Although traditionally believed to provide an above-average education with a comprehensive coverage of subjects, the Polish school system has been undergoing steady transformation over the last two decades, with schools looking to adapt to the new reality, and faced with the challenge of developing new curricula to match the level of education offered worldwide. Until the launch of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 1997 by OECD, Polish students had always been believed to outperform their peers from other countries. However, the study showed that Poland had a lot to catch up with. The 2009 edition of the study proved that the efforts to reform the system yielded some positive results: Poland joined the top-performing countries in reading literacy and science, achieving performances exceeding the OECD average.
Before the reforms one of the key focus areas of the local educators and legislators became the difficult age group of 13-16, for which a new type of school was created in 1999, the gimnazjum, or middle school, lasting three years, compulsory for all students while being also the final stage of mandatory education. In the final year students take a standardized test to evaluate their academic skill. Higher scorers in the test are allowed first pick of school if they want to continue their education, which is greatly encouraged by teachers and parents alike.
Following this stage students are free to proceed to high schools which can be either more academic (usually lasting three years and known as licea) or technical in nature (usually lasting four years and known as technika), with vocational schools (szkoły zawodowe) also available. Students wishing to enter tertiary education at a university (uniwersytet) or college are required to take another standardized test, in Poland popularly referred to as the matura (maturity exam) – the results of this test are essential for the selection of the preferred institution of higher learning. Highly motivated students are also offered the option to take an International Baccalaureate (IB) examination providing a gateway to international universities.
In terms of school life, Poland probably does not significantly depart from the common international standard, with the periods (lekcje) lasting 45 minutes separated by breaks (przerwy), and covering a range of subjects, from Polish Language (język polski), Mathematics (matematyka), English (język angielski), History (historia), Science (przyroda), to Geography (geografia), Biology (biologia), Physics (fizyka), Chemistry (chemia), and Physical Education (wychowanie fizyczne, commonly abbreviated to WF). There are also a number of extra-curricular classes to choose from, depending on specific student interests and preferences.
Bear in mind that teachers (nauczyciele) in Polish schools are not referred to by their first names, as this would be a major breach of the cultural tradition of calling your seniors by their official titles of Ms./Miss//Mr. (Pani/Pan), so the usual reference would be pani od polskiego (the lady who teaches Polish) or Pan Kowalski od matematyki (Mr. Kowalski who teaches Math), while directly students would call their teachers as Proszę Pana/Pani (Mr./Ms.). In high schools, however, such as the licea and technika referred to above, it is customary to address teachers as Panie Profesorze/ Pani Profesor (Professor), although in fact they need not have attained that specific academic degree.
Academic grades (stopnie) are awarded according to a numerical scale of 1 to 6, where 1 would be equivalent to an F, whereas 6 to an A+. There are two academic terms (semestry), with the first one lasting from the 1st of September (the beginning of the school year in Poland) until late January or early February when kids take their winter break (ferie zimowe) of two weeks, and the second semester lasting until the last Friday of June, after which the summer vacation (wakacje letnie) begins. In between there are also many other school holidays, such as the Christmas or Easter breaks.
As you can see, polska szkoła (Polish school) is very much the same as in other countries – you are welcome to visit and see for yourselves. Zapraszamy! (Welcome!)