Polish MPs debate referendum on school age lowering
October 25, 2013
Polish Minister of Education Krystyna Szumilas
The lower house Sejm on Thursday started a debate on the citizen-authored project to conduct a nationwide referendum concerning the Education Ministry's reform aimed at lowering the school age to six years.
According to the changes in the Education Act six-year-olds (and not seven-year-olds as now) will start compulsory school education in September 2014.
Minister of Education Krystyna Szumilas justified the reform in the Sejm on Thursday saying that 75% of pupils in Europe start education at the age of six.
The reform lowering the school age is strongly opposed by a great number of parents who formed an association „Ratuj Maluchy” (“Save the little ones”) and managed to collect almost a million signatures under the petition for holding a referendum on this issue. The association representatives say that most Polish schools are not ready to accept six-year-olds.
Poland's supreme auditor NIK has said the same in its latest report. Only 12.5% of Polish schools are prepared for admitting six-year-olds and some 80% of schools failed to meet the required safety and hygiene standards, NIK said.
Additionally, the report criticized the Education Ministry, which strongly promotes the reform, for the failure to support local authorities in adapting schools to the reform.
The ministry should have prepared standards for working with younger children before implementing the reform, NIK said.
The referendum project has won the support of all the opposition caucuses and also the backing of a number of ruling coalition MPs and some independent MPs, so it has a high chance of surviving a vote in the Sejm, which is likely in two weeks.
Although the Education Ministry has encouraged parents to send their children to school at the age of six for five years now, only 15% of them decided to do it this year and some 20% in previous years.
According to a recent research by CBOS pollster over two thirds of Poles (70%) want the issue of lowering the school age be submitted to a referendum. About one in four (23%) is against this idea.