- Many concepts and terms related to the adult education policy in Poland may be understood differently, depending on the setting and context where they are used. This refers, in particular, to adult education and training discussed in this chapter. Since 2013, efforts have been made to embed in the field of education terms which are convergent with European definitions concerning lifelong learning, including adult education and training. At that time, the Government adopted new strategic documents, ‘The Lifelong Learning Perspective’ (Perspektywa uczenia się przez całe życie) and ‘The Human Capital Development Strategy’ (Strategia Rozwoju Kapitału Ludzkiego), which defined basic policy terms for lifelong learning. The key factors in making lifelong learning a reality are skills, and conditions and opportunities created for skills development as these are necessary for social capital enhancement, economic growth and high quality of life. As a major achievement in devising an integrated skills strategy, which covers the entire education and training system, Poland adopted in 2019 the general part of the 2030 Integrated Skills Strategy (ISS 2030) (Zintegrowana Strategia Umiejętności 2030 (część ogólna / Integrated Skills Strategy 2030 (general part), Warsaw, 2019, Ministry of National Education; accessed August 2021). The document was developed in close cooperation with all relevant government bodies and stakeholders. This approach was based on the assumption that the relevance of the ISS would depend to a large extent on the involvement a wide range of stakeholders. Consultations on the ISS 2030 were held at each stage of the development process and involved representatives of several dozen institutions.
Two other documents relevant to adult education in the context of adult skills are: the OECD Skills Strategy Poland: Assessment and Recommendations, OECD Skills Studies (OECD Publishing, Paris, 2019) (accessed August 2021) presented in December 2019, and the Integrated Skills Strategy (detailed part) (Zintegrowana Strategia Umiejętności (część szczegółowa) adopted as a public policy by the Government in December 2020. The ISS sets a policy for skills development in line with the idea of lifelong learning, thus referring to the OECD document (accessed August 2021). The ISS is also in line with the national development management system, integrating national documents of a strategic nature (with regard to skills), namely: the Strategy for Responsible Development to 2020 (with a 2030 perspective) (Strategia na rzecz Odpowiedzialnego Rozwoju), the Lifelong Learning Perspective (2013), and integrated and supra-regional strategies.
As in the first half of 2020, in the school year 2020/2021, the temporary lockdown measures for school education institutions (and higher education and research institutions, other educational institutions and employers) taken to prevent the spread of, and fight against, COVID-19 had a major impact on both adult learning and the work on policy documents in the field of education and training. Depending on the severity of the epidemic, online, hybrid or in-person classroom learning was limited or reintroduced multiple times. This had impact on both the organisation of the teaching and learning processes and their participants. Priority was given to distance learning.
The new arrangements affected, in particular, vocational education and training where provision was limited to the theoretical vocational subjects and practical vocational training that could be delivered using distance learning methods and techniques. Continuing education courses / classes in non-school settings which could not be provided in a distance learning mode or using another method had to be delivered when the temporary lockdown restrictions for school education institutions were lifted. Distance learning courses / classes were taught using the Integrated Education Platform (Zintegrowana Platforma Edukacyjna) (made available by the minister responsible for school education) and resources available in the Internet, public television and radio programmes and other resources selected by teachers. It is worth noting that distance education methods and techniques had already been used earlier as a training and learning method in adult education. (Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 20 March 2020 on the specific arrangements for the period of temporary restrictions for the functioning of school education institutions in connection with the measures to prevent, counteract and fight against COVID-19 / Rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 20 marca 2020 r. w sprawie szczególnych rozwiązań w okresie czasowego ograniczenia funkcjonowania jednostek systemu oświaty w związku z zapobieganiem, przeciwdziałaniem i zwalczaniem COVID-19) (accessed 23 August 2021).
Policy documents adopted in Poland and the EU and the national legislation for school education use the following terms relating to adult education and training:
- Continuing education (CE) (kształcenie ustawiczne), defined in the Law on School Education (ustawa Prawo oświatowe) (consolidated text of 18 May 2021, item 1082; Article 4, section 30). CE is understood as education / training in schools for adults, stage II sectoral vocational schools and post-secondary schools, and as acquisition of new and supplementary knowledge, skills and vocational / professional qualifications in non-school settings by individuals who have completed full-time compulsory education. Education and training in Poland are potentially aimed at the adult population (over the age of 18) of 38.41 million, with the working age population (aged 25 to 64 years) representing 60% (2019). The European reference group for adult education and training are adults aged 25-64 years who participated in education or training in the four weeks preceding the survey.
- Adult education (AE) (edukacja dorosłych) is used as an equivalent for adult education and training (AET) (kształcenie i szkolenia dorosłych). The scope of AET extends far beyond the fields of school education and higher education and traditional training courses leading to qualifications. AET is also provided as on-the-job practical training or as organised activities of citizens’ groups or communities. There is no comprehensive definition of AET in Poland. This may result, on the one hand, from a vast area it covers, and on the other hand, from difficulties in assigning the responsibility for this type of education and training provision to a single administrative structure.
- Adult learning is understood as learning at the adult life stage, a stage of lifelong learning in various forms and settings (formal, non-formal and informal). In this context, adult learning is part of a sequence of learning activities accompanying the entire life from early years to advanced old age. Skills that individuals possess, develop and acquire play a key role in adult learning understood in this way. In the strategic documents, and in particular in the 2030 Integrated Skills Strategy, development of skills (basic, transversal, vocational or professional) is closely linked to lifelong learning in its various (personal, family, social and professional) contexts.
According to EUROSTAT, the AET participation rates for adult Poles have remained below the EU average for many years (see Table belowe).
European Union (27 countries)
The proportion of adult Poles aged 25-64 years who participated in AET in 2020 was 3.7%, which indicates a slight decline as compared to 2019. In this context, two studies on adult learning published in 2019 are worthy of notice (“The Study of Human Capital: Professional and educational activity of adult Poles in the face of challenges of the contemporary economy” / Bilans Kapitału Ludzkiego – Aktywność zawodowa i edukacyjna dorosłych Polaków wobec wyzwań współczesnej gospodarki), a report summarising findings from the 6th edition of the Study of Human Capital in the years 2017-2018; and B. Worek (2019), “Learning society: On educational activities of adult Poles / Uczące się społeczeństwo. O aktywności edukacyjnej dorosłych Polaków, Cracow), which present a new approach to research on educational activities of adult Poles. The approach involves more accurate identification of various forms of non-formal learning activities. Thus, it may help to identify a much wider range of adult learning activities than in the first editions of the Study of Human Capital in Poland (2010-2014) and the EUROSTAT Labour Force Survey and Adult Education Survey, conducted by the Central Statistical Office in Poland.
AET is the most diversified area of education and training in Poland. This is due not only to the diversity of the target groups, their age and social and professional status, forms of education and training, methods for the validation of learning outcomes achieved, in particular, in non-formal and informal learning, but also to the wide range of providers. When defining AET, all sectors of socio-economic activity (public administration, business entities and non-governmental organisations) should be taken into consideration. With regard to its objectives and organisational form, AET may be divided into formal and non-formal education / learning, which is illustrated by the diagram below.
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
The diagram does not include informal learning as it is not considered as part of the institutionalised adult education and training network. Informal learning remains ‘outside’ the network presented in the diagram, although some of its learning outcomes may be validated and, consequently, become certified learning outcomes which are increasingly important in adult education. This learning sector forms a whole together with the other sectors of education and training, and learners may attain each qualification level through both formal education and other learning paths.
Adult education and training in Poland
The main sources of data on AET (or, rather, some of its sectors) are:
- the EU Labour Force Survey (LFS);
- the Adult Education Survey (AES); and
- the Continuing Vocational Training in Enterprises (CVTE) survey conducted by the Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny) every five years (the most recent one published in 2022). CVTE surveys are comparative studies carried out in most EU countries.
Another source of data on AET is the Study of Human Capital (Bilans Kapitału Ludzkiego, BKL), one of the largest European research projects on competences, employment and labour market, conducted periodically since 2010 by the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (Polska Agencja Rozwoju Przedsiębiorczości, PARP) and the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. Its 2017-2018 findings point to the relevance of employment to educational practices of employed persons. The study shows that 68% of employed persons develop vocational / professional competences strictly related to their job, and as many as 91% develop both vocational / professional competences and those which are not directly related to their job. Non-formal education is the predominant form of learning (72%), and over two-fifths (42%) participate in skills development activities in their workplace. There is also an (ongoing) Sectoral Study of Human Capital, which currently covers the IT and financial sectors. Data on adult competences is collected under the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC). An extended version of the survey has also been conducted in Poland as the Post-PIAAC Programme.
The Adult Education Survey, carried out by the Central Statistical Office as part of the international AES, addresses, among other things, adult participation in formal, non-formal and informal learning. It is a cyclical survey, with editions in 2006, 2012 and 2017. The survey, representative for the Polish population aged 18-69 years, conducted in 2017 (publication in Polish) shows a slight increase in the participation of adult Poles in education as compared to 2011.
- While 44% of Poles aged 18-69 participated in some form of education in 2011, five years later the proportion rose to almost 45.9%. Changes are more visible for the population aged 25-64. In 2016, around 43% of the Poles aged above 25 participated in at least one of the above-mentioned forms of education (around 26% in 2011); the proportion was almost 50% in urban areas (49% in 2011) and around 39.5% in rural areas (slightly less, that is 36%, in 2011). Adult participation rates still decrease significantly with the age: those participating in education represent around half of the 30-34-year-olds, around 41% of people aged 45-49 and only 34% of those aged 55-59. Qualifications or skills are upgraded mainly by employed persons (52%). The unemployed are the smallest group among the adults who upgrade their qualifications or skills.
- In 2016, 54.1% of the Poles aged 18-69 did not participate in any form of self-learning (60% in rural areas). This was mainly the case of economically active people, and no need for (further) education / training was given as the reason.
- The proportion of adult Poles participating in formal education decreased slightly from 13.6% in 2011 to 11.3% in 2016. Those participating in formal education are mainly the youngest adults; almost 68% of the people aged 18-24 and 16.3% of those aged 25-29 were enrolled on programmes or courses in schools or higher education institutions. They most often followed a degree programme at a higher level as a continuation of previous university studies or a non-degree postgraduate programme (one-fourth of the respondents held a higher education qualification).
- The rate of participation in non-formal education rose slightly from 20.9% in 2011 to 21.4% in 2016. Most active were people aged 25-44, with over 25% of them upgrading their skills in non-formal settings. The participation rate reached a peak value (nearly 30%) in the 35-39 age group, but the rates were much lower in the older age groups. Adults participating in non-formal education were mainly men, people living in urban areas, holding a higher education qualification and, first of all, those holding positions which require specialist qualifications or skills.
The survey also shows that the decision to participate in non-formal education was related to the job (77.4%) and aimed to enhance performance (as indicated by 56.6% of respondents). Better job performance was identified as the main benefit from the effort taken (51.3% of respondents). Thus, participation rates were particularly high among the respondents representing the occupations where formal requirements or rapid technological advances require continuous upskilling. These include teachers (almost 44% of the respondents with a teaching qualification participating in education in such settings); and people in medical and ICT jobs (around 40% in both groups).
Nearly half (49%) of the adults participating in non-formal education received financial support from their employers, and only slightly more than one-fifth had to participate in training on a self-funding basis (PLN 348 as the average cost indicated).
Among the persons participating in non-formal education, 45% received a document certifying the skills acquired as required by their employer, professional organisation or legislation; nearly one-third did not get any credentials for the skills gained.
In 2016, 31.4% of Poles (around 8.5 million) were involved in self-study or informal learning (as compared to 30% five years earlier). Self-study is undertaken mainly by young and better educated people. There are slightly more self-studying adults among women (a difference of 3 percentage points) and people living in urban areas. The most popular self-learning methods include:
- using the Internet / ICT applications (84.5% of respondents; almost 95% of adults aged 18-24 years; a much higher proportion among the respondents holding a higher education qualification);
- using books and professional journals (80%; this method was used more often by women and adults in urban areas; learning from books was much more common among the respondents holding a higher education qualification (87%) than a vocational qualification (66%);
- learning from family members, friends and colleagues (47.2%).