08 September 2022

What School Should Teach Research: Case Study of Poland (Summary)

Author: Sandra Užule – Fons

Research

The research aim of the project is an investigation into a particular school environment along with the roles played by each of its constitutive groups and elements: students, families, teachers, culture, the “backyard”, social networking sites, as well as into the relationships between all of the foregoing.

he school was considered on two different levels: school as a place and school as a relationship. Regarding the issue of school as a place, students seemed to perceive the school experience as an obligation and they evaluated it in terms of the requirements they have to meet. They most often referred to the system of assessment and were overburdened by the amount of tests and homework. When asked about what they did on a given day, students brought up either what they did during breaks (talking to friends, playing) or the tests they had. Rarely did they reflect on the content of the lessons. In order to better understand the whole context, the story about the school begins by describing its external conditions, starting from the determinants of the education system in Poland, including its history, legal system and social conditions, as may be read here: Conditions of the educational system in Poland

The picture drawn by the interviewed student as a research task (Poland, May 2022)

The school is well anchored in local community life. There are many different meetings and events in which pupils meet with representatives of businesses, local authorities, and public functionaries such as firefighters, which are then highlighted on social media.

Students pointed out that the small size of the school building means that they have little privacy. The most striking example of this is the fact that consultations with the school psychologist take place in the library, where others can hear it. The fact that the school is small and classes are not numerous seemed to bother some children. They wished they had more friends in a larger school, which they often called their “dream”. This might indicate that small class sizes can indeed affect students’ well-being negatively when some students cannot find a friend in such a small group.

The interviews with teachers painted a different picture of what school is. Two teachers perceived it first and foremost as a “meeting place”. They understood it as a place that would not exist without interpersonal relationships. The head teacher focused not on relationships, but on safety: “I would even say that safety is a priority for both parents and us. Because even if we don’t teach them something, the child is safe, nothing happens to them”. They noticed the necessity of building a canteen and a bigger sports hall.

The teachers who participated in the study were all satisfied with their job. They did not refer to pragmatic factors, such as their salaries, but elaborated on their perception of the mission that their profession entails. They liked it for the opportunity to develop in an environment that is inspirational and challenging.

The most striking conclusion from the analysis of the perception of the school environment among three groups of respondents is the fact that students and parents see the school through the workload students are burdened with. In contrast, teachers exhibit a more enthusiastic attitude towards the institution.

Regarding the issue of school as a relationship, in the words of the students, the relationships with their peers are crucial for their school experience: “I like school because there are my friends and so on. If there were no friends, I wouldn’t like it”. Most students lived in the proximity of the school, so after classes, they spent time together, usually in small groups or pairs.

As for the relationship of teachers with students, the respondents stressed the importance of team building right from their first encounter in the classroom.

The relationships provoked more emotional reactions from the interviewees’ concerned parents and teachers. Teachers appreciated parents’ support and help and, in case of problems with certain students, they valued input from parents which could shed light on the situation. Good relationships were also the outcome of living in a small community, where teachers and parents are sometimes friends. Parents were said to be active organizers of school festivals and other events, some of them also gave 1% of their taxes to the school (in Poland, 1% of income tax can be donated to an organization chosen by the taxpayer). The headteacher also shared her dream of creating a little café at school for the parents who usually talk to one another in front of the school.