How has academic life changed for students in Polish high schools?

by Zofia Ciołek

Students all across Poland had to once again return to virtual learning back on November 9th, regardless of age. This meant that once again the entire country had to shift into virtual classrooms, something that from the first wave of the virus many had realised they were unprepared for. Still, now having some experience in the implementation of these types of lessons, schools had more of a heads up than before regarding how they should deal with these recurring challenges imposed on them. 

“I think that my school is dealing very well with virtual learning!” said Marta Z., a second year student from the new Uniwersyteckie Liceum Ogólnokształcące (University High School) in Gdańsk. “We’re only using a singular communication programme, classes happen punctually and according to schedule.” This seems to be a drastic improvement from before, when most students from across the country had to download multiple programmes in order to connect with their teachers. 

Zosia K., a student from XI Liceum Ogólnokształcące im. Mikołaja Reja (XI High School by the name of Mikołaj Rej) in Warsaw, agrees with this statement. “Taking under consideration how the situation is playing out in other schools (where there are 7-8 online lessons per day), I think that my school is handling [virtual learning] well because they implemented a restriction of the students spending only five hours per day in virtual school.” She finds this especially important due to the fact that she believes spending a lot of time in front of a computer is detrimental to her health and eyesight, something that she didn’t have to deal with when she was back in school. 

Still, she does admit that there is more work to be done than normal because the teachers are hurrying to get as much material covered as possible, although she admits that even though “Some teachers do,” with some teachers “it’s the complete opposite”. 

As in many Polish high schools there is a significantly larger chunk of time allotted to higher level classes as opposed to standard ones. She feels that the teachers with standard level classes seldom give them any work to do, possibly omitting important material they’ll have to catch up on later.

Marta Z., agrees to a degree, stating that “Yes, I do feel a lot of pressure, but only from my higher level classes. […] The teachers in charge of these subjects want to make sure to cover all material a few months before the matura, which is why they put emphasis on learning everything fast.” She admits that this is because the foundations of these higher level classes are “densely packed with learning material” and are generally harder to cover. She does also make a point that sometimes it’s not only the teacher’s job to make lessons engaging, but also for the student to take the initiative to discipline themselves to do the work regardless of whether they’re in school or not. 

“It’s important to fully focus on a singular activity,” she says. “During virtual learning we can find ourselves encircled by various distractions. In order to experience virtual learning in the same way in which we learn in regular school, one must keep their focus entirely on the lesson they are participating in.”

Still, in the end, with all the imposed restrictions not only for schools but also in general life, Zosia K. feels that she does really miss how everything used to be. “I find myself longing for when I could normally hang out with friends,” she admits. “Hurting eyes, more work than usual” — virtual learning is not having the greatest effect on mental and physical health of Polish students. 

Nevertheless, students like Marta Z. remain hopeful. “If we’ll come back to school in January, I think that everything will go back to normal,” she muses. “It’s guaranteed that we’ll keep in mind a few of the imposed restrictions. However, with their exemption, I think that everything will go back to how it had been before.”

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