Adult education (adult education and training, AET; adult learning) has rich tradition in Poland, particularly important in the difficult period of partitions between the end of the 18th century and 1918 when Poland regained its sovereignty. It was the cornerstone of the Polish language, culture, history and tradition.
The last century has seen both periods of intensive expansion of adult education and its growing importance and achievements, and periods of stagnation, in particular in the 1980s.
In the first years after World War II, adult education had compensatory functions and was aimed mainly at eliminating illiteracy. In the communist period, with its high degree of politicisation and centralisation in all areas of public life, adult education was associated with ‘proletariat schooling’ or ‘working-class education’; non-working people could not, in principle (at least during a certain period), receive education in a school for working adults. The establishment of non-school educational institutions providing various training courses was subject to ‘rationing’ and strict control by the state.
After 1989, adult education and training was left largely outside the key reforms taking place in school education and higher education. In 1995, the 1991 School Education Act (ustawa o systemie oświaty) was amended to include a definition of continuing education (still in use and referred to in this chapter where it quotes the provision in force that defines this type of education), its functions and provision options, and the tasks of the ministers responsible for school education, and labour and social policy in this area.
As one of the main achievements after 1989, a legal basis was created for the establishment of non-public institutions for AET. The sector flourished rapidly in the next decades. On the one hand, this was a major achievement in the process of democratisation of education. On the other hand, despite the efforts made, the sector still needed reforms to establish adult education (in various forms and settings, of a varying scope, and for a wide range of learners) as an integral part of professional, personal and social activity of people at various stages of life.
Formal and non-formal AET is a very broad category (see the introductory section to Chapter 8) which covers various forms of organised learning, including those provided as part of other activities (for example, delivery of services, societal engagement activities). These issues fall within the remit of many sectoral ministries, which helps to understand specific problems of a given sector and propose adequate measures, but does not always help to design a uniform policy in this area. Currently, many measures are taken within the proposed strategies which will support the integration of this area of education and training.
Current measures and policy priorities
A strategic document for the management of the national development policy is the Government’s Strategy for Responsible Development (SRD) for the period up to 2020 (with a 2030 perspective) (Strategia na rzecz Odpowiedzialnego Rozwoju do roku 2020 (z perspektywą do 2030)) (summary in English) (accessed September 2021). It aims primarily to create conditions for income growth for Polish citizens, while enhancing social, economic, environmental and territorial cohesion. This goal is linked to measures aimed at improving the quality of human and social capital and has impact on measures related to education and social policies. The following development strategies provide instruments for the implementation of the SRD:
- 2030 Productivity Strategy (Strategia Produktywności 2030);
- 2030 Human Capital Development Strategy (Strategia Rozwoju Kapitału Ludzkiego 2030);
- 2030 Social Capital Development Strategy (Cooperation, Culture, Creativity) (Strategia Rozwoju Kapitału Społecznego (współdziałanie, kultura, kreatywność) 2030);
- 2030 Strategy for Efficient and Modern State (Strategia Sprawne i Nowoczesne Państwo 2030);
- 2030 Regional Development Strategy (Strategia Rozwoju Regionalnego 2030);
- 2030 Strategy for Sustainable Rural Development, Agriculture and Fisheries (Strategia Zrównoważonego Rozwoju Wsi, Rolnictwa i Rybactwa 2030);
- 2030 Strategy for Sustainable Transport Development (Strategia Zrównoważonego Rozwoju Transportu do 2030);
- Poland’s Energy Strategy 2040 (Strategia Energetyczna Polski do 2040),
- 2030 National Environmental Strategy (development strategy for environment and water management) (Strategia Ekologiczna Państwa 2030).
In the context of measures in the area of adult education and training, the 2030 Integrated Skills Strategy (ISS) is particularly relevant. It is consistent with the primary goal of the SRD to create conditions for increasing income of Polish citizens and simultaneously improve cohesion in social, economic, environmental and territorial terms. Furthermore, the ISS fits into all of the specific objectives of the SRD:
- Sustainable economic growth increasingly based on knowledge, evidence and organisational excellence
- Socially sensitive and territorially balanced development
- Effective state and institutions for growth and social and economic inclusion
The coordination policy for lifelong learning (LLL) activities is pursued through the 2030 ISS, the work of the Inter-Sectoral Task Force for LLL and the Integrated Qualifications System (IQS), the implementation of the Act on the Integrated Qualifications System (ustawa o Zintegrowanym Systemie Kwalifikacji, and a system of councils for competences which is being established. The Inter-Sectoral Task Force for LLL brings together ministers or authorised officials representing, among others, the ministries responsible for key sectors (school education, science and higher education, family, labour and social policy, economy (development), culture, national heritage and sport, internal affairs and administration, national defence, European funds and regional development, digitalisation, sports and tourism), and the minister representing the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. Measures taken by the ministries that are involved in the implementation of the 2030 ISS and the Task Force for LLL and measures related to the IQS aim to improve skills and retrain working-age adults so that they can adapt to changes in the labour market (digitalisation, technological changes, new working methods). Such measures provide a solid basis for building an LLL policy.
Further efforts are needed to design effective mechanisms for financing adult learning in some non-school settings. In recent years, a number of measures have been taken to initiate changes in this area, and in particular in vocational education and training (VET). The Law on School Education (ustawa Prawo oświatowe) provides opportunities for various entities to support VET; these include employers and their organisations, self-governance bodies of the business sector, business organisations, sectoral councils for competences and the Programme Council for Competences. Public administration bodies should collaborate with such entities in performing their tasks in the field of education. (information about the education reform in Polish) (accessed August 2021)
The changes introduced as part of the ongoing reform of school education aim at, among other things, promoting close collaboration between vocational schools and employers; this will have impact on AET through links with schools and other educational institutions. Measures encouraging adults to participate in learning include:
- implementation of the 2030 ISS;
- implementation of the IQS;
- activities of the National Training Fund (Krajowy Fundusz Szkoleniowy);
- development of the database of training services (baza usług rozwojowych; information in Polish only) (accessed 30 August 2021);
- collaboration between the Ministry of Education and Science, the institutions conducting the Study of Human Capital (Badanie Kapitału Ludzkiego) and the Central Statistical Office to improve identification of non-formal learning activities undertaken by adults;
- support for the idea of lifelong learning provided by the Polish Chamber of Training Companies (Polska Izba Firm Szkoleniowych) (accessed 30 August 2021)
- a pilot programme ‘Loans for Education and Training’ (text in English) (Pożyczki na kształcenie) (website accessed 31 August 2021).
The implementation of the SRD as the national development strategy is linked to many operational programmes which include measures supporting lifelong learning. Examples of such programmes are given below.
Name of the Programme
Primary objectives and selected measures
„Active+” („Aktywni +”), 2021-2025
Increasing participation of older people in all areas of social life. Supporting engagement of older people, development of their competences and interests.
Priority areas will include digital inclusion (use of modern technologies).
The Programme is aimed at non-governmental organisations. It is an extension of the ASOS Programme.
New edition of the “Senior+” (“Senior+”) Programme for 2021-2025
Establishing or equipping support centres and maintaining activities of existing centres.
Centres aim to support all forms of civic, social and cultural engagement, sport participation and religious engagement of older people; and to conduct activities related to health promotion, prevention in health and social care for seniors, and ageing education.
The Programme is aimed at local government units.
National Programme for the Development of Social Economy (Krajowy Program Rozwoju Ekonomii Społecznej (KPRES)) (until 2023)
Social and solidarity economy as an instrument for active social policy, and support for social and local development.
Building solidarity-based local community and labour market; increasing the competitiveness of solidarity and social economy entities; building solidarity-based society.
Chance: new opportunities for adults (Szansa – nowe możliwości dla dorosłych)
Developing and testing models of support for adults with low levels of basic skills at all stages of adulthood.
The project will include competence assessments on an individual basis and measures adapted to individual needs, and validation of learning outcomes.
Accessiblity Plus (Dostępność plus), 2018-2025
The Programme is aimed at people who are faced with limitations in daily life due to various factors. Access problems can be permanent or temporary, which requires different approaches. Programme measures address the areas of architecture, transport, education, healthcare, digitalisation and services.
The Programme is open to all entities designing and conducting social activities. This is a Government programme.
Projects implemented under the Operational Programme Knowledge-Education-Development (Program Operacyjny Wiedza-Edukacja-Rozwój)
Ongoing projects aim at enhancing employability of young adults (below 30 years of age) in some districts.
Lamplighters 2020 (Latarnicy 2020)
A project focusing on digital education for 50+ people. It involves specially trained local educators (so-called Digital Poland’s Lamplighters) who provide support to project beneficiaries.
Source: Based on the documents available (in Polish) on the following websites: “Active+” Programme; “Senior+” Programme; “Chance” Programme; “Accessibility+” Programme; “Lamplighters 2020” Programme.
The National Training Fund (NTF) (Krajowy Fundusz Szkoleniowy; information in Polish only), established in May 2014 as part of the Labour Fund (LF) (around 2% of the LF), supports continuing education of employers and employees where this is taken up on the initiative or with the consent of the employer. In 2021, the LF funds were allocated primarily to support: continuing education courses for people employed in companies which had to limit their activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic; healthcare and social services staff, psychologists, therapists and staff in social welfare homes; continuing education courses in shortage occupations as identified in a given district or province; continuing education courses for 45+ people; continuing education courses on the use of new technologies and digital tools in companies. (National Training Fund (information in Polish); accessed 28 August 2021).
The well-established and strong position of formal education within the school system (leading to diplomas and certificates), together with all historical and political factors mentioned above, are likely to have contributed to low rates of participation in AET. Better cooperation among the ministries in this area is expected as a result of measures which are taken to promote LLL and enhance validation systems for learning outcomes through the implementation of the 2030 ISS and the IQS.
Measures in the area of AET seek to achieve the aims of the Copenhagen Declaration (with low values of indicators for AET still recorded in Poland) and the Recommendations of the European Parliament and the Council on the European Credit Transfer System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET), and to facilitate cooperation in higher education (Bologna Process) and adult education outside the VET sector, as part of the European Agenda for Adult Learning. The European Social Fund (ESF) provides funding for the Operational Programme ‘Knowledge-Education-Development’ (Program Operacyjny Wiedza Edukacja Rozwój, POWER). LLL issues are addressed in the following national policy documents:
- Strategy for the Innovativeness and Effectiveness of the Economy (Strategia Innowacyjności i Efektywności Gospodarki): human capital development in the economy sector; qualification improvement through LLL mechanisms;
- Human Capital Development Strategy (Strategia Rozwoju Kapitału Ludzkiego);
- National Strategy for Regional Development (Strategia Rozwoju Regionalnego): human capital development in the regions;
- Social Capital Development Strategy (Strategia Rozwoju Kapitału Społecznego);
- Strategy for Sustainable Development of Rural Areas, Agriculture and Fishery (Strategia Zrównoważonego Rozwoju Wsi, Rolnictwa i Rybactwa),
and other official documents.
The directions for the education policy in the area of LLL are set in the 2030 ISS (general and detailed parts). The new policy in this area aims, in particular, at shifting the focus of education towards the development of basic, transversal and vocational / professional skills, and towards learning outcomes, while ensuring wide access to high-quality education; providing education guided by the interests of people learning in various settings and at various ages; and equal treatment, recognition and promotion of learning in various settings and at various stages of life. The 2030 ISS identifies Intervention Areas which are of particular relevance to skills development; these are key thematic fields for the development and use of citizens’ skills:
- Basic, transversal and vocational / professional skills of children, young people and adults
- Development of skills in formal education – management staff
- Development of skills in formal education – teaching staff
- Development of skills outside formal education
- Development and use of skills in a workplace
- Career guidance
- Cooperation between employers, formal and non-formal education
- Lifelong learning planning and validation of skills
Further on, the ISS defines Topics of Activity which are understood as specific challenges within each of the Intervention Areas. For each Topic of Activity, the ISS sets Directions of Activity which are defined in general terms as projects to be undertaken in order to address Topics of Activity.