Compulsory education in Poland starts at the age of six from the mandatory “0” class kindergarten (Polish przedszkole, literally pre-school). At the age of seven kids start the 1st grade of primary school (Polish szkoła podstawowa) lasting for 6 years and finished with an exam. Afterwards pupils join the mandatory junior high school for three years (lower secondary education) and at the end, take another compulsory exam.
Polish Ministry of Education established by King Stanisław August Poniatowski in 1773 was the first ministry of education in the world, and the traditions continue. The international PISA 2012 praised the progresses made by Polish education in Mathematics, Science and Literacy; the number of top-performers having increased since 2003 while the number of low-performers decreased again. In 2014, the Pearson/Economist Intelligence Unit rated Polish education as 5th best in Europe and 10th best in the world.
There are several alternatives for the upper secondary education later on, the most common being the three years of a liceum or four years in a technikum. Both end with a maturity exam (matura, similar to French baccalauréat), and may be followed by several forms of upper education, leading to Bachelor: licencjat or inżynier (the Polish Bologna Process first cycle qualification), Master: magister (the Polish Bologna Process second cycle qualification) and eventually PhD: doktor (the Polish Bologna Process third cycle qualification). The system of education in Poland allows for 22 years of continuous, uninterrupted schooling.
The education of Polish society was a goal of rulers as early as the 12th century, and Poland soon became one of the most educated countries in Europe. The library catalog of the Cathedral Chapter of Kraków dating back to 1110 shows that in the early 12th-century Polish intellectuals had access to European literature. The Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364 by King Casimir III in Kraków, is one of Europe’s oldest universities. In 1773 King Stanisław August Poniatowski established the Commission of National Education (Komisja Edukacji Narodowej), the world’s first state ministry of education.
The first university in Poland, Kraków’s Jagiellonian University, was established in 1364 by Casimir III the Great in Kraków. It is the oldest university in Poland. It is the second oldest university in Central Europe (after Prague University) and one of the oldest universities in the world. Casimir III realized that the nation needed a class of educated people, especially lawyers, who could codify the country’s laws and administer the courts and offices. His efforts to found an institution of higher learning in Poland were finally rewarded when Pope Urban V granted him permission to open the University of Kraków.
In the 16th century, 90% of all parishes in Lesser Poland and Greater Poland had schools where grammar and Latin were taught at the basic level, while secondary education was available in cities and larger towns. At the Jagiellonian University, 65% of students came from urban backgrounds, 25% from the nobility and 10% from peasant families.
The idea of compulsory education was put forward by Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski in 1555. After the partitions of Poland, compulsory education was introduced by Prussian authorities in Polish provinces which belonged to Prussia (1825), and Austrian authorities in Galicia (1873). In the Russian Empire compulsory education did not exist. As a result, in 1921, after Poland regained independence, one-third of the population of the Second Polish Republic was illiterate. Illiteracy was very high in the east, but almost non-existent in western provinces. Compulsory education in Poland was introduced by a decree in February 1919. This covered all children aged 7 to 14. At the beginning, however, the newly created Polish state faced several problems of implementation – a lack of qualified teachers, buildings and funds. After World War Two, compulsory education remained as one of the priorities of the state. By 1978, only 1.2 percent of the Polish population was illiterate. In Poland, compulsory education ends at the age of 18. It usually starts when children are 6 years old and ends after 12 years of learning (usually in a high school). Contemporary Polish law distinguishes between compulsory school (obowiązek szkolny) and compulsory education (obowiązek nauki).
Current education system was introduced in 1999. In 2016, starting from the school year 2017/2018 and in the course of next 3 years, the system was reverted and 6 (primary) + 3 (junior high school) + 3 (high school) years of education was replaced by 8 (primary school) + 4 (high school).