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When I think “school”, I think “relationships”

Katarzyna Pająk-Załęska

On the context of running a pilot programme of „What schools out to teach” – phenomenography of the school environment.

The school in which the pilot programme for the „What schools teach vs. what schools ought to teach” research was run is located in a Polish big city, in an objectively rich region that is perceived as a relatively good place to live. Due to the fact that the data acquired for research is sensitive, we can’t reveal the exact location of the school, but we can bring you closer to the context in which it functions in the most detailed manner possible.


According to the estimates, in the city itself, there is some 1 million inhabitants and the agglomeration adds up ca. 25% more. Thanks to the openness and friendly atmosphere, in recent years the share of the Ukrainian minority has oscillated around 10%. Despite the fact that in recent years the birth rate has been negative, the number of inhabitants is slightly on the rise. This means that definitely more people come to and stay for good than leave the city.

An inverted age pyramid can be observed here, which means a smaller number of children and teenagers in comparison to elderly people. The share of people of the working-age is ca. 60%. There are 7 pp. of difference between the number of people in the pre-working age and post-working age, which is why the number of people who have finished their professional career is bigger than the underaged.

In the city, you can find pre-war traces of such religions like Christianity (Roman-catholic, Orthodox and protestant) or Judaism and pre-war history of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu people, Slovians and Jehovah’s witnesses. Altogether, there are several hundreds of temples, houses of prayer and religious worship that belong to different religious communities. In terms of the national and ethnic minorities, most of them are Roma people, but there are also many Armenians, Lemkos, Jews, Germans, Kazakhs, Ukrainians and Belarusians.


Per capita income in the city is one of the highest in Poland, and the city’s budget is among the first three of the highest city budgets in the country.

The city has its roots in iron and steel processing and production of different kinds of industrial machines. Thanks to very good communication with other parts of Poland and Europe through different transportation methods, the region is a logistic hub for many international companies.

In the recent year, thanks to the development of the infrastructure and good economic conditions, the number of innovative companies, software houses and startups, in particular in the IT, e-commerce, services and biochemical sector, has been on the rise. There are also know-how centres and R&D departments of international corporations.

In the administrative area, there are spaces that belong to different economic areas which allows for creating a convenient place for the economic development of the region.

Despite the fact that women constitute over 50% of all employees, unemployment among them is also slightly higher than among men. The unemployment rate in the city is lower than in the country and constitutes less than 40% of the unemployment rate in Poland. The average salary is 15% higher than the average salary in Poland. Most employees are hired in services, industry, construction and financial sector.

Education in the city

In the city there are over 300 kindergartens and primary schools attended by some 70k of children and over 100 secondary schools of different types attended by over 30k of students. Apart from that, there are several dozens of universities and several R&D places. The city has a rich offer of extra-curricular activities for students of all ages, available in all educational-cultural venues (including libraries, culture centres, NGOs and outlets established from private funds).

Close neighbourhood of the school

The school where the pilot programme was run is being relocated to a new building, in the same zone of the city; this means that its location and commuting possibilities will not change materially. The described area has deep industrial roots with some remnants of industrial infrastructure, i.e. buildings and roads used for industry aims. As most such buildings in this part of Europe, they are characteristic elements of the neighbourhood that are appreciated by enthusiasts of the post-industrial reality. Students have a small patio and a backyard at their disposal.

Culture of the researched school

The school where the pilot programme was conducted is run by an NGO, which is why it is a non-public school with public school rights. The school collects tuition fees and due to that one of the respondents called it „a freedom bubble for which parents pay a lot.” Classes are conducted in line with the Dalton Plan. Children are provided with some specific activity offer in line with the curriculum, out of which they can pick activities they find most interesting. Students are supported by qualified tutors that are recruited from among the school teachers. The school runs its activity based on the dialogue approach to education in a conscious manner, in mutual respect for all members of society and cooperation for the common good. At school there are active society gatherings as well as peer mediators selected by students who supervise constructive problem-solving.

Relationships between the members of society that focus on effective communication (between students, teachers and parents) as well as classes run to satisfy cognitive curiosity and the need for learning among the students, are deprived of direct assessment, and they are based on self-esteem and building self-agency and self-confidence on one’s strengths and values of each and every participant of the process. All this happens thanks to respect for diversity of talents and competencies. As one of the respondents said: „we are constantly some kind of a margin within the education system.”

One of the main problems may be translatability of actions run within the researched entity onto the educational mainstream and public schools with far more numerous classes and lower individualisation of educational actions.

In such a school environment, we have undertaken a phenomenographic research of the school environment based on the question „What schools ought to teach.” We will elaborate on the adopted method and the results in our next text. Stay tuned.

Author: HTT Research Team

About the author
Katarzyna Pająk-Załęska
holds a doctorate in health science along with a degree in philosophy. Over the years, while remaining an enthusiastic educator, she has been researching and tracking education system changes with a particular focus on alternative education. As a researcher she worked for the Educational Research Institute, the Association for Open Education, and the “House of Peace” Foundation.
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