PLN 10 million (EUR 2.2 million) to 107 non-public HEIs, and to the Polish student parliament to develop online support for students following online education29. Under the operational programme ‘Knowledge, Education, Development’ (2014-2020), Poland continued developing online courses included in the national MOOC platform (www.navoica.pl). The need for the systemic support for academic teachers in developing their pedagogical skills as well as the continuing professional development persists, intensified by the demand for the modernisation of teaching methods and aids during online learning. The Act 2.0 reform has not addressed this sufficiently30. Medical students supported hospitals in their fight against COVID-19.
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Annex I: Key indicators sources
|Indicator||Eurostat online data code|
|Participation in early childhood education||educ_uoe_enra21|
|Low achieving eighth-graders in digital skills||IEA, ICILS.|
|Low achieving 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science||OECD (PISA)|
|Early leavers from education and training||Main data: edat_lfse_14.
Data by country of birth: edat_lfse_02.
|Exposure of VET graduates to work based learning||Data for the EU-level target is not available. Data collection starts in 2021. Source: EU LFS.|
|Tertiary educational attainment||Main data: edat_lfse_03.
Data by country of birth: edat_lfse_9912.
|Participation of adults in learning||Data for the EU-level target is not available. Data collection starts in 2022. Source: EU LFS.|
|Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP||gov_10a_exp|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per student||educ_uoe_fini04|
|Upper secondary level attainment||edat_lfse_03|
Annex II: Structure of the education system
Source: European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2021. The Structure of the European Education Systems 2021/2022: Schematic Diagrams. Eurydice Facts and Figures. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
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