The government passed the Act under which, in September 2014, six-year-old children and seven-year-olds will go to school, who were born in the first mid of the year 2008, and next year, children who were born after June 2008 and in 2009.

The reform invented still by the previous minister of education Katarzyna Hall, had been scaring children and parents throughout a few years. The Minister ended her cadency. She was replaced by her successor - Krystyna Szumilas, who accepted the ideas of her predecessor as a revealed truth. The education reform of six-year-olds was to be implemented twice - in 2009 and in 2012. As a result of a determined protest of parents, the ministry postponed it till 2014. Consequently, the resort admitted to reform mistakes. However, it was stated that these are only imperfections which would be possible to remove. It mainly concerned infrastructure, not adjusted to the needs of small kids. Smaller, better equipped classrooms, small toilets and washbasins, a canteen for small kids separated from other children. Many of these imperfections were changed for four years, but parents are still opposing to the idea of sending their children to school at the age of 6. Why, do after all, in nearly all European countries six-year-olds, and often five-and four-year-olds attend school? So, why should our children lag behind in the educational tail of Europe and later lag behind in the employment market? It is worth thinking on why does the educational reform is functioning with either a better or a worse result in other countries, and in Poland it faces a definite resistance?

Six-year-olds in Europe

The best achievements in children's education are among the Finns, who send their children to school at the age of 7. Finland puts pressure on a free development of pupils. There are no school marks for the youngest a better motivational system is developed, and weaker pupils are supported by receiving much freedom. In Great Britain in 2008 BBC in its program pointed out to Poland where children's education starts at the age of 7, and little children are better learners in writing, than English children at their age. 'Daily Mail' has been recently publishing surveys which say that too early educational start weakens an intellectual potential of the cleverest children. In Europe, not only in Poland and in Finland, education starts at the age of 7. It is similar in Bulgaria, Estonia, Denmark, Sweden, in Latvia and Lithuania. In Slovenia parents of six-year-olds can teach their children at home. Where education is early, school look completely different. Motor skills are developed and a child learns through fun. A teacher is still present with little kids. Even during breaks children do not integrate with older pupils. Classes start with a free play without a teacher's interference, who observes his pupils discreetly. Infrastructure is adjusted to the needs of little kids. Classrooms and school supplies are colourful and funny. This kind of school resembles a kindergarten with only some education elements. How can Poland find money for such equipped schools for little kids? Self-governments do not have money for it. Because of the lack of funds they close down many educational premises, and they do not create joyful or safe places for little kids.

Polish realia

When the reform was introduced four years ago, a civilian movement was established under leadership of Karolina and Tomasz Elbonowscy. They function under the name Association and Foundation Spokesman of Parents' Rights. An action was organized under the motto: 'Save little kids'. It is thanks to their actions that the reform was suspended and now its fate is being decided about. Till now parents have had a possibility of choice. They could send their child to school earlier or at the age of 7. As the survey done by the teachers of the Higher School of Social Studies in Warsaw shows, every second parent who decided to send his child to school early, regrets the decision today (57.6 percent). Parents how live in smaller towns (under 50 thousand), would not send their children to school again at the age of 6. In bigger cities - it is about 47 percent. Every third parent noticed that his child had 'many adaptation problems' resulting from difference in age. Every seventh parent says that his child cries and experiences fears connected with going to school. The survey show that teachers have a similar opinion. They say that six-year-olds are hardly resistant in their emotions and their pace of work is very slow which disturbs the continuity of a lesson. 1/4 parents started believing the governmental campaign about good preparation of schools. Now they are disappointed. Half of parents think that infrastructure of schools does not meet requirements and 1/3 complains about the quality of teachers' work. Although a reform was passed four years ago, only now the ministry is investigating whether six-year-olds are able to start education at this age. Paradoxically speaking, the surveys are being done by the Institute of Educational Surveys belonging to the Ministry of National Education. The result is predictable. It is obvious now, that the surveys excluded children with permanent health problems and the ones with an opinion about an early development support, so that they would not make the results of the surveys worse. But these children are also subjected to a duty of an early education. The survey is going to cost 4 million zlotys, that is, 1300 per one child. The whole matter is enriched with the fact that parents who take part in the survey are going to be rewarded. Everybody will also get a bonus for shopping in a supermarket, and one of them will win an off-road car. Let surveys be surveys, but the Ministry of National Education will go like a taran in enforcing its reform. It does not care about the report of the National Control Chamber which states that only every fifth school is prepared for the reform. The Ministry of National Education can also manipulate data. It happened so with data of the Main Sanitary Inspectoriat. It is a point of reference for Krystyna Szumilas who says that over 90 percent of schools are well-prepared for admission of six-year-olds. Workers of one of sanitary stations applied to the editorial office of 'Rzeczpospolita' thinking that the report presents false data. It was constructed in such a way that even a school turns out to be good, despite of not being well-prepared, and in fact every second school does not have a suitable infrastructure. - Six-year-olds are only partially evaluated - says one of the workers of the sanitary station. - Schools are granted points according to a special key, and then they are summed up and in this way a final result, showing the state of the school, appears. In practice even if no points were granted for preparing a school to teach six-year-olds, the school has a chance for a good evaluation anyway. The Ministry of National Education ignores the reports sent by parents about not preparing schools to the reform. In Józefów near Warsaw a professional presentation was elaborated, in which all deficiencies of a school and a suggestion of repair were gathered. It was presented that 0.6m per one child (3 m2 is per one prisoner in a prison cell). A child should eat dinner in a school canteen during four minutes, because there are only 64 places at tables for 660 pupils. There are also deficits in washbasins and toilets. The presentation got to the Ministry of National Education. And nothing, no result. Only after many interventions it was sent to Board of Trustees. Some people started believing propaganda promises of the government and sent their little kids to schools. Today they regret it very much and apply to directors of schools with a request to leave children in the same year for the next year. In Olszewnica, in the diocese of Lublin, all parents of the first year children made such a petition with arguments that their children are not sufficiently developed. The school fulfilled the postulate of parents. No wonder that there are delays in education, because the difference among 'children at the same age in class' is even 22 months. A child who has had two years to learn reading so far (6 - ,7 - year-olds), should learn this skill during a year.

Everything was topsy-turvy

The Association Spokesman of Parents' Rights undertook a consistent fight about throwing away this reform into a bin. On 12 June this year, nearly a million of signatures were submitted to the Seym concerning the school obligation of six-year-olds, with the announcement that they would fight till it brings an effect. - Today we are bringing to the Seym nearly a million of votes for support of the educational referendum. As citizens, as parents, we do not agree in the reform carried out without money, without preparation, without a plan and without respect for children and without talks with parents. Nobody has talked with us, parents, for five years, although we submitted particular objections about this reform. There was no willingness for a dialogue, neither from the minister nor the prime minister - said Karolina Elbanowska. Day before submitting signatures in the Seym, the prime minister had organised a conference about the reform in order to defend it. He appointed Dorota Zawadzka as his expert. On his side there was a super nanny, famous for advertising margarine for children. In an advertisement spot emitted by the TVP she also pronounces her knowledge on this reform. She also encourages parents to experience a fascinating adventure connected with sending a child to school. In the same advertisement, another expert - an actress Weronika Książkiewicz behaves as an atronaut stating that she does not know anybody who would regret sending a six-year-old child to school. 2 million zlotys were spent on this kind of knowledge only in December. A strange waste of money at the times of crisis, when there is no money for modernization of schools. But what can one expect from this kind of authority, when an argument about the effectiveness of the reform is the fact that at the times of partitions six-year-olds attended schools. The author of this sentence is the president of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz - Waltz.

For and against

Focusing on arrogance and incompetence of the authority, the mess everywhere, issues connected with serious deficits in the infrastructure, one can lose a sense of the idea of the reform. Should it go wholly into a bin? Does it require a thorough restoration? Some anxiety is raised by the fact that according to the opponents of the reform, only a parent should decide about an early sending his child to school. So, what about children who are neglected, deprived of suitable care of parents? What about children from low-educated families, in which parents are not able to express their reliable opinion? Why should every six-year-old kid undergo examinations done by a psychologist and a pedagogist? Only after giving an opinion by experts, parents should have a right to make a decision, whether they want to send their kid to school earlier. Certainly, both classes and teachers must be prepared for it. A six-year-old child cannot be exposed to aggression of his older schoolmates, sitting at desk for five lessons, and long homework at home, eating a meal in a school canteen in haste and stress and many other defects. If we take an example from Western countries, we should create conditions for our children, which would be similar to the ones in other countries. We should not persuade parents into an idea that it is an ideal solution which would provide six-year-old children safety and a quicker intellectual development.


"Niedziela" 28/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl