Inequalities in Polish school
Since we are little children, we are told how crucial individual effort is and how it enhances our future life. That is true, of course. However, it is also important to remember obstacles that prevent the “American dream” on the Vistula River from happening.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) conducts studies about social mobility. That means a movement of an individual on the social ladder. This index shows how much of a chance a child born to a less wealthy family has to live a more prosperous life. In other words, how likely it is for children in this country to have equal opportunities and a fair shot in life.
There is no surprise, that Scandinavian countries are the best in this ranking. Denmark is in the 1st place, while Poland is all the way back in the 30th place. Unfortunately, it shows that Poland has a problem with providing a chance of social promotion to every child. It is reflected in the study carried out by the University of Brema titled: “The Relation between Inequality and Intergenerational Class Mobility in 39 Countries”. Again, Poland is characterized by a lack of equality when it comes to opportunities. This means that a child born to a family with a record of higher education is more likely to also be well educated, while in families in which parents are physical workers, the offspring is less likely to have a bright future.
It is the environment and upbringing that have the biggest impact on a child’s future. In Poland, we can see a huge contrast in terms of the opportunities, possibilities and the socio-cultural capital when we compare cities to villages. What is the reason for that and how can we change the status quo? Many answers are associated with education.
Annual reports of the Central Exam Commission show significant differences in the scores achieved by students at the age of 16 from villages and towns with a population of over 100 thousand residents. Teenagers who live in towns, on average, scored better on the Polish exam by 5 percentage points than their colleagues from rural areas. When it comes to Biology and English Basic Exam this gap grows to 9 p.p. and 15 p.p. respectively. Correspondingly, this gap soared to 18 p.p. in the results of the Advanced English Exam. It shows inequality in access to foreign languages, so crucial in our modern globalized world.
One of the reasons which engender this situation is poverty and lack of cultural capital. Pupils from cities often have more possibilities of extracurricular activities, cultural events and extra classes preparing them for the exams. According to the study by CBOS conducted during the years 2015-2019, the percentage of parents who spent extra money on private lessons grew from 14% to 32%. Owing to this, educational inequalities are lifting and the success on exams is more correlated to parent’s wealth, which is lower in villages.
Another sign of educational inequality is a soaring percentage of pupils who attend private schools. According to statistics undertaken by the General Statistical Office (GUS), it grew from 6.6% in 2010 to 10.9% in 2017 in cities, and from 1.7% to 4.2% in rural areas. Tackling these inequalities was the main reason for a reform that created a secondary school in 1999 and you could say that it passed its exam. From this very moment, unlucky students who got enrolled in less reputable schools had a second chance to get in a better secondary school. Another advantage of this reform was an inclusive and diverse environment, where children from many social backgrounds could exchange their experiences among their peers.
The problem of inequality between students from cities and rural areas should be solved in a similar way as countries with the best scores in educational rankings like PISA have done it. It is no coincidence that the same countries are leaders in social mobility rankings. These solutions are: building more public kindergartens, making them accessible for the kids from a very young age, increasing funding to public education for teacher wages, extracurricular activities, trips to museums and theaters. A number one priority should be making parents and teachers aware of the education differences. We should also highlight that schools should get compared by the growth of students’ abilities from the level they got to the school rather than the final exam result. Long-term development is far more important than having students who are already good pass their exams with flying colors.
1. The relations between inequality and intergenerational class mobility https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0003122419885094
2. WEF Social Mobility Index http://reports.weforum.org/social-mobility-report-2020/social-mobility-rankings/
3. Prywatyzacja w polskiej szkole, badanie CBOS na zlecenie Fundacji Batorego http://www.batory.org.pl/upload/files/Programy%20operacyjne/Forum%20Idei/Komunikat%20z%20badania%20prywatyzacji%20edukacji.pdf
4. Wyniki egzaminu gimnazjalnego z 2019 roku https://cke.gov.pl/images/_EGZAMIN_GIMNAZJALNY/Informacje_o_wynikach/2019/20190614%20EG%20Wstepne%20informacje%20LOKALIZACJA.pdf
5. Raport OECD o mobilności w polskiej szkole https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/social-issues-migration-health/broken-elevator-how-to-promote-social-mobility_9789264301085-en#page2
Image source: https://pixabay.com/pl/