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Poland - History & Background

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Educational activity began in Poland in the eleventh and twelfth centuries with the appearance of cathedral schools at bishops' sees and collegiate schools at the richest churches in Poznan, Plock, Wroclaw, Wloclawek, Cracóów, Sandomierz, Wislica, Leczyca, Glogóów, Legnica, and Brzeg. At the beginning of thirteenth century, parish schools appeared in newly founded villages and towns as a result of the so-called German Law and resolutions of the fourth Lateran Council.

The Jagiellonian University in Cracóów, founded in 1364 by King Kazimierz the Great, became one of Europe's great early universities and a center of intellectual tolerance. In need of trained lawyers, Kazimierz the Great founded the university with a law faculty or department, but without a theological faculty. The university was reorganized by King Wladyslaw Jagiello in 1400 and modeled largely on those of Bologna and Padova with four faculties. The university attracted students from many countries.

In 1519 Jan Lubranski, the bishop, founded an "academic gimnazjum" in Poznan called the Lubranski Academy (Akademia Lubranskiego) where activity focused on the humanities. Dissident schools founded in sixteenth century became centers of avant-garde thought. The Jesuit Collegia in Wilno and Lwóów established two universities; in 1579 King Stephen Batory founded Wilno Academy (Akademia Wilenska) and in 1661 King Jan II Kazimierz founded the Lwóów Academy (Akademia Lwowska). In 1595 Jan Zamoyski founded a high school called the Zamoyski Academy (Akademia Zamojska).

In 1741 the Piarist Father and Catholic Priest Stanislaw Konarski founded the Collegium Nobilium, a school in Warsaw for the young men of ruling families, hoping that his pupils would be inspired to effect badly needed constitutional reforms. His emphasis on patriotic education, the purity of the Polish language, and the natural sciences finally resulted in the Jesuits in Poland reforming their own schools accordingly. Konarski's patriotic attitude also influenced the education system in Poland.

In 1765 King Stanislaw August established the Knights' School (Szkola Rycerska) for young men of noble families. After the dissolution of the Jesuit order in 1773, he established his Commission on National Education, the world's first state ministry of education. It allowed a complete reorganization of the Polish educational system. This body set up a uniform national system emphasizing mathematics, natural sciences, and language study. The commission also stressed standardizing elementary education, integrating trade and agricultural skills into the elementary school curriculum, and improving textbooks at all levels. In 1775 the Commission on National Education established the Society for Elementary Books (Towarzystwo do Ksiag Elementarnych), which prepared many textbooks, regulations, and decrees.

The partitioning of Poland by foreign governments challenged the work of the Commission on National Education; Germany, Austria, and Russia sought to destroy Polish national consciousness by germanizing and russifying the education system. After 1802 schools in the Russian sector received certain liberties. The educational district in Wilno had been chaired by Prince Adam Czartoryski and seen as a model for educational reform in Russia. Czartoryski, with a group of associates (Stanislaw Kostka Potocki, Tadeuz Czacki, Jan Sniadecki, and Jedrzej Sniadecki), attempted to develop the achievements of the Commission on National Education. One of the most successful centers was the University in Wilno.

During the first 30 years of the nineteenth century, Polish education expanded freely in the Duchy of Warsaw and, after the Congress of Vienna, in the Congress Kingdom of Poland. In 1807 the so-called Educational Chamber (Izba Edukacyjna) was established in the Duchy of Warsaw. In 1812 it evolved into the Management of National Education (Dyrekcja Edukacji Narodowej), and then, after 1815, it became the Government Committee for Religion and Public Enlightenment (Komisja Rzadowa Wyznan Religijnych i Oswiecenia Publicznego). In 1816 the Academy of Mining (Szkola Akademiczna Górnicza) in Kielce was established, as was Warsaw University with five faculties. By the November Uprising against Russia in 1830-1831, the University had educated 1,254 students.

In 1819 in Marymont, near Warsaw, the Forestry School, the Agronomy School, and the Veterinary Institute were created. In Warsaw the Civil Architecture School appeared in 1819, and in 1826, the Polytechnic Institute's Preparatory School opened. After the defeat of the November Uprising, the university was closed, and the entire educational system was subjected to an intensive russification policy. The Russian language became the teaching language. Institutions established after this time included the Real School (Szkola Realna), which stressed mathematics, science, and biology (1841), the Medical and Surgical Academy (Akademia Medyko-Chirurgiczna 1857), and the Agronomy School (Instytut Agronomiczny).


During the 123-year period of partition, teaching and publishing in Polish continued in pockets of resistance, and some innovations such as vocational training schools appeared. In general, the Austrian sector had the least developed education system, whereas the least disruption in educational progress occurred in the Prussian sector.

During the Spring of the Nations, as the wave of uprisings in Eastern and Central Europe in the 1840s was called, the germanization strategy in the Prussian sector was reduced. Teaching of the Polish language was permitted in elementary schools and the lower classes of some gymnasia. Especially important in the area was Ewaryst Estkowski's activity. In 1848, he established the first Polish Pedagogical Association and the first pedagogical journal in the Polish language, Polish School.

Another surge of germanization started in the mid-nineteenth century. The Polish language was removed from secondary schools and peasant schools, and students suffered political surveillance. In 1901 religious education in the German language began. This caused a children's strike in Wrzesnia that spread to other places in Great Poland and Pomerania. The strike was continued intermittently until 1907.

Polish consciousness was strengthened by many educational associations. Karol Marcinkowski's Association for Teaching Help (Towarzystwo Naukowej Pomocy), for instance, was established in 1841, and the Association of Peasant Libraries (Towarzystwo Czytelni Ludowych) founded libraries in small villages and towns and gave lectures and public performances. In 1861, in the Congress Kingdom of Poland, the Government Committee on Religion and Public Enlightenment (Komisja Rzadowa Wyznan Religijnych i Oswiecenia Publicznego) was established with Count Aleksander Wielopolski as the principal. In 1862 the tsar approved a decree concerning education in the kingdom that allowed Polish language as a teaching language, partial autonomy of schools, and the opening of four year secondary schools and seven year primary schools. University-level schools were also founded, including the Main School in Warsaw (Szkola GlównaGlówna Warszawska) and the Agriculture and Forestry Institute (Instytut Rolniczo-Lesny) in Pulawy.

The defeat of the January Uprising in 1863-1864 put an end to autonomy of education. The Main School in Warsaw was turned into a Russian university in 1869, elementary schools were reduced, and secondary schools were subjected to intense ideological control. In 1897 illiterates composed about 69.5 percent of the whole population in the Congress Kingdom of Poland. The only escape lay in underground teaching. Two such institutions were the so-called Flying University (Uniwersytet Latajacy), operating between 1887 and 1905, and the Peasants' University (Uniwersytet Ludowy). New private schools, especially for girls, were also established.

During the Revolution of 1905 the state Russian schools on Polish territory were boycotted. The protests continued until 1914. The Agriculture University evolved into the Public University (Uniwersytet dla Wszystkich), and the Flying University became the Higher Education Courses (Wyzsze Kursy Naukowe). In 1906 the private Kronenberg High Business School (Wyzsza Szkola Handlowa) was founded. Elementary education was developed by the Association of Teaching Courses for Adult Illiterates (Stowarzyszenie Kursów dla Analfabetów Doroslych). After receiving autonomy in Galicia in 1866, the National School Board (Rada Szkolna Krajowa) was established to manage secondary schools. Because of a lack of funds, those schools developed very slowly.

Schools in Galicia used the Polish language as a teaching language but their spirit was Austrian. The Polish students opposed that situation, especially after 1905. The Universities in Kraków and Lwów, restored to their former status between 1870 and 1874, reached the highest standard of education. In 1866, women received the right to study (except under the law faculty). In 1878 Lwówthe High Agriculture Academy (Wyzsza Akademia Rolnicza) was established in Dublany near Lwów. The Polytechnic School in Lwów was also approved. In the latter years of the nineteenth century, teachers' associations started their activity, and publications concerning teaching methods and programs appeared.

In the beginning of the twentieth century the problems of educational programs and management were discussed intensively. Some perspectives underscored the role of religion in common education. An opposing viewpoint was held by the activists of the Polish Teachers' Association (Polski Zwiazek Nauczycielski) in the Congress Kingdom of Poland and the National Peasant Teachers' Association (Krajowy Zwiazek Nauczycielstwa Ludowego). They insisted on secular education, which was also free and accessible to every student, taking into consideration the needs of the whole country.

After the rise of the independent Second Polish Republic in 1918, the most important task was the standardization of the educational system. This process lasted until 1920. Between 1918 and 1939 the newly independent Poland faced the task of reconstructing a national education system from the three separate systems imposed during the time of foreign control by Germany, Austria, and Russia. One of the first legislative achievements was the law "Concerning School Obligation" (O obowiazku szkolnym) of 7 February 1919. It mandated compulsory attendance of the 7 year primary school from ages 7 to 14. Schools were to be free and accessible for all children.

Common education was intensively developed especially between 1922 and 1929 but needs in this area were greater than the reform efforts. In the grammar schools an eight year system existed, which was divided into two stages. During the first three years, the schools took the general (comprehensive) approach, teaching all students the same material. During the next five years, students were grouped into specialized areas of study for part of their schooling. The school diploma opened up the prospects of further studies. Independent grammar schools were accessible after the five year primary school, and they prepared students for education in the secondary schools. Secondary and high schools remained barely accessible because of high tuition fees.

Among the educational accomplishments of the inter-war period was the establishment of state universities in Craców, Lwów, Poznan, Warsaw, and Wilno; the polytechnic schools in Warsaw and Lwów; the Veterinary Medicine Academy (Akademia Medycyny Weterynaryjnej) in Lwów; the Warsaw Agricultural University (SGGW); and the University of Mining and Metallurgy (Akademia Górniczo-Hutnicza) in Craców. Also established during this period were private schools including the Academy of Fine Arts (ASP) in Craców and the Catholic University of Lublin (Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski). The High School of Economics (Wyzsza Szkola Handlowa) evolved into the Warsaw School of Economics (Szkola Glówna Handlowa).

In 1938 there were 25 universities, upper schools, and polytechnic schools. There were numerous specialized secondary schools as well, such as the High School of Engineering (Wyzsza Szkola Inzynierska) established in Warsaw in 1895, the National Technical School (Panstwowa Szkola Techniczna) in Wilno (established in 1922), and high pedagogical schools (in Katowice and Kielce). Specialized arts and military schools also existed, as did special elementary, technical, and high schools.

The 1932 decree of Janusz Jedrzejewicz brought important changes. This decree kept the obligatory seven year primary school for children but also introduced different levels: I level (four-year school), II level (six-year school), or III level (seven-year school). The grammar school was accessible after the six-year primary school. A six-year primary school prepared for a grammar school; a seven-year primary school was intended for those who did not want to continue their education. A four year grammar school, called the gimnazjum, offered a unified comprehensive teaching program, so in every school pupils were taught the same types of material. Two-year secondary schools (arts, mathematics, physics, and natural classes) prepared for high studies.

Vocational schools were of great importance. Young working people had to supplement their education in three year schools based on I-level and III-level of primary schools. The lower vocational schools were based on I-level primary school. Vocational grammar schools were equivalent to common grammar schools; vocational schools entitled their graduates to study in high technical schools. The five year pedagogical seminar schools were replaced by three year pedagogical schools, based on four year grammar schools.

In the 1920s, national trends connected with the National Democrats dominated. Tradition, patriotism, and religious attitude played very important roles in education. After the May 1926 coup established the sanacja government, a national education curriculum was introduced. The pedagogical activity put the emphasis on respect and responsibility to the state. A decree published 15 March 1933 increased the education minister's powers to control.

In the Second Polish Republic, education for minority populations was not sufficient and did not satisfy the needs and ambitions of those groups. In 1929 and 1930 the Ukrainians had 790 primary schools, 24 grammar schools, and 1 pedagogical seminar with Ukrainian as a teaching language. Attempts to establish a university in Lwów were defeated. Jews were treated as a religious minority, not an ethnic minority. They owned private primary and secondary schools in which Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish were the teaching languages. During this same time period, Belorussians had 26 primary schools using their mother tongue. In 1934 and 1935 Germans had 394 primary schools, out of which 203 had classes with Polish and German as teaching languages, and 15 grammar schools (including 2 state schools).

After the military defeat in September 1939, all Polish territory came under Nazi occupation. In the territories annexed to the Third Reich, that is Great Poland, Pomerania, and Silesia, the Polish education system was completely eliminated. Teachers, professors, and the whole intelligentsia were displaced or arrested. In the central region, called the General Government, the Nazis permitted only primary and vocational schools with significantly limited curricula, which had been stripped of all Polish content. All secondary and higher schools were closed to Poles.

The most spectacular event in the destruction of the Polish education system was the so-called Sonderaktion Krakau. On 6 November 1939 research workers of the Jagiellonian University and the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Kraków were invited to a meeting, arrested, and taken away to extermination camps. In response, an extensive underground teaching movement developed under the leadership of the Polish Teachers' Association, which had been established in December 1939. In 1940 the Department of Education and Culture was established to represent the Polish government in exile. The underground movement supplied students with teaching aids and textbooks that were published by underground publishing houses. This unofficial education effort spread through the whole territory of the General Government, Greater Poland, Pomerania, and Silesia. The most important center of these education activities was Warsaw, where the Poznan University was operating as the University of Western Poland. Underground teaching appeared in almost all secondary schools, even in ghettoes. An estimated 90,000 students attended underground secondary classes, 10,000 were in illegal vocational classes, and 7,000 were in the resistance's higher education classes. Nowhere else in Europe was underground teaching as extensive as in Poland.

Nazi control exacted a heavy toll on Poland's education infrastructure. Between 1939 and 1940 about 9,000 teachers and 640 professors were murdered. Approximately 6,480 primary schools, 203 secondary schools, 295 vocational schools, and 80 schools for teachers' education were destroyed or damaged. Almost all high school and university property was destroyed or seized.

Where the Soviets controlled Polish territory in the east, starting in late September 1939, education took on diverse forms. In December 1939 the Vilnius authorities closed the Stephen Batory University. At the beginning of 1940 the new authorities nationalized all private schools and closed schools managed by the church. New curricula, consistent with the Soviet system, was introduced. Emphasis on history, literature, and geography was significantly reduced. The teaching language depended on the local conditions; in multinational communities, Russian became the teaching language. Many Belorussian and Ukrainian schools were established.

Between 1944 and 1947, as Poland regained independence from the Nazis and the Second World War ended, schools quickly resumed their activity. During this period all levels of the Polish education system were plagued by shortages of buildings and teachers. In June 1945, a Nationwide Convention in Lódz established the main principles of education, which were closely related to political goals and principles.

The massive task of postwar education reconstruction emphasized the opening of institutions of secondary and higher education to the Polish masses and the reduction of illiteracy. The system of schooling was standardized, and attendance in an eight year primary school was compulsory and tuition-free. Nursery school expenses were shared by the government and parents. The state built dormitories and established scholarships. Young people up to age 18 continued their education in secondary schools. Various types of secondary schools offered basic vocational training, technical training, and general college-preparatory education. Primary schools were unified, and the remnants of the 1932 Decree were abolished.

Due to the lack of qualified staff, new pedagogical lycea were established to educate new teachers. The variety of teachers' training options satisfied temporary needs but shortcomings in the area were noticeable for a long time. In 1945 and 1946 all Polish high schools in the territory of the former Second Polish Republic were opened. New high schools, especially in LódzLódz, Torun, and Lublin, with approximately 55,000 students, were also established.

During the early post-war years, the curriculum was modified only slightly. In 1945 minor changes in Polish language teaching were introduced, concerning knowledge of World War II, social sciences, and working and rural classes. Teaching of foreign languages was commonly introduced. In spite of the breaking of the concordat with the Holy See, religious education in state or council schools was obligatory.

In January 1947, major ideological changes were initiated. Education was infused with the principles of Marxism-Leninism. The educational system depicted the Soviet Union as the country's main partner and ally, and learning the Russian language learning became obligatory. Private schools were closed, and religious education was gradually eliminated. Many educational institutions fell under government control, and many disappeared.

In 1948 the eight year primary schools were evolved into seven year primary schools that were the base for four year lyceum or vocational schools. This change and workers' training were the educational system's most important tasks. In 1955 about 90 percent of pupils were taught in primary 7-year schools. Between 1949 and 1951 about 80,000 teachers were involved in the education of 1,500,000 illiterates from ages 14 to 15. As a direct consequence, illiteracy was virtually eliminated. This was Communism's single, unquestioned contribution to Polish life.

After 1954, two-year vocational schools and four-year technical schools were established. Industrialization drew much of the population to the cities. A decree of July 1958 mandated school attendance to age 18. As a result, training schools were established at factories. These schools were too specialized though and did not satisfy practical requirements. The number of universities, polytechnic schools, academies, and specialized colleges was considerably increased. The introduction of three-year vocational colleges, four-year vocational colleges, and two-year master's studies, with the exception of medical colleges, came about in 1947.

Some faculties (medical, forest, and agricultural) were moved to independent colleges. After theological faculties were taken from universities and colleges in 1954, the Academy of Catholic Theology (Akademia Teologii Katolickiej) and Christian Theological Academy (Chrzescijanska Akademia Teologiczna) were established. The former was composed of the theological faculty of Warsaw University, which had been separated from it by the Communist authorities to form the state-supported, Catholic, university-level institution. Because it was financed by the state, the bishops looked at it with suspicion. They feared its teachers might be loyal to the state, rather than the church. Priests were also employed by the Academy of Catholic Theology. In 1999 the institution was renamed Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University after one of the most respected, influential, and prominent figures in Polish religious and public life. The other religious university, the Christian Theological Academy, was for the protestant and orthodox churches. Lectures on Marxism-Leninism were obligatory in all types of schools, beginning in 1948 in evening technical colleges and in 1950 at part time colleges. The 1956 decree restored the importance of the pedagogical council and moderated discipline regulations.

The Law on the Development of Education Systems, passed on 15 July 1961, established formal principles that reiterated the goals of the educational system. An 8 year primary school was introduced and attendance to age 17 was mandated. Schools of all types and on all levels were free. The system of schooling was standardized. Schools were secular in nature, but the church was permitted to establish a network of separate religious education centers to compensate for this restriction. This reform in primary and secondary schools was completed between 1963 and 1971.

In 1971 new models of education were introduced. One of the most important tasks was developing a common secondary education system. The decree of 1973 established 10-year secondary schools with 2-year vocational schools to prepare students for employment or 2-year preparatory colleges, permitting students to take university entrance exams. In 1981, for lack of suitable funds, this educational reform initiative was rejected. Access to education still varied from place to place, depending on social conditions. The end of Soviet rule in 1989 brought many changes to Poland's educational system, including autonomy for local school administrations and comprehensive upgrading of material support. Nursery schools and public schools introduced religious education, according to a directive from the Ministry of National Education.

Between 1991 and 1996, primary schools were taken over by local governments. By law the number of lessons per week decreased from 199.5 in 1989 to 184 in 1993. In 1996, more than 95 percent of primary school graduates continued on to some form of secondary education. Between 1993 and 1994, only 27.9 percent of pupils completing primary school went to lycea (1561 schools with 601,854 pupils). Teachers were educated at universities and colleges. Between 1992 and 1993, approximately 7,000 teachers supplemented their education, despite the fact that tuition was high at both state and private schools. The Office of Innovation and Independent Schools was established to create the legislative basis for government support of private schools established by individuals and civic organizations. Education in the non-public schools was paid, and, with the exception of non-public college-level schools, state subsidies were set at 50 percent of the state's per-student cost. Schools for minorities also appeared, serving mainly Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Lithuanians.


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12 months ago

Very interesting read!

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about 5 years ago

About the Sonderaktion Krakau, it would be nice if the article was more accurate. In 1939 there were no extermination camps in Nazi controled territory, there were concentration camps. And this is not a small difference, in extermination camps (which only existed after 1941) people were sistematically murdered, mainly gas chambers, while in concentration camps the death rate was variable but there was a good chance of survival. Also, the article fails to mention that (after international protests) most of the teachers were released and only a few of them were still arrested after 13 months. About 10% of them died. Unexcusable, unjustifiable, but hardly an extermination