Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Education and the social divide

Today's Gazeta Wyborcza leads with the news that Poland has done reasonably well in the latest PISA rankings of educational attainment of schoolchildren. Poland is catching up with western Europe, with strong progress in reading and natural science, yet is not so good in maths. PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) looks at 14-15 years olds across all the OECD countries (and indeed the EU member states) and compares their level of educational progress. Download the full report here to see how Poland compares.

The good news is that Poland is making rapid progress; in the nine years that Poland has been covered in the PISA rankings, it has jumped from 'below OECD average' to 'above OECD average' - and is well above the UK.

I've mentioned many times before the social divide that splits Poland into poor rural and rapidly-enriching urban. The PISA summary confirms that education is the key to overcoming social and economic disadvantage. Giving talented children from impoverished rural communities the chance to attend a decent school that gives them the chance to realise their potential and to contribute fully to society.

Eddie's school has a scholarship fund aimed at such children. I am supporting this fund to help (in a tiny way) to reduce social imbalance in Poland, and I'd ask my readers at this time of year to consider also helping poorer children get a good education. So please chip in!

Nr rachunku: 87 1600 1127 0003 0122 0640 1001

My children have had a good primary and middle education - I'd like some less privileged children to have the same chance too.


adthelad said...

I'm just listening to the new telling me that 60% of people in this country did not read a single book last year. This may not reflect the actual frequency of reading the written word but might indicate show that recreational reading may not be confined to books.
The report you linked definitely shows that the am mount of reading (up to the age of 15) has a significant impact on cognitive skills.
I am intrigued to see that up to that age the difference between the UK and Poland is relatively small but from what you've told me of your experience here, older children and young adults are significantly ahead.

jan said...

This improvement owes less to improvement in actual quality of teaching than to do with demography. With the number of teachers and their skills being constant, the number of students continues to diminish - and the effects of teaching improve. I'll not be surprised if in five or ten years, when the number of pupils in schools hits the bottom, Poland's will be ranked among top educational systems.

BTW, supporting private schools is the worst way of helping the poor (even if the school actually accepts some non-paying students). Just take a look at how Finland's school system is organized - equality taken to the extremes.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Jan - the PISA methodology doesn't take demographics into account; the sample size is comparable in every country surveyed.

As for helping - it is better to do this now than to wait for some more educational reforms that move Poland further along the road to a Finnish-style system (which I agree is better).

@Adthelad - I hold that Polish primary and secondary schooling is better than that in the UK (generalisation obviously!) but that British universities are better than Polish ones.

adthelad said...

Finland - this I didn't know

'Dropouts during compulsory primary education, less than 0.5 per cent.

Class repetition, only 2 per cent.

Small betweenschool differences.

190 school days per year, 4 to 7 hours per day.

Moderate amounts of homework, no private lessons after school.

Finnish students work fewer hours per week. Students from some Asian countries also get high PISA results, but as a result of high student workloads'

Very interesting. Children stay in one school for primary and secondary education know their teachers better hence more of a community (village) endeavour this education business. No formal schooling before 7 years of age. I like it.

jan said...

Michael, what I meant was that the overall number of students in Poland is decreasing due to demographic changes (the Polish populace is getting old). Now, since teachers are not easy to fire (at least not in the public system), the number of pupils per teacher is also decreasing. This might have tremendous impact on the quality of teaching, probably bigger than alleged improvement in teaching standards or teachers' skills - because average class size is also decreasing.
To teach a class of 20 and a class of 35 is something completely different. Improvement in PISA could be a result of this.

Anonymous said...

The US is not much better off - (from 2007)

The following statistics about book publishing and reading were found on, the Web site of self-publishing guru Dan Poynter. They'll give you an idea of what you're up against if you want to write books for a living.

1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance.
70 percent of the books published do not make a profit.
(Source: Jerold Jenkins,