Teachers were seen as the driving force behind Poland’s improving school system when delegates met for the 41st National Congress of the Polish education union ZNP, while increasing privatisation was high on the agenda.
In the past decade the Polish school system has moved up in the international rankings. "We are happy about this", said ZNP President, Slawomir Broniarz. "But politicians should stop bragging about this as if it was their personal achievement rather than the accomplishment of the teaching profession".
During his opening remarks of the union's Congress on 20 Nov. in Warsaw, Broniarz reminded the Polish authorities that "despite this accomplishment we still belong to the group of low-paid teachers in Europe."
Over the last ten years, Polish municipalities have closed down some 1,000 primary schools and have delegated responsibility of 244 schools to non-governmental organisations. The ZNP president lashed out against these local governments.
"We cannot accept public schools being closed or handed over to private organisations simply to save money," he said. "When we privatise our public schools, we are restricting access to education, and not honouring the right to free education for every Polish child, which is guaranteed under the Polish Constitution. So these local authorities are breaking the law." He urged the national government to intervene and to remind the municipalities of their responsibility towards children and teachers.
In her remarks to the Congress, Education Minister Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska said that when municipalities are confronted with a decline of the student population the closure of schools may be inevitable. She also informed the congress that the national government would want to make more funds available to enable small schools to be kept open.
The congress discussed several other problems caused by privatisation in the education sector, such as quality standards and the status-of-teachers. Since no strict conditions exist for the use of public funds by private schools, teachers in those schools now earn between 30 and 70 percent less than public school teachers.
Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, and EI European Director Martin Romer, took part in the congress, which celebrated the 110th anniversary of ZNP. In his message to the delegates, van Leeuwen said, speaking of the suffering of the Polish people during the First and Second World War, that "As educators, we hold the great responsibility to ensure that current and future generations never forget that suffering. We must see that our children learn and understand the worst parts of our history. Because, if we don’t, we are only doomed to repeat them."
Borniaz, who was re-elected by congress, will lead ZNP, one of the largest EI affiliates in Europe with 260,000 members, for the next four years.