by Zofia Ciołek
Right off the bat, the quarantine hit schools across Poland hard. If the school wasn’t privately funded, on top of the yearly rankings, or was simply in a rural area, the idea that now school would have to be run effectively for students to learn from home posed a great deal of stress on many parents, teachers and students.
Most Polish schools tend to not be equipped with a lot of technological equipment, with many schools across the country having a single projector for a grade, and in many rural areas for an entire school. If computers are required they are usually expected to be brought into school from home. However, many students, especially in poorer, rural areas, do not have access to computers, and if they do, they’re usually their parent’s computers. This posed an immediate concern to the Ministry of Education as well as to schools, as during quarantine many students did not have access to online education. Schools had not been prepared for this type of shift and the needs of students in primary school (which now runs from grade 1 – 8) were set aside in order to shift the attention to high school or technikums, which needed to prepare their students for exams.
Initially, in order to help the youngest students learn during quarantine, the government installed a new programme called Szkoła z TVP1 (school with TVP1) into their daily cycle on the government run tv channel TVP1, which was composed of one or two teachers explaining different concepts to young children, related to language learning, maths or sciences. Soon, however, many parents began to ridicule the show, as not only did it look as if the teachers and ideas presented were pulled out of a box full of socialist-era photographs (not counting the often horrible resolution of the filming camera), they also tended to make simple mistakes, such as adding four to eleven and ending up with sixteen.
For these reasons, it wasn’t long before people began to search for new ways to educate their children. Soon, a new learning platform emerged for those with access to the internet, Grarantanna. It was created by a foundation called Teatrikon, a non-governmental organisation whose mission is to improve education through technological means. Their slogan is “Through creativity, education and animation we support young people in their conscious development and taking up challenges,” which fits very well with the programme they created.
On their website, grarantanna.pl, students can look through a variety of quizzes, games and nationwide challenges regarding online education. As it is an organisation which began to better the education in the Lubelskie Voivodeship, their games and challenges reflect the syllabus of each grade, making it easy for the children to keep on task. The only problem here, is, however, the fact that this is only available online to children who have an internet connection and access to a computer, which isn’t the case in the entirety of the country.
Mr. Josh, an ASW EAP teacher, says that when it comes to virtual learning, responses from his own kids (who are in Kindergarten as well as middle and high school) have been rather positive. “I think the school work is fairly balanced, in some cases their results seem rather positive,” he stated in an interview. “It seems that they have more time to think. I wonder if having more time to think and digest after a class has finished has helped. They express that it does. […] They are receiving a classical, knowledge based education that is rigorous and extensive (math, science, literature, history, geography, languages). Oftentimes the onus for understanding is on them. It is a one size fits all approach to delivering the materials and the learner must be creative in how they will engage in the understanding of the concepts and ideas. For the most part, my crew does good work and they are getting through.”
Ewa S., a student at Warsaw’s Batory Highschool, took the option to take the IB class and states that her experiences with virtual learning are very different. When asked to compare the quality of virtual learning to regular school, she admitted that online learning is definitely subpar. “It’s not necessarily the fault of the teachers,” she says. “Some of them really do try. Their possibilities are, however, limited. It’s difficult to explain a complex, new formula using a jamboard or involve students in a passionate discussion about a book through a laptop screen. Furthermore, some classes aren’t conducted online at all and instead students receive piles of assignments and homework. I have to work more independently now and learn a lot of new things alone, which is challenging and less effective.”
Her peers seemed to mostly agree, a few stating that the quality has dropped for some subjects and that some teachers tend to not put much extra effort into a seamless transition from one way of learning into another. Still, others make the claim that virtual learning does have some benefits in their situation. “I have much more time to digest the material,” one states. “The only thing that lacks are discussions with peers which in normal conditions are of vast value, but it’s understandable that it’s almost impossible to conduct them online.”
When asked about IA’s and the EE, there was a consensus that not a lot had been done to begin new IA’s due to the complications of lack of access to space or materials, and that the EE was still in its infancy due to it being the first year of IB, with little known about how the process would be carried on.
Although Mr. Josh’s kids and Ewa S. have had different experiences when it comes to virtual learning, they agree that social distancing and quarantine have been taking a toll on both mental health and education.
“I think that overall it’s difficult to find balance between studying and “self-care” at home, since it’s an environment one would associate with rest after a tiring day of classes,” stated Ewa. “Personally, I need peace and quiet to study, which obviously is limited in a family of 4. It took me a couple of weeks to adjust to the constant chatter and chaos.”
“[The children’s] social interaction with peers has certainly been suffering,” admits Mr. Josh. “We have become closer as a family since building a greenhouse and planting a more extensive garden (20 x 9 meters) and doing projects around our country home. This has been a boon! However, meetings with peers (other than siblings) have paid a price – we don’t know to what extent, but I sense they are lonely in ways it is hard for a parent to fully understand.”