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Citizenship education and the development of social and civic competence in Poland are enshrined in basic strategic documents such as: The Long-term National Development Strategy (Długookresowa Strategia Rozwoju Kraju) and the Social Capital Development Strategy (Strategia Rozwoju Kapitału Społecznego). The first of these mentions two goals: the development and introduction of citizenship education programmes at all levels of education with regards to life-long learning, and the development and introduction of professional support programmes for teachers. The primary school core curriculum (2017) provides a list of expected pupil attitudes, which are perceived as the intended outcomes of citizenship education:
1) involvement in civic activities: students become engaged in social activities;
2) social sensitivity: students recognise symptoms of injustice and respond to them;
3) responsibility: students undertake activities in their community, behave constructively in conflict situations;
4) sense of belonging: students feel strong bonds with local, national, European and global communities;
5) tolerance: students respect others’ rights to a different opinion, behaviour, habits and convictions if they pose no risk to other people; oppose discrimination.”
When providing citizenship education, schools should create the following conditions allowing their students to:
1) have access to various sources of information and various viewpoints;
2) participate in discussions in classroom and school;
3) have a real influence on selected aspects of school life, for example as part of their student government;
4) build their self-esteem and develop active participation in social life as well as trust in others”.
The solid foundations of citizenship education in Poland are reflected in the number of education-related programs and initiatives supported by the government.
Citizenship education starts at the first stage of education as an integrated subject (one hour per week in the last year of primary education). Elements of citizenship education are present in the subject “History and Society” provided from the 4th year of primary education. In lower and upper secondary schools, it is a compulsory subject in all curricula and for all school types (one hour per week) - the situation before the change of the education system in 2017. The new model of citizenship education proposes significant changes – citizenship education as a separate subject will be provided only in the last year of primary education and several important issues will be removed from the syllabus.. According to the ICCS International report citizenship education in Poland is compulsory and integrated into some subjects. It includes extracurricular initiatives, as well as team work and special initiatives, but lacks classroom experiences and cross-curricular approach. Civic knowledge in Poland is evaluated on the basis of cross-country tests, the results of which were quite impressive, whereas the results for civic involvement were only average. The latest research (2017) shows that in Poland the perception of democracy as the most valuable form of government is at a level comparable with those in France and Italy. There is a great deal of visible influence exerted by NGOs working in the field of Polish young people’s civic involvement and knowledge. Citizenship education is provided to all young people. It discusses issues relating to the rights of ethnic and religious minority groups. Issues regarding some areas of the LGBT community’s rights, such as in the realm of adoption and marriage, remains a controversial area of discussion. There are special citizenship education syllabuses which have been adapted for students with mental disabilities to take account of their cognitive skills.
Education leading to a better civic participation is one of the main topics of non-governmental youth organisations or those supporting young people in Poland. There are several programmes at national level that support various forms of civic and democratic participation. In Poland, school governments are the basic place in which to gain the social skills necessary for civic participation. The compulsory presence of pupil/student representations in schools is required by parliamentary regulations (Journal of Laws 2017, item 610). The same legislation encourages heads of schools to cooperate with non-governmental organisations and promote voluntary activities among pupils/students. Regulations and official recommendations requiring the presence of student representatives in Polish school-governing bodies apply to all levels of education (ISCED 1,2,3). The Ministry of National Education organises nationwide programmes meant to support active membership in school governments. Some examples include: A School of Democracy - a School of Governance (Szkoła demokracji – szkoła samorządności) or A Summer Academy - a democratic school model (Letnia Akademia – model szkoły demokratycznej), coordinated by the Centre for Education Development (Ośrodek Rozwoju Edukacji). The main body among non-governmental organisations in the field of citizenship education, the Centre for Citizen Education (Centrum Edukacji Obywatelskiej), organises programmes oriented towards the strengthening of the competences of students, teachers and heads of school.
Measures to encourage student participation in the local community and wider society
Presently there are no regulations in Poland obliging pupils or students to participate in activities serving their local community outside of school, however, there are solutions oriented towards prompting those groups to engage in voluntary activities. Participation in such activities which is mentioned in student CVs is taken into account and formally recognised during the upper secondary school recruitment process and could be decisive in the case of strong competition (Journal of Laws 2017, item 610). However, such a solution is being criticised for its instrumental treatment of voluntary work. The core curriculum (podstawa programowa), which is an official ministerial document applicable to citizenship education for all three ISCED levels, demands that teachers strive to encourage and prompt pupils and students to take part in the social and political life of local communities and in other forms of citizenship-related activities. National priorities for voluntary activities focus on the development of youth information rather than on an encouragement or a formal obligation to perform any form of voluntary work. The thinking behind this is that the lack of interest in voluntary service is caused by insufficient awareness of its benefits among young people.
Partnerships between formal education providers, youth organisations and youth workers
In the context of Poland differentiating between partnership and long-term cooperation can be sometimes challenging. Legal regulations encouraging schools to open up to voluntary service and cooperation with non-governmental organisations (youth organisations in particular), to create favourable conditions to establish local partnerships and co-operation for citizenship education. In practice, youth organisations (most often the scouting association), are, alongside the student councils, the most important partners of schools in initiatives promoting active participation in social and civic life. An agreement which was signed in 2010 by the Polish Scouting Association (ZHP - Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego) and the Ministry of National Education allows Scouting Association units to conduct educational activities in schools for the benefit of students, and exchange youth work experiences and methods. The Ministry also agreed to act as patrons for initiatives put forward by the Polish Scouting Association aimed at children and youth education and to consult draft legislation regarding children and youth education with the Association. Although the document does not explicitly mention cooperation in enhancing citizen participation, it is difficult to imagine the absence of this aspect in joint activities. Grass-root initiatives include the creation of tools helping to form local partnerships for citizenship education. A guidebook describing how to create local synergies and co-operation networks between various groups and communities at local level is one good example of such initiatives. The guide’s proposals include making use of local non-school resources (libraries, community centres), and the experience of various ancillary groups (enhancing the activities of senior citizens, former members of the local government, experience exchange between various youth groups).
Supporting non-formal learning initiatives focusing on social and civic competences
The biggest projects supporting youth participation in civic and political life are run by government agencies and focus on donations, education and - to a lesser extent - on operations. They frequently include formal and non-formal education borderline activities, although they tend to be more focussed on building teacher competences and a better exploitation of the school environment, mainly by giving ideas for interesting and non-standard forms of citizenship education. The Centre for Education Development (ORE - Ośrodek Rozwoju Edukacji) plays the main role in this type of governmental activity at central level.
EU programmes targeting youth are a vital contribution supporting and disseminating non-formal education in the field of social and civic competences. Since 2007, projects directly aimed at the promotion of young people’s participation and civic competences have been funded under such programmes as Youth, Youth in Action and Erasmus+. The aim of “Youth In Democracy” (Sub-Action 1.3) was to support young people’s participation in the lives of local communities, familiarising them with the mechanisms of representative democracy and encouraging youth to consciously and fully participate in public life. In 2017, one of the priorities of Action 2 in the Erasmus+/Youth programme is the promotion of solutions and activities increasing youth participation in social and public life with particular emphasis on young people at risk of exclusion. For four years now, initiatives in the field of youth and formal education have been funded under Action 3. This action also supports dialogue and relations between young people and institutions as well as those responsible for youth policy. Meetings, debates, seminars, consultation exercises and workshops focussing on the policies and activities of EU institutions targeting youth serve the implementation of project objectives.
The programme Citizens for Democracy (Obywatele dla demokracji) is one of the biggest programmes implemented by non-governmental institutions. From 2013 to 2017, as part of the objective “Increase of civic participation in public life”, support was provided to activities aimed at involving citizens and civic organisations in public life, shaping public policies and making decisions affecting city areas, communes, cities or the whole country. The objective resulted in the implementation of 133 projects (51 of those targeted children and youth) with 56,000 participants (including children and youth). Those projects focussed on different issues and their scale varied - from projects run at central level to those run locally to address small community problems. At present, the Batory Foundation is implementing a similar project entitled “You have a say, you have a choice” (Masz głos, masz wybór). The Centre for Citizen Education is another organisation providing a number of educational and stimulating activities for young people. The campaign “Young people have a say” (Młodzi mają głos) consists in the organisation of voting in secondary schools on the eve of elections and is its most spectacular and best-known initiative. Since the project’s inception in 1997, up to 200,000 young people across the whole country have participated in the project each time an election has been held. Apart from this campaign, the Centre for Citizen Education creates programmes and educational projects in the following categories: school development and improvement, citizenship education syllabuses, educational and civic projects in the field of culture, heritage and media, student government, volunteering, global responsibility, etc. Some examples of projects implemented by the Centre for Citizen Education include: Citizenship Education in Autonomous Schools, Young Citizen, Student Government.
Examples of long-term cooperation between non-governmental organisations and the Ministry of National Education can occasionally be found, however, they usually refer to one project or groups of projects receiving ministerial support. Non-governmental synergies formed to conduct joint activities aimed at participation are quasi-partnerships. The coalition of non-governmental organisations for the European Year of Citizens 2013 is an example of that kind of activity. Cross-sectoral cooperation with the participation of non-governmental organisations and assistance funding bodies is another example of such cooperation. The initiative of legal education in upper secondary schools is implemented in line with this model. The Ministry of Justice coordinates those activities and its partners are: The Ministry of National Education, the General Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Supreme Bar Council, the National Notary Council, the National Bailiff Council and the Courts of Appeal. Within the framework of a school level legal education programme, schools implemented the following projects: “School education against legal exclusion” (Edukacja szkolna przeciwko wykluczeniu prawnemu) (in 2012-2015, financed from Norwegian and national funds), “Pro bono Education or Mediation in youth life” (Edukacja pro bono czy Mediacja w życiu młodzieży ).
The general quality of Polish citizenship education and its results can be evaluated on the basis of comparative international studies. Expert supervision is the most commonly applied method in the case of non-formal education. All major nationwide programmes typically contain an evaluation component. However, there is no generally accepted codified quality assurance system.
Support offered to those active in the field of citizenship education is provided under a number of programmes. Most of them offer participation in training sessions and webinars. They also provide teaching aids such as textbooks and scenarios. Larger programmes such as Erasmus+/Youth or “Citizens for Democracy” have local resident networks helping in the field as well as mobile trainer teams. “Training Trainers” is a widespread practice.