Wednesday, 30 December 2015

School Starting Age Raised - But Investment Needed

The Polish parliament has agreed to raise the compulsory age at which children start school from 6 to 7. This reverses the decision of the previous government to lower the starting school age to 6, which only became obligatory during the last school year. 

This decision in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Although the decision to lower the school age bought Poland into line with most other EU countries, some of the most successful education systems in the world (most noteably Finland) have a relatively high school starting age. The previous reform of reducing the school age was rushed through with many schools unprepared for the change (e.g. according to the state audit commission 84% of schools did not have a place for 6 year olds to use a computer.) Also the decision to lower the school starting age was opposed by the majority of society. 

However, this reform will not solve the growing problems in the Polish education system. Amongst these is the chronic lack of available places in state pre-schools. Poland has one of the lowest rates of pre-school enrolement inside the EU. Between 1990/91 and 2011/12 the number of available places in pre-schools dropped from 896,000 to to 829,561 and the number of pre-schools from 25,873 to 19,906. There is a huge disproportion between the precentage of children that attend pre-schools in the cities (84%) compared to the countryside (51%). But even within large cities there are major discrepencies. For example, in many of the new districts built in Warsaw over the past couple of decades there has been no corresponding investment in public services (in the district of Białołeka, where many young families live, only 600 per 1,000 children attend a pre-school). 

The idea that children should not start formal school education until later can be beneficial if there is a well-functioning pre-school system. The raising of the school starting age in Poland will place further strain on pre-schools. Without significant public investment in building new state nurseries, then the raising of the school starting age could actually have a detrimental effect on the education of children in Poland. The PiS government bases this reform on a conservative ideology that places the responsibility of child care and their upbringing onto the family (particularly women) and away from the public sphere. 
(Shameless plug: The statistics from this article were taken from my book Privatising Capital.)

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