STUDENTS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT
Andrzej Tarwid talks with Dariusz Piontkowski, a minister of national education, about manipulations of opponents of education reform, double year of students, salaries of teachers and the role of the local government in the education reform
ANDRZEJ TARWID: - In a nearly a week there a new school year is going to begin. What will be the most important in it, from the point of view of the National Education Ministry?
MIN. DARIUSZ PIONTKOWSKI -We are going to Begin the next year of implementing reforms. In the new school year structural changes are going to be implemented in secondary schools where education will get longer by one year, both in high schools and technical schools. There is going to be a range of changes in vocational education. Teachers will receive another salary rise. And young teachers beginning work in the job will receive extra means for a start.
– Why is it necessary to make education in secondary schools longer?
– Longer education in highs schools or technical schools is mainly a chance to return actual rank of general education which should give students wide knowledge and prepare them to begin studies. I will remind that beside our political environment a big group of teachers and experts opt for just this solution.
– Whereas the opposition has opposed to the changes from the beginning. Now its representatives say that students secondary schools will experience a nightmare in September….
– I appeal to those students and their parents for calmness. And also for not giving in to the next manipulations. They should waits for hard facts and confront them with what was in the previous years. It will turn out what it is like in real. And which local governments got prepared well for the reform and which did not do tasks they should have.
– What manipulations are you, Minister, talking about?
– I mean the whole bad atmosphere which politicians of the total opposition with media favourable to them, created around the education reform. Its example is hysteria caused in the situation of the final recruitment to secondary school. Politicians of the opposition were saying that there would not be enough places for graduates of the junior high schools and primary schools, and everything turned out to be untrue. On the basis of unquestionable number data we showed that the number of students who were not taken in to secondary schools on the first date, is lower than in the previous years. This year there has been 11 percent of them, in the previous years – about 14 percent. Moreover, recalling particular provisions we proved that this year’s recruitment took place according to the same rules which were binding in the previous years.
– You say that what we hear from opposition politicians is a pure game of the political party, aimed at raising emotions. But also some supporters of the current government think that it is unfortunate to carry out such a big reform in the electoral year….
– I want to emphasize that for us the good of Poland and Poles is the most important and also in this particular case - the good of children and the youth. And just for the sake of their good we decided about this not a different calendar of implementing other stages of reform.
If we followed the interest of the party, we should put off a reform, for example, by a year. But we are not familiar with this way of thinking.
– Could you tell us what particularly decided that the double year will go to secondary schools now?
– When Minister Anna Zalewska was preparing a calendar of the reform, she considered demographic diagnosis. They prove that this stage of reform should be carried out this year, because we have the least numerous years. If we were trying to implement the reform for a year, two or three years, the number of students taking exams to secondary school would be higher.
– When you were beginning the reform, some representatives of the Union of Polish Teachers were saying that it would result in the loss of work places by teachers. Whereas it turns out that especially in big agglomerations there is a shortage of teachers. Whom does it concern?
– In the beginning I will remind that the Polish Teachers’ Union and opposition politicians were raising fear that the reform would result in losing employment by teachers. Some of them were saying that about 100 thousand teachers would be forced to lose their job. In fact it turned out to be different about which we were saying in the beginning. Unfortunately, it is difficult for us to get through the cordon of media reluctant to us with this truth. As a result, many teachers lived with fear that they would lose their job.
– And today they are not losing their job but there is a demand on them. How big problem is it?
– Firstly, there is a shortage of profession teachers. It results from the fact that these must be people who will find work in their profession in market conditions. They find teachers’ salaries not very attractive. Secondly, in big cities there is a shortage of teachers of mathematics, physics, or foreign languages which also results from the situation on the employment market.
– This is a diagnosis, and how is the National Education Ministry going to solve this problem?
– We saw it earlier, therefore there is a possibility to employ people without required teaching qualifications, especially in the case of vocational subjects. There is also a possibility to increase salary so as to reach the same amount of salaries on market and to encourage specialists to work at schools.
We created legal possibilities so that it would be possible to pay teachers higher money, as much as the managerial organ decides that it is worth doing it, for example, a school head-teacher will find companies interested in a particular type of education.
– Local government says that it would do so willingly but it does not have money for it…
– Few people know that financing education is not only from the state budget – this part is called educational subvention – but also from share in public taxes which should be assigned for educational tasks. And these taxes have been increasing for a few years. In order not to be groundless, I will refer to the example of Warsaw which has higher income from PIT by a dozen percent and higher income from CIT by over 25 percent. So, the capital is a city which takes a lot of advantage of economic development. During 3 years the budget of the city increased by 3 milliard zlotys. Warsaw authorities have means for higher salaries for teachers. And if they say that they lack teachers, I persuade them to treat education as investment into the youth, not only as the cost for the city.
– It is doubtful that local politicians began to treat education differently by from their own initiative. It seems that new action may be enforced only by law change but is it possible at all?
– Indeed, there would have to be a serious exchange of competence between the state and the local government. However, I would like to say that some local governments postulate, for example, that the matters of salaries for teachers should be the responsibility of the state. Other local governments oppose to it. So, I do not know whether local government corporations are ready for it. Nevertheless, as the minister of education I declare that we can talk about it.
– At the end of the last school year the Polish Teachers’ Union organized a strike which paralyzed most schools. The main postulate of the protesters were salary rises. Aren’t Minister afraid of the repetition of the situation in the beginning of this school year?
– I think that strike broke out because of those bad emotions and distorting real information about which I was speaking earlier. For, I will remind that the government of the Law and Justice party gave teachers salary rise. In the very beginning the prime minister Szydło and minister Zalewska suggested 3-degree rise, by 5 percent every year. Now the last rise was accelerated from January 2020 to September 2019. Thanks to it only this year teachers are going to receive the salary rise by 15 percent. I will add that this is the highest scale of salary rises which has ever taken place in education.
– The response of the government to that strike was also the so-called round table meeting on education. It was participated by not only some union centrals but also by parents, students or people managing private schools. How did the results of works by such a wide forum influence the agenda of the actions of the National Education Ministry?
– Consultations are very important to us unprecedentally, because we want to implement changes on the basis of a possibly high social consensus. Whereas, as for the results, the effect of the postulates submitted during the round table meeting on education is, among the others, the fact that in the nearest weeks we are going to suggest a few solutions which will strengthen the role of parents at school, will raise the quality of educating teachers and in a longer perspective they will begin changes of the remuneration system and the professional development of teachers.
– To what direction do you want to change parents’ situation at school?
– We are going to make it possible for parents to have a bigger influence on what is happening at school. I mean more influence when giving opinions on the school statute, that is, a document which describes how the school functions. We also want to consider the role of parents in the educational aspect and make it easier to finance parents’ councils.
– The issue which upsets parents the most is the ideology gender entering school curriculum. How can adults defend their children against it?
– Parents have an influence on the so-called prophylactic-educational program of the school. This is the program which defines educational tasks of the school. And at this level parents’ council can say what – according to them – tasks can be implemented and what tasks cannot.
I will also remind that according to the Constitution of the Republic of Poland a parent can disagree to participation in extra classes by his/her child.
– Some local governments agree to spread the gender ideology. They say that the classes suggested by them are compatible to the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO).
– I want to say explicitly that according to us the WHO programs are incompatible to the core curriculum of the subject ‘Upbringing to live in family’. In relation to it a head-teachers has no right to let any foundation enter a school, which would like to implement this kind of program. If it was trying, parents have a right, through parents’ council, to question this organization to the school.
– And what if it does not help?
– Parents can intervene in the school board. I assure that curators of education have legal instruments which will force head-teachers to follow law. In extreme cases they can even dismiss a head-teacher who is not following law.
– Let’s return to the round table meeting. During one of discussion there, parents were postulating shortening the recruitment process to secondary schools. Today for some students it is lasting nearly the whole holiday. Can anything be done about it?
– We are working on it but I will admit at once that the solution suggested by us will shorten the recruitment process by a dozen days maximally. It mainly results from judicial statements which say that students have a right to make an appeal, bring documents, etc. As the National Education Ministry, we are obliged to follow these guidelines.
– A permanent accusation against teachers is that curriculum is overloaded. Teachers expressed similar opinion when the coalition of the Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Party were governing. But curriculum is created by experienced teachers. How to understand this paradox?
– Indeed, it is so that new core curriculum define requirements towards students in details and also what skills they should learn. Whereas the amount of material, which a student has to learn, has not been increased.
– This is your answer as the minister of education but would Dariusz Piontkowski, as a teacher of history, say the same?
– Definitely, yes. I will also say, as teacher of history – who has taught in primary and secondary schools – I have looked through the core curriculum very thoroughly. I think there is no increase in content in it, which must be learnt by a student. So, I do not think that the curriculum is overloaded.
As a minister, I want emphasize that beside the change of the school structure, the key element of reform is that a teacher should pass over information and also teach the youth skills of critical, creative thinking and building up wider statements, etc.
– Specialists noticed this change when they were comparing exams at junior-high schools with the ones in primary schools where there were more open tasks. Is Minister glad with the effects which graduates from the 8-yeared school achieved?
– We had doubts how it would end but it turned out that teachers of primary schools rose to the challenge and prepared the youth for the exams in terms of creativity and their own way of thinking. As a result, the results of the primary school final exams are comparable to the results of junior-high school final exams. So, it seems that the model of learning soft skills, not only acquiring hard knowledge is slowly taking place. And we really wanted it, when we were beginning ‘a good change’ in education.
– And how to understand the ‘good change’ in education?
– Beside departing from tests-mania of which the Polish school has been accused, will also be bringing back subject teaching. In this context a lot has been said about teaching history which in old core curriculum ended in the first year of the secondary school. Now we are bringing back teaching history till the last year of the secondary school. Science subjects are under a similar process.
– And what is the final purpose of those all changes?
– We hope that the changes in which a strong accent is put on independent, logic and critical thinking and work time of teachers with the same students is lengthened, will result well when graduates of secondary schools be better-prepared to continue education at the academic level. Whereas those who do not want to study at universities, will be better prepared to do a job they want. Our youth will be better prepared for adulthood thanks to the reform.