In 2013, as part of the efforts to consolidate public finance and coordinate activities in different sectors, the number of strategic documents was significantly reduced. In 2017, the Government adopted the Responsible Development Plan and Strategy. The documents explicitly identify education as a key element of social and regional development in building a strong national economy.
An Intersectoral Task Force for Lifelong Learning, including the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), developed ‘The Lifelong Learning Perspective’, which was adopted by the Government in September 2013.
Key operational objectives set in the document for formal education follow the directions of reforms implemented since 2009 (the work on the document and the reforms was carried out in parallel). This concerns the curricular reforms of preschool, general primary and lower secondary education (implemented since 2009), higher education (since 2011), general upper secondary education, and vocational and continuing education (since September 2012). ‘The Lifelong Learning Perspective’ also highlights the need for greater openness of formal education towards other forms of learning, and the integration of the national qualifications system and a new approach towards adult education. The main aims of the document remain valid, also after the 2016 decision to launch the reform of the school system, which involves the abolishment of lower secondary schools and the resulting extension of the education cycles in primary and post-primary schools.
Further details are available in Polish on the Lifelong Learning Perspective website of the Ministry of National Education.
Key objectives for the lifelong learning (LLL) policy based on the above-mentioned document:
- Stimulating creativity and innovation
- Policy objectives: Institutions at all education levels should focus on creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation. To be able to do this, they should have autonomy to develop their own curricula adapted to the local needs and to validate learning outcomes. In doing so, educational institutions should ensure the individualisation of the work with learners, diversification of teaching methods and organisational forms. They should also promote active and practical learning in problem-solving teams.
- Implementation: The objectives set have been implemented as part of the curricular reforms of preschool and general education and of higher education. Both reforms are based on the concept of learning outcomes and, thus, are coherent with the European Qualifications Framework. The general education reform is considered to have contributed to, among other things, better performance of Polish pupils in reading, mathematics and science in PISA 2012, and to reducing the percentage of low achievers in these areas. In the latter case, the 2020 EU benchmark (a maximum of 15% of low achievers) has already been reached in Poland (10.6% for reading, 14.4% for maths and 9% for science). For further information in Polish on the reform of core curricula for preschool education and general education, see the website of the Ministry of National Education.
- Integrating the national qualifications system
- Policy objectives: In view of the expanding area of learning in various forms (lifewide learning), including the involvement of business and social partners in the development of high-quality competences, it is necessary to pursue a new policy for awarding qualifications. The policy is based on learning outcomes. This should help to ensure compliance with the EU principle for awarding qualifications that each level of qualifications should be achievable for people taking different paths in education, training and career. Effective implementation of the principle requires the engagement of many entities that provide various opportunities for learning – in school and higher education and beyond them.
- Implementation: In the first half of 2013, a report referencing the Polish Qualifications Framework to the European Qualifications Framework was prepared. In May 2013, the report was submitted to the European Commission. In March 2015, the Government adopted the provisions for a bill on the Integrated Qualification System, and the Act was passed in December 2015. For further details, see: the Integrated Qualifications System website and below.
- Increasing participation rates in early childhood education and care
- Policy objectives: To facilitate the development of children, and their skills, it is necessary to develop further high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC), combined with parents’ support. This requires a multifaceted (inter-sectoral) approach. Such measures will make it possible to improve conditions for the development of youngest children and, thus, prepare them better for the next education stages.
- Implementation: Since 2011, the Ministry of Family and Social Policy has implemented the Toddler Programme, currently running as the 2021 Toddler+ Programme, which supports institutions providing ECEC to children aged up to 3 years. Public funding annually allocated to the Programme amounted to PLN 151 million between 2015 and 2017 and PLN 450 million between 2018 and 2019. The total amount allocated in 2020 was PLN 400 million, including PLN 250 million from the State budget and 150 million from the Labour Fund. Public funding available to the Ministry of Family and Social Policy for the Programme in 2021 amounts to PLN 450 million.
- According to the Central Statistical Office data, the number of childcare institutions increased by 4.3% in 2020 as compared to 2019 – from nearly 4,400 to around 4,600 crèches and kids clubs, with crèches and crèche units representing 83.8%. Most of them (76%) are private establishments. More information in Polish is available on the Toddler Programme website, and the website of the Central Statistical Office (with some data on crèches and kids clubs in English).
To reach European standards within a shorter time, an Act was passed in 2013 on additional State-budget funding for local government units responsible for ECEC. Grants amounted to PLN 504 million in 2013 and 1.567 million in 2014; the funding will be gradually increased on an annual basis to reach PLN 1.879 million in 2022. Grants should cover the costs of the establishment of new care settings, quality improvement in ECEC and the reduction of fees charged from parents.
After finishing a stage I sectoral vocational school and passing an examination for one qualification, school graduates obtain a vocational qualification certificate. Graduates are prepared to take up employment or continue education in a stage II school.
After finishing a stage II sectoral vocational school and passing an exam for a second qualification, graduates will have completed secondary vocational education and will be awarded a vocational diploma. Graduates holding the title of Technician can take the maturity exam and continue education by enrolling on a degree programme (for example, in the field corresponding to the title of Technician) at a higher education institution.
At least 50% of classes in a sectoral vocational school are allocated to vocational education / training.
The new post-reform structure still includes technical secondary schools (providing 5-year programmes in the new school system), with the maturity exam at the basic and advanced levels and a vocational diploma. In accordance with the Act of 22 November 2018 (ustawa z dnia 22 listopada 2018 r.), schools will be brought closer to labour market institutions through, for example, active involvement of employers in the education process and examinations.
Further details on changes in the legislative framework for school education in Poland are available in the updated section at: Poland: National Reforms in School Education.
Reforms in higher education, initiated in 2011, aim at a clear distinction between academically oriented programmes (‘general academic profile’) and practically oriented programmes (‘practical profile’). With financial incentives offered, it is expected that a robust sector of practically (professionally) oriented programmes will be in place, which should respond to the needs of a larger proportion of students. This will also allow raising and enforcing research standards within academically oriented programmes. The recently passed legislation has extended the duration of compulsory practical placements for students taking practically oriented programmes: at least 6 months for first- and long-cycle programmes, and 3 months for second-cycle programmes. The legislation also provides for the establishment of dual study programmes: practically oriented programmes delivered with the involvement of an employer (with organisational arrangements to be laid down in a written agreement). Additionally, it is recommended that practically oriented programmes should involve more practitioners in teaching students.
- Adapting education and training to labour market needs and social changes
- Policy objective: Vocational education and training should effectively prepare prospective graduates to find employment and change occupation if needed. The current Government policy programmes involve a complete change of the structure of existing vocational schools (basic vocational schools and technical upper secondary schools) and the establishment of so-called sectoral vocational schools (stage I and stage II).
- Implementation: Poland has sought to reform vocational and continuing education as part the school education system for a number of years. The priority objective is to ensure its better adaptation to labour market needs. The following measures have been taken so far:
- changes in the classification of occupations (each occupation is defined with 1 to 3 qualifications, where a given qualification may be a part of several occupations);
- structural changes (vocational schools and other vocational education and training institutions may merge into vocational and continuing education centres);
- the establishment of stage I sectoral vocational schools (1 September 2017) and stage II sectoral vocational schools (1 September 2020) as part of the new school system, which extends opportunities to upgrade qualifications obtained at the lower level of vocational education;
- modernisation of the national core curriculum for vocational education, with vocational qualifications described in terms of learning outcomes;
- the strengthening of the component covering key competences within vocational education;
- modernisation of external vocational exams to adapt them to the new classification of occupations;
- greater flexibility in continuing education through wider use of non-school settings.
- Introducing a new approach to adult learning based on the recognition of the value of learning in the workplace and as part of structured social engagement
- Policy objectives: The workplace and social engagement offer the greatest learning potential, which is not, however, sufficiently tapped in Poland. Recommended arrangements will enable more effective identification, assessment and validation of learning outcomes achieved in this way. The system for the validation of prior work, social and personal experience will be further developed as the basis for continuing lifelong learning.
- Implementation: As part of the above-mentioned vocational and higher education reforms, new validation mechanisms have been put in place in both education sectors. External vocational exams have become accessible to those who have gained work experience in settings other than vocational schools and continuing education centres. HEIs may now validate competences acquired outside the higher education system; for example, at work, in training and other courses, through self-study or voluntary activities.
Moreover, as part of the reform of labour market institutions underway since 2014, the National Training Fund (NTF) (Krajowy Fundusz Szkoleniowy) has been established. It forms a separate part of the Labour Fund (LF), with 2% of the LF allocated to the NTF since 2015 to support employers who invest money in continuing education and training of their employees. Based on an application submitted to a district employment office, an employer may receive funding that covers 80% of their employees’ training costs; micro-entrepreneurs may be awarded a grant covering 100% of training costs.
The reforms have also introduced trilateral training agreements concluded among an employment office, an employer and a training institution. Training for individuals who participate at the request of an employment office is tailored to the specific needs of the employer concerned, and the employer is obliged to employ them. More information in Polish is available on the websites of the Public Employment Service (with basic information in English).
The reform of vocational education and training, introduced in 2019 in accordance with the Law on School Education (Prawo oświatowe) amended on 22 November 2018, provides new instruments for cooperation between schools and employers. These include:
- detailed agreements concluded between business entities employing juvenile workers for vocational / apprentice training and school heads. Agreements cover, for example, the scope of vocational training, based on a vocational education curriculum, to be provided by the school and the employer, and the number of days per week for practical training at the employer’s organisation. Agreements form an annex to the employment contract for vocational / apprentice training.
- a student internship / practical placement: a new instrument which provides for technical secondary and stage I sectoral vocational school students who are not juvenile workers to carry out tasks in a real work setting. Students undertake an internship based on a written agreement between the employer and the student or parents of the underage student.
In order to promote the concept of lifelong learning, two programmes are ongoing: for the group of 50+, with a special focus on their professional activation, and the group of 60+, focusing on their social activation (information available in Polish).