During the current COVID-19 pandemic, education unionists in Poland are calling for increased funding for education and broad access to remote teaching and learning so that education can continue, and the health of educators and their students can be safeguarded.
According to Zwiazek Nauczycielstwa Polskiego (ZNP), remote education in Poland is extremely complicated and it is only made possible because teachers have mobilised to deliver support to their students.
Delays in remote teaching platforms
In Poland, despite repeated assurances, it has not been possible to create remote teaching platforms and systems that include all students. “Announcements by successive governments about investing in education, computers and modern school equipment were just that – announcements,” stated Sławomir Broniarz, ZNP President. “Today, we are paying a high price for that kind of inactivity.”
Expenditure on education must be increased to fully use the potential of teachers and adequately meet the needs of students with state-of-the-art tools.
The digital divide
The ZNP’s position is that universal, equal, and free access to quality education should always be the norm, including during this crisis. In Poland, like in many other countries, access to remote learning is often conditioned by wealth. According to Broniarz, “this goes against the idea of equal educational opportunities for all and creates dangers for the future, for a sustainable and just society.”
On 19 March, the Education International affiliate launched an online campaign calling for equal access to education. The union reiterated its appeal to the government to urgently provide free internet for students and teachers working remotely on 25 March.
On 2 April, the ZNP appealed to Poland’s education minister to take a proactive approach in dealing with the crisis in education, especially concerning distance learning.
The union highlighted five areas to be urgently and addressed by the Education Ministry:
1. Lack of equipment and conditions for compulsory education
By insisting on the compulsory implementation of the core curriculum, the government shifted new responsibilities and tasks onto teachers and parents, without providing them with appropriate equipment, or access to free Internet, communication, and educational platforms.
2. Lack of professionalism of government institutions
According to the ZNP, the government institutions have not coped well with the new tasks. For example, on the first day of test exams, the Central Examination Commission’s servers containing the exam sheets crashed. And the educational offer of the Education Ministry, prepared in cooperation with Telewizja Polska (national Polish television channel), does not meet the basic standards, nor use opportunities offered by new technologies.
3. Lack of decision to cancel the exams
The lack of a decision to cancel the crucial eighth-grade exam has resulted in unnecessary stress and tension among the 350,000 students and their families. A similar situation applies to this year's secondary school final examinations and the 250,000 students preparing to sit them.
4. Lack of a decision to slim down the core curriculum
For several years, the teaching community has warned that the new core curriculum was overloaded and difficult to implement in ‘normal’ school conditions. In the new circumstances, delivering the new curriculum seems impossible to achieve.
5. Lack of support
According to the union, the education minister does not support teachers, students, and their families. The ZNP argues that the minister does not realise the difficult
conditions educators find themselves in. Instead, new obligations are imposed, including bureaucratic ones.
The ZNP has been communicating with members daily via its free mobile application, and publishes the weekly magazine, Głos Nauczycielski (Teacher’s Voice), with analyses and legal advice.
The union also works to keep the public informed about the situation in education through the media.