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Citizenship Education in Poland

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Citizenship Education in Poland

Violetta Kopińska

/ 10 Minuten zu lesen

Learn more about the situation of Citizenship Education in Poland with a focus on the definition, the ecosystem of non-formal CE, the legal environment as well as on stakeholders and challenges. Additionally, the history of Citizenship Education in Poland is discussed in the first chapter.

Poland (© bpb)

1. Background Information

The beginnings of citizenship education in Poland date back to the foundation of Komisja Edukacji Narodowej [Commission of National Education]. Established in 1772, this secular body corresponded to modern ministries of education. The history of citizenship education in Poland reflects the turbulent history of this country: its partitioning in 1772, regaining of independence in 1918, the time of the Second World War (1939–1945), and the falling under the sphere of influence of the USSR immediately after the war. In fact, Poland started rebuilding its school system only in 1989, after the fall of communism.

The first structured citizenship education curriculum, Nauka o Polsce Współczesnej [Education of Contemporary Poland], was developed in 1922. In 1932, it was reconstructed and integrated with other subjects, mainly geography and history. In 1918–1939, citizenship education focused on national, state and patriotic issues. After the war, it became an instrument of political indoctrination. Civic participation was perceived by the people as working for communist authorities and was therefore evaluated in negative terms. Unfortunately, its negative image – driven by people’s general suspicion of everything that the state represented at that time – proved to be an obstacle to changes implemented during Poland’s political transformation.

In the last 30 years, the structure of the school system in Poland has been reformed twice (in 1999 and 2017). The Core Curricula have been altered many times – most recently due to the last education reform (implemented since 2017). These changes are strongly related to a shift in Poland’s politics. In 2015, a conservative and Euro-sceptic party, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość [Law & Justice], came to power in Poland. Its programme ideas, discourse and political decisions have clearly pushed the vision of citizenship towards an exclusive community. This has had an impact on education and its reform.

2. Definition of Citizenship Education

In principle, citizenship education in Poland is implemented as a cross-curricular theme, integrated with other subjects, and as a stand-alone subject which is called Wiedza o społeczeństwie [Knowledge about Society]. No official definition of citizenship education exists. However, it may be reconstructed based on the Core Curricula developed by the Ministry of National Education. This curricular scheme specifies the tasks of schools as, inter alia:

'Education and upbringing in primary schools fosters the development of citizenship, patriotic and social attitudes of learners. The school’s task is to reinforce the feeling of national identity, attachment to history and national traditions, to prepare for and encourage taking actions supporting the school and local environments, including involvement in voluntary service. The school cares for the upbringing of children and youth in the spirit of acceptance and respect for other human beings [...]'.

The inclusion of this passage among tasks assigned to schools emphasises the importance of citizenship education in Polish education. This citizenship education is understood as one that gives priority to the national community, thus placing it among concepts based on a conservative approach to citizenship. However, as the quoted excerpt shows, civic participation is not an obligation – as such it has been depoliticised while its community exclusivity inclinations are mitigated by a reference to universal values.

A detailed analysis of general objectives and learning outcomes related to civic competences identified in the Core Curricula seems to confirm this declaration regarding citizenship education only partially. It is indeed intended as education focused on preserving tradition, transmitting national heritage, emphasising the history and knowledge of the country, its institutions and laws. In contrast, both general objectives and specific learning outcomes related to civic participation are treated marginally. Among the former, defined with respect to all subjects at all stages of education, only one addresses civic engagement. At the same time, out of 1,736 learning outcomes related to social and civic competences at all stages of education, only 13 refer to civic participation, with 10 of them pertaining to the area of knowledge rather than civic skills or attitudes.

The legal structure of student self-government does not contribute to the development of participation in children and youth, either. While mandatory and present in every school, the bodies of self-government have no legal capacity to issue binding decisions. According to ICCS 2009 , Polish students evaluate their influence on school decisions as very low. Moreover, compared with other countries included in the study, the discrepancy between teacher and student evaluations proved to be the largest in Poland. Another study conducted in 2015 among young people aged 13–15 also revealed the façade nature of student self-government in Poland.

In light of the above, the promotion of actions aimed at supporting the school and local environments, indicated as one of the general tasks of the school, finds no adequate reflection either in the general and specific objectives of the Core Curricula, or within the legal structure of student self-government. Consequently, the scope of democracy at school, an experience that provides for the actual development of student civic skills, depends on a given school and the teachers’ degree of interest in and capability of creating conditions necessary for experiencing such democracy. This is confirmed by research in which school is indicated as a variable that differentiates the compared evaluations of school self-governments and their functioning.

The reference to universal values, acceptance and respect for other human beings, made in the Core Curricula in its description of the tasks of schools is also of declarative value. A detailed analysis of the Core Curricula shows that these issues are treated marginally. This has not changed for many years; however, the education reform of 2017 contributed to a further deterioration of the situation in this respect. Firstly, the provision obliging schools to conduct anti-discrimination activities has been removed from the applicable acts of law; and secondly, the political context of citizenship education has changed.

The current scope of citizenship education as a stand-alone subject at the level of primary school includes 12 thematic blocks: the social nature of humans; family; school and education; human rights; juveniles vis-à-vis the law; local community; regional community; national/ethnic communities and the homeland; civic participation in public life – civic society; mass media; democracy in the Republic of Poland; international affairs. At the level of secondary school (basic scope), there are seven thematic modules: humans and society; civic society; public authorities in the Republic of Poland; human rights and their protection; law in the Republic of Poland; selected problems of public policy in the Republic of Poland; contemporary international relations.

3. Ecosystem of Non-formal Citizenship Education

Non-formal citizenship education in Poland is implemented mainly by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), often in cooperation with local governments, cultural and educational institutions. There are approximately 143,000 registered foundations and associations in Poland, of which about 100,000 are active. Approximately 13% of them focus on education and child upbringing, 7% on social services and welfare, with a similar number dealing with human rights and democracy. Organisations obtain funding from a variety of sources: 39% from national public funding, 15% from foreign public funding, with the remainder financed from commercial/business operations, personal/institutional philanthropy, membership dues, owned assets, etc. Challenges to financial sustainability have been the single biggest concern for organisations for years. The annual budget of an average organisation in 2017 was PLN 28,000 (about EUR 6,500). However, there is a growing challenge of ensuring human capital. The largest educational NGO in Poland is Centrum Edukacji Obywatelskiej [Center for Citizenship Education]. Other organisations of similar profile include for example Fundacja Edukacja dla Demokracji [Education for Democracy Foundation], Fundacja im. Stefana Batorego [Batory Foundation], Fundusz Inicjatyw Obywatelskich [Civic Initiatives Fund], Polsko-Amerykańska Fundacja Wolności [Polish-American Freedom Foundation], Fundacja Civis Polonus [Civis Polonus Foundation], Instytut Spraw Publicznych [Institute of Public Affairs], Fundacja Rozwoju Systemu Edukacji [Foundation for the Development of the Education System].

4. Legal Environment

The organisation and the scope of citizenship education is regulated by the decrees of the Minister of National Education: concerning the framework teaching plans and the Core Curricula of general education.

Throughout the first three years of school education in Poland (children aged 7–9), there is no division into school subjects. Nevertheless, the Core Curricula introduces different areas of education (e.g. languages, mathematics), with specific learning objectives. Citizenship education is assigned to the area called Social Education. In the subsequent years of primary school, citizenship education should essentially be taught as a cross-curricular theme, integrated with other subjects. In practice, it comes down to a few subjects, mainly history, Polish and geography. In the last (eighth) grade of primary school (children aged 14), a separate subject dedicated to citizenship education is taught two hours per week. In secondary schools, citizenship education is taught as a stand-alone subject for two years one hour per week.

5. Stakeholders

The key stakeholders in the field of citizenship education in Poland include:

  • The Ministry of National Education, which defines the Core Curricula in this area, sets educational priorities for respective years, and supervises education at the state level;

  • Education offices, which supervise the implementation of educational policy at the voivodeship level, evaluate the effects of educational activities in schools;

  • Schools and teachers, who implement the Core Curricula and whose engagement in the development of students’ civic competences is of key importance;

  • Local governments, which implement a variety of local programmes related to citizenship education in its broadest sense, offer programmes addressed to schools, commission related tasks to NGOs, reward teachers for their involvement in this area, create opportunities for the formation of youth councils;

  • NGOs, which are the driving force behind the pro-democratic citizenship education, implement different projects, both in schools and outside the framework of formal education;

  • Academic centres, which educate teachers, including teachers of citizenship education, and attract researchers whose work contributes to enriching knowledge of citizenship education and forming the basis for recommendations, both in terms of systemic changes and practical solutions;

  • Other educational institutions, cultural institutions.

6. Challenges

In terms of citizenship education and its implementation in Poland, two interrelated types of challenges may be identified:

  1. Challenge regarding the concept of changing citizenship education;

  2. Challenge regarding the shape of citizenship education itself.

The first challenge is difficult because it is related to the general concept of changing school education in Poland. The fact that citizenship education, already at the level of the Core Curricula, focuses primarily on the transmission of knowledge, and only to a small extent on developing skills and attitudes, results from the general character of the Core Curricula. The introduced amendments address individual objectives or learning outcomes while the overall concept of the Core Curricula (and consequently, that of citizenship education) remains the same. The current method and pace at which the changes are implemented do not contribute to ensuring the consistency of the document. Moreover, changes make sense provided that they are founded on a reliable diagnosis of school reality. The social approval of changes is larger when they are developed as a joint effort of all stakeholders.

The second challenge is even more difficult because it requires increasing the autonomy of schools, also within the Core Curricula. Only then can citizenship education be developed in such a form that its amendments would no longer be a result of political changes. Currently, the Core Curricula, extremely detailed and enjoying a high status in the Polish education system, enables a significant level of control over education in terms of its content, which also applies to citizenship education. Although the ideas constructed for the programmes of ruling parties do not linearly translate into the shape of education , their application to changes in the field of education in Poland is visible.

For more specific challenges, a need arises to shift focus from imparting knowledge to developing skills. This applies particularly to social skills that allow people to be active in a democratic society which is diverse and where consensus is not always possible. It is also important to develop learners’ ability to critically evaluate processes and phenomena they experience.



  1. Wiłkomirska, A. 2013. Wiedzieć i rozumieć, aby być obywatelem. Studium empiryczne. [To know and to understand to be a citizen. Empirical study] Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego.

  2. Ibd. Wiłkomirska, A. 2013.

  3. Wnuk-Lipiński, E. 2005. Socjologia życia publicznego. [Sociology of public life] Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe ‘Scholar’.

  4. Kopińska, V. 2019a. Country Report: Civic and Citizenship Education in Polish School. In: Journal of Social Science Education, 18(1), pp. 172–202.

  5. Kopińska, V. 2020. The Concept of Citizenship in the Polish School Education. Political Change and the Change of Core Curricula. Discourse Analysis. In: Przegląd Badań Edukacyjnych, 1(30), pp. 65-86.

  6. MEN. 2017. Annex No. 2 to The Decree of the Minister of National Education of February 14, 2017, concerning the core curriculum of preschool education and the core curriculum of general education for primary school, including pupils with moderate or severe intellectual disabilities, general education for technical school of the first degree, general education for vocational school, as well as general education for post-secondary school, OJ 2017, item 356 with changes; MEN 2018. Annex No. 1 to The Decree of the Minister of National Education of January 30, 2018, concerning the core curriculum of general education for general secondary school, technical secondary school, and vocational secondary school of the second degree, OJ 2018, item 467. [7] The Core Curricula for secondary schools have the same wording. The phrase ‘primary school’ is replaced with the name of the respective school type.

  7. The Core Curricula for secondary schools have the same wording. The phrase ‘primary school’ is replaced with the name of the respective school type.

  8. Ibd. MEN. 2017, 2018.

  9. Abowitz, K. K., Harnish, J. 2006. Contemporary Discourses of Citizenship. In: Review of Educational Research, 76(4), pp. 653–690.

  10. Kopińska, V. 2020. See supra note [5].

  11. Kopińska, V. 2019a. See supra note [4].

  12. Kopińska, V. 2019b. Szkoła jako miejsce antyedukacji obywatelskiej [School as a place of anti-education of citizenship]. In: K. Szafraniec (Ed). Młodzi 2018 [Youth 2018]. Cywilizacyjne wyzwania, edukacyjne konieczności [Civilisation challenges. Educational necessities]. Warsaw: A PROPOS Serwis Wydawniczy.

  13. UPO 2016. Act of 14 December 2016 – Educational Law, consolidated text, OJ 2020, item 910.

  14. Poland did not take part in ICCS 2016.

  15. Wiłkomirska, A. 2013. See supra note [1].

  16. Cierzniewska, R. et al. 2017. Młodzież o sobie i codzienności szkolnej. Obok dyskursu jakości [The Youth about themselves and everyday life of school. Next to the quality discourse]. Toruń: Wydawnictwo Adam Marszałek.

  17. Ibd. Cierzniewska, R. et al. 2017.

  18. Kopińska, V. 2019a. See supra note [4].

  19. MEN. 2017. See supra note [6].

  20. MEN. 2018. See supra note [6].

  21. Klon/Jawor Association 2018. The Capacity of NGOs in Poland – Key Facts. Retrieved 10 July 2020. [Externer Link:] Accessed: June 2, 2021.

  22. Ibd. Klon/Jawor. 2018.

  23. MEN. 2019. The Decree by the Minister of National Education of 3 April 2019, concerning the framework plans for teaching public schools, OJ 2019, item 639 with changes.

  24. MEN. 2017, 2018 See supra note [6].

  25. MEN. 2017. See supra note [6].

  26. Kopińska, V. 2019a. See supra note [4].

  27. In secondary schools that prepare for matura [matriculation examination], it is possible to implement the extended version of the CE based on the class profile or students’ decision to take the matriculation examination in CE. In its extended scope, the CE is taught at additional 8 hours per week MEN 2019. See supra note [23].

  28. Steiner-Khamsi, G. 2013. What Is Wrong with the ‘What-Went-Right’ Approach in Educational Policy? European Educational Research Journal, 12(1), pp. 20–33.

  29. Kopińska, V. 2020. See supra note [5].


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Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland