A reform of education has been underway since 1 January 2017. It aims to establish a coherent school system with transfer opportunities, and to extend the duration of an education cycle in one type of school. The reform has introduced and continues to introduce changes in the structure of the school education system, its organisation and the core curricula and, consequently, in school curricula. A number of reform measures have been taken to develop adult education and adapt provision to the needs of adults. For example, forms of provision such as vocational qualification courses or vocational skills courses have replaced education and training in vocational schools for adults. (Education reform, information in Polish, accessed 28 August 2021). The new structure of the school system (see the description below) includes the following types of schools for adults:
- 8-year primary schools (in place since 1 September 2017);
- post-primary schools: 4-year general secondary schools (in place since 1 September 2019).
Changes in general secondary education were initiated in the school year 2019/2020 and will be completed in the school year 2023/2024. Students in general secondary schools may take the maturity exam which, if passed, provides access to higher education. Changes will also be introduced in vocational exams. Exams conducted so far (one to three exams, depending on the number of qualifications required for a given occupation) will be replaced with one exam leading to these qualifications. In accordance with the Law on School Education (ustawa Prawo oświatowe), schools for adults provide full-time and part-time programmes.
Until the pre-reform types of schools for adults are abolished, two structures of the school system, including pre-reform and post-reform types of schools, will exist side by side.
The statistical data and descriptions of schools for adults given below refer to the pre-reform types of schools.
Primary schools for adults
- Primary schools for adults take learners aged 18 and above or those who reach the age of 18 in the year in which they start primary school.
- In September 2020, there were 78 primary schools for adults. The number of schools for adults increased significantly as compared to the previous years (only 3 such schools in 2016/2017) as a result of the transformation of lower secondary schools for adults into primary schools for adults as part of the education reform initiated on 1 September 2017. In September 2020, primary schools for adults had 2,536 learners (including 826 female learners). Although formal education has eliminated illiteracy among adults, the quality of learning outcomes achieved remains low, as demonstrated by results of the PIAAC survey (Central Statistical Office 2021, Table 3.1).
Lower secondary school for adults
Between the school years 2017/2018 and 2019/2020, lower secondary schools for adults were phased out as part of the ongoing school education reform, and adult learners continued education until the schools were abolished. Learners who failed to complete education within this timeframe can continue education in new 8-year primary schools for adults.
Upper Secondary schools for adults
General secondary school for adults
- Schools (classified as upper secondary schools in the pre-reform school education system) where learners aged 18 and above who have finished a pre-reform lower secondary (replaced by 8-year primary school – single structure education) school could:
- complete upper secondary education and obtain a school leaving certificate, which provided access to post-secondary schools;
- obtain a maturity certificate upon passing the maturity exam, which provided access to higher education institutions.
- In the school year 2020/2021, there were 968 general secondary schools for adults, with 100,803 learners, and women representing 45%. In the same year, 34,129 learners, with women representing 48%, finished general secondary schools (Central Statistical Office, 2021, Table 5.4.12).
- The maturity exam pass rate for learners finishing general upper secondary schools for adults was 32.8% in the school year 2018/2019. Another matter of concern is the small proportion of learners taking the exam: only 31.8% of adults who finished the school in 2018/2019 (nonetheless, this is a better proportion than in 2017/2018: 30.5%). (Central Statistical Office, 2019, Table V.3.20).
Post-secondary schools (post-secondary non-tertiary education)
- Post-secondary schools take adults holding a secondary education qualification and lead to a vocational diploma if learners pass vocational exams for a given occupation;
- A maturity certificate is not required for admission; a secondary school leaving certificate confirms completion of secondary education.
- In the school year 2020/2021, there were 1,464 post-secondary schools attended by 204,734 learners, with women representing 71%. In the same school year, 54,547 learners, with women representing 75%, finished a post-secondary school. Most post-secondary schools (81%) were non-public institutions. (Central Statistical Office, 2021, Table 5.8.1).
Public institutions providing continuing education to adults
Public institutions providing continuing education to adults are governed by the following legislation:
- Act of 14 December 2016, The Law on School Education (Ustawa Prawo oświatowe z dnia 14 grudnia 2016); consolidated text of the Act is available
- Act of 14 December 2016, The Provisions introducing the Law on School Education (Ustawa Przepisy wprowadzające ustawę Prawo oświatowe z dnia 14 grudnia 2016)
- Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 19 March 2019 on continuing education in non-school settings (Rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 19 marca 2019 r. w sprawie kształcenia ustawicznego w formach pozaszkolnych)
- Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 14 February 2019 on outline statutes for public continuing education institutions and public vocational education and training centres (Rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 14 lutego 2019 r. w sprawie ramowych statutów: publicznej placówki kształcenia ustawicznego oraz publicznego centrum kształcenia zawodowego)
The table below shows the range of activities of the main types of institutions.
Type of institution
Forms of continuing education for adults
Vocational Education and Training Centre (VETC)
595 VETCs (source: Register of Schools and Educational Institutions, School Education Information System; 2 Feb. 2023)
Vocational qualification courses
Vocational skills courses
General competences courses
Non-public continuing education and practical training centre (CEPTC)
79 non-public CEPTCs (source: Register of Schools and Educational Institutions, School Education Information System; 2 Feb. 2023)
Continuing education centre (CEC) not including (a) school(s)
3,072 institutions (source: Register of Schools and Educational Institutions, School Education Information System; 2 Feb. 2023)
Continuing education centre combined with schools
135 institutions (source: Register of Schools and Educational Institutions, School Education Information System; 2 Feb. 2023)
Practical Training Centre (PTC) (currently being phased out)
* 1 PTC (source: Register of Schools and Educational Institutions, School Education Information System; 2 Feb. 2023)
Cooperate with in-service teacher training institutions to support vocational education and training teachers
Source: Author’s own elaboration based on the Register of Schools and Educational Institutions, School Education Information System (Rejestr Szkół i Placówek Oświatowych, System Informacji Oświatowej, RSPO SIO) (information in Polish only); data for 2 February 2023.
Vocational qualification courses may be provided by schools and other public and non-public educational institutions. They have extended the range of institutions involved in education and training activities.
Institutions providing training to unemployed people and job seekers
The Register of Training Institutions (RTI) (Rejestr Instytucji Szkoleniowych), operating under the Act of 20 April 2014 on the Promotion of Employment and Labour Market Institutions (ustawa z dnia 20 kwietnia 2004 r. o promocji zatrudnienia i instytucjach rynku pracy), is the biggest directory of institutions which provide training to unemployed people and job seekers in Poland. Each institution interested to provide such training in cooperation with the public employment services (as a commissioned and publicly funded activity) should be entered into the RTI by the relevant Regional Labour Office. With the requirement to register and update identification data, the register is the most comprehensive and reliable source of information on training institutions which offer courses to unemployed people and job seekers.
- In 2021, the Register of Training Institutions included 13,137 training institutions. Based on the available data, 140,008 training courses were registered in 2021, including 20% of courses leading to a final exam (RTI accessed 3 September 2021).
Other training institutions
The market of institutions and companies providing training is very diverse and extends beyond those included in the RTI. Some institutions offer consultancy services in addition to training services. There is, however, no single register or database of all entities offering training services to adults, except for unemployed people and job seekers. Some educational institutions, such as schools or higher education institutions, may be included in the RTI.
Non-degree postgraduate programmes, as another form of continuing education, are provided by public and non-public higher education institutions (HEIs), research institutions and institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The Law on Higher Education and Science (ustawa Prawo o szkolnictwie wyższym i nauce) does not use the term ‘continuing education’. However, in view of the so-called third mission of higher education (see Chapter 8.1, Table 1 and Chapter 7 ‘Higher Education’), this type of programme can be considered part of continuing education. In addition to non-degree postgraduate programmes, HEIs and research institutions offer specialist programmes and courses in other settings such as third-age universities and open universities.
Students in non-degree postgraduate programmes and specialist programmes
The Law on Higher Education and Science defines non-degree postgraduate programmes as the type of programme provided by HEIs, research institutions and institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences which are open to applicants who hold a full qualification at least at Level 6 of the Polish Qualifications Framework (PQF), obtained in the higher education and science system. As part of a programme of at least a 2-years’ duration, students are awarded partial qualifications at Levels 6, 7 or 8 of the PQF.
According to the POLON system (Integrated System of Information on Science and Higher Education) (information in Polish only), there were 371 public and non-public HEIs in Poland in 2021.
In 2019, 152,100 students, with females representing 70.4%, were enrolled on non-degree postgraduate programmes in HEIs. In the same year, HEIs issued 134,675 certificates of completion of postgraduate non-degree programmes. (Central Statistical Office, 2020b, Table I (28)).
Specialist programmes, which are defined in the above-mentioned Act, are offered by HEIs and research institutions. Specialist programmes last for at least 3 semesters and lead to a full qualification at Level 5 of the PQF.
Open universities and third-age universities
Open universities (OU) (uniwersytet otwarty) are a type of commercial activity carried out by higher education institutions in the area of non-formal education for target groups outside the academic community. OUs offer opportunities for people from outside the academic community (regardless of their age, educational attainment and vocational or professional qualifications) to attend lectures, courses and workshops conducted by academic staff. ‘Openness’ is reflected, for example, in the minimum formal requirements for participation (at least 16 years of age) and no admission barriers (no entrance exams, and flexibility in provision). UO learners can improve their competences, fulfil their professional aspirations and pursue their passions. UOs also cooperate with research centres, other educational institutions, cultural institutions, enterprises and non-governmental organisations working in a given region. Additionally, UOs conduct educational and cultural activities, organising debates, open lectures, outdoor cinema shows or concerts.
In their missions and aims, Polish UOs highlight the need to promote and put into action the idea of lifelong learning, support the development of local communities, and to provide equal educational opportunities and employment prospects for people of various backgrounds through the adaptation of education programmes to their needs.
Third-age universities (TAU) (uniwersytet trzeciego wieku) are entities (not only educational institutions) which aim primarily to provide education, but also to facilitate the integration and encourage engagement of older people and, thus, to improve the quality of their lives and increase their participation in social life.
In organisational and legal terms, the following types of entities operate as TAUs:
- Associations and foundations for which TAU is the main type of activity
- Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (for example, associations and foundations) for which TAU is one of many types of activity
- Continuing education centres
- Culture centres / establishments, libraries
- Social welfare institutions
- Other institutions established by the municipal / commune office
- Other entities
Based on the data published by the Central Statistical Office, 640 TAUs operated in Poland in 2018. In total, they had 113,200 learners, with women representing the overwhelming majority (95.4%). People aged 61-75 years represented nearly 72% of all learners.
More than half (56%) of the TAUs operate within the structures of NGOs, more than one-fifth (21.5%) at HEIs and 17.7% at culture centres / establishments. Nearly 90% of the TAUs organise various seminars and lectures for their learners, and 82% offer courses or workshops on a regular basis. Activities / classes include mainly sporting and physical activities (88%), language courses (81%), artistic activities (73%) and ICT classes (70%) (Central Statistical Office, 2019c).