WELFARE OF A PUPIL?
‘The parent aim of any actions in education must be welfare of a pupil’ – this sentence of Krystyna Szumilas appears on websites of the Educational Ministry repeatedly like mantra
Every reform, either concerning pupils or teachers, is supposed to fulfil this assumption. However, can the Ministry specify what real aims of education reforms are, what is ‘welfare of a pupil’ according to it? It seems that these are not only buzzwords which are intended to justify all, like the most illogical actions of the government towards the youngest generation of Poles.
It has been years since parents, engaged in the action ‘Save toddlers and older children’, have been fighting for welfare of their children, and are demanding a referendum about the issue of education reform, as well as discussing five important educational issues in the public debate. Apart from compulsory education for 6-year-olds, these are: compulsory pre-school education for 5-year-olds, the merits of junior-high schools, reduced education program in secondary schools and a threatening liquidation of other thousands of schools and kindergartens. Most of these problems are the result of the reform of the former minister Katarzyna Hall.
Third time lucky
Signatures under petitions about convening a referendum on education are being collected till 1 June. It is necessary to collect 500 handwritten signatures. It has not been the first action, which was initiated by Karolina and Tomasz Elbanowscy from Legionów 5 years ago. – Thanks to the previous actions it was possible to postpone the reform totally for five vintages of children – says Ewelina Królikowska – Juszczyk, one of the coordinators of the action.
– The first initiative was an online collection of signatures under the action ‘Save toddlers’, which was supported by over 60 thousand people. Thanks to it the reform concerning lowering the education age by three years (till the year 2012) was postponed. Another initiative of parents was the civic project of the Act ‘6-year-olds to the kindergarten’, under which 347 handwritten signatures were successfully collected. It postulated among the others, a complete withdrawal of the reform. In response, the government postponed the lowering of the education age by other two years (till the year 2014) – says the coordinator.
At present parents of children born in the year 2008 hope also later that these are still them, not officials who will decide when to send their children to school.
What prompted parents….
….to undertake such steps? Polish schools are not prepared to take little children to the group of its pupils. According to the ministry, what should be a norm, in fact fails to meet the truth. Unofficial results of the control of the National Control Chamber, to which the portal rp.pl refers (information from 2 April this year – see A. K. K.) show that only 20 per cent of schools meet the norms recommended by the ministry. Classes in today’s school rarely amount to less than 30 pupils, there is often lack of money, not only for educating teachers, but also for investing in sanitary facilities of the school. In smaller towns, school buildings are liquidated, and enormous school buildings make children, even the youngest ones, attend classes in shifts, and coexist with older pupils, sometimes pupils from junior high school in one building. So, can parents be calm when sending their six-year-old children to school, in which the little kid will be passing by his older schoolmates in a corridor, who are even older than him by 10 years, and the time between classes and return home will be spent in a crowded canteen? Are teachers and schools be able to provide children with safety, a warm meal, tea with sandwiches?
A different terminology
It has been practised for many years, that children in Europe start education at their youngest age. However, what is called a school attended by 3- and 4-year-olds in France or Germany, in fact meets the criteria of the kindergarten. Children are provided with rooms for play, rest or learning, separate canteens and a possibility of spending their time outside, on suitably secured playgrounds. These schools are adjusted to children’s needs in a much better way than kindergartens are. So, copying the examples from the Western Europe should be preceded by long-term actions adjusting the Polish school to taking little kids into its group of pupils. However, it does not happen so. Reforms are implemented in our country from the top. Certainly, there is no money for them, so head-teachers must struggle a lot to gain funds, for example for renovation of toilets. The main sponsors of the ‘free’ school in Poland are often children’s parents, who want to provide them with dignified conditions for learning and they collect their funds for particular needs.
The website ratujmaluchy.pl shows a lot of letters from parents, teachers, opinions of psychologists and school mentors, as well as the history of pupils who started education earlier, according to the recommendations of the ministry. The websites of the National Education Ministry have much fewer such testimonies – these positive ones, and also those which were placed on Internet, are not convincing. It turns out that conditions existing in the Polish school are not the only problem of education reforms.
Theory and practice
Why do parents want the abolition of the reform? The websites ratujmaluchy.pl show 11 reasons, among which are the following: schools in Poland are not funded enough; six-year-olds are not able to meet the education schedule imposed by the ministry; the government took away most funds intended for education reform (40 million were left in the first year from 347million intended for the reform).The Act about the reform is not able to enforce the standards, although it recommends them to school, in order to accept six-year-olds for the first year. There are no kindergartens in every third municipality in Poland, so children go to school there. In many kindergartens there is a shortage of places for three- and four-year-old children. Teaching staff are not qualified to teach little children.
Education reform, preparation (or its lack) of a school for taking six-year-olds lie in a responsibility of self-governments. The reform of Hall made a mayor of the municipality decide about funding or closing down a particular school building. Certainly, it depends on money, which belongs to a particular municipality. However, we know from the Polish practice, that there are more important matters than funding education. Even if at school plaster was falling onto pupils’ heads (such situations happen), funds from the budget of a municipality are intended for more media purposes, for example, building a stadium….
National Education Ministry advertises its reforms, not saving expenses for public relations. There are surveys whose aim is to make the steps of the ministry credible. However, the coordinators of the action are joined to by children’s parents who say that surveys concern only children without any disabilities. What’s more, the participants of these surveys are tempted by rewards, among parents of surveyed children rewards are going to be drawn, including a car. However, these non-objective surveys do not make their results show the relative preparation of six-year-olds for education. However, the ministry does not want to believe in these results and persuades the society that everything is brilliant. But it is not.
Do not accelerate the development!
There is also another, emotional aspect of the problem. Aleksandra Marcinkiewicz – Steć, a pedagogue, who is doing a survey of the so-called readiness for school, notices that six-year-old children are not usually able to concentrate longer during classes. They need didactical methods adjusted to their development, frequent breaks, children learn through play. School is not able to provide it to them. Moreover – the pedagogue says – a child at about the age of 6 experiences the so-called developmental jump concerning all spheres of his life, through which the difference between skills and possibilities to meet requirements of class system is significant between six-year-old and seven-year-old children. Surveys show that in fact only some six-year-old children are so mature that they can start their education earlier, without any harm to their development. However, other children may not cope with it, and, experiencing continuous school failures, can get discouraged from learning.
Urszula Moszczyńska, a clinical psychologist for children, who expresses her opinion on the website ratujmaluchy.pl, says that six-year-olds are not emotionally ready for coping with failures, and their concentration is lower. Not all the children have their speech development completed at the age of 6 and through earlier beginning of their education, they are more likely to have dyslexia. They are less willing to learn, and children who, when compared to other classmates (vintages are joined in such a way that in one class a seven-year-old born in January can learn with and a six-year-old born December, so children among whom there are nearly two years of difference in age!) turn out to be worse and start their life with a low self-esteem. There can also be symptoms of nervousness and psychosomatic character.
It is not all about tests of choice
The action ‘Save toddlers’ can be joined to by everybody. It is only necessary to visit the website: ratujmaluchy.pl or rzecznikrodzcow.pl, from where a new form can be downloaded. It is necessary to print it and collect signatures. A signature can be given by everybody, who wants our society to develop well. After all, it is not about solving choice tests correctly by other generations of Poles, but learning to think independently. It needs patience and précising what a child’s welfare really is. Those who are competent to answer these questions, are parents, who know their children and accompany them in their everyday development. So, let the decision about whether to send children to school at the age of six or seven, lie in the responsibility of parents, not the officials of the National Education Ministry.