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Human Resources

International Education in Poland

By Tom McGrath, principal, British Primary School of Wilanów
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The international school market in Poland is a growing one, but in many ways it remains under-developed in comparison to countries of its size in Europe or in Asia.

On a global scale the International Schools Research Consultancy calculates that there are 10,282 schools than can be categorised as 'international', educating over five million pupils, employing over 500,000 teachers and generating close to $50 billion in income. All indications are that this market and the demand for international schools will continue to grow. For example over the past five years, the number of international private schools in China—those offering an international curriculum and some instruction in English—has risen from 629 to 857 (ISRC).

One of the current impediments to the development of this education sector in Poland is the regulatory environment. Under Polish education law, there is no distinct category called 'international schools'. All Polish primary and secondary schools fall into one of two categories, 'public' or 'non-public schools'. All schools that are registered in Poland have obligations under Polish educational law to fulfil; it is only after such compliance that the additional international curriculum can be offered. Some international schools may fall under the umbrella of an embassy and have an extra-territorial status and others may have negotiated some exemptions from some obligations under Polish educational law.

However what is needed in most cases is a negotiation and an understanding of very prescriptive educational legislation to ensure compliance coupled with a creativity to fulfil its international vision. It is also clear that there is a growing demand for international schools in Poland in all its major metropolitan centres. What drives this growth?

There are a number of factors at play. International families arriving in Warsaw seek high-quality international education options for their children; the provision of such options is a key reason for foreign direct investment. Wrocław for example has benefited greatly from extensive Korean investment and Korean pupils are a significant population in the international schools in operation there. There are many international families who are settled in Warsaw and this is their home. These families are looking for an international education for their children. There is a growing number of Polish families who have worked internationally and where their children have been educated in a non-Polish environment. On their return to Poland these families want to continue the style of education already experienced and international schools meet this need. Then there is a growing Polish professional class who sees the advantage of sending its children to an international school. This may be for some instrumental factors such as facilitating the plan to study later at a university in the UK, US or in an English-language university abroad. It may also be for the values and educational philosophy that such international schools offer. This is the fundamental advantage of attending a quality international school for both the affective and instrumental factors.

The modern learner is focused on a range of intelligences and competencies that differs quite fundamentally from the previous focus of education. Here is a list of some of these competencies, though it is not exhaustive:

  • Inter-cultural awareness: when pupils interact and engage with pupils from various cultures and backgrounds and when they engage with a curriculum that actively promotes a global perspective they begin to develop a greater appreciation of the world around them and to understand that there can be equally valid though distinct views on many issues.

  • Bilingualism & Multilingualism: one clear outcome for many international pupils is that they are given the opportunity and resources to become fluent and competent in a second language and many pupils gain high mastery in more than two languages. As well as the obvious advantages, bilingualism is shown to develop abstract thought in young children at a much earlier age; exposure to more than one language in a supportive environment is linked to higher academic performance.

  • Empathy, team work, flexibility: while very distinct skills, the values and realisation of a high quality international education supports the development of these key traits that will ensure that pupils will integrate well with others, will understand how to cooperate in a team and will be more open to take initiatives and to take risks. These are key attributes in the modern market-place.

  • Resilience: for a pupil whose home language is not English, moving to an international school presents a number of challenges and when a pupil is supported successfully here then they develop a resilience that translates into an openness to face challenging situations in the future

  • Modern Curriculum: the innovative curricula of many quality international schools focus on the key skills that are needed for future success in higher education and/or in work. The focus is on skills rather than knowledge, reflection and analysis rather than memorisation, engagement and production rather than observation, understanding the holistic nature of knowledge rather than compartmentalisation.

I am a strong advocate of international education and in a word the focus on international education is to build character. I advocate that Poland and its educational authorities should embrace this educational choice and Poland will only flourish from this openness.

 – Tom McGrath has been involved in international education for over 20 years and has led international schools in Poland, Portugal and the Cayman Islands.

He is currently Principal of British Primary School of Wilanow. Email: tmcgrath@bswilanow.org, www.bsw.com.pl

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