Friday, September 23, 2011

Poland, teachers' heaven

Being a teacher is certainly a tough job. If you have any doubt check out, this video. But overall, maybe it's not such a bad job given this report, which says that Polish teachers actually teach for 2 hours 42 minutes a day or 489 hours a year. This is no surprise as looking at the calendar you can see teachers in Poland get about 3 months a year of school-free time.

It is a cliche to say that some of the southern European countries currently undergoing serious financial crisis are, let's say, not the most work-motivated people in the world, but even teachers in Greece supposedly teach 20 percent more than do Polish ones. This is not to mention the EU average of 779 hours a year or the US one of 1100 hours.

In a normal sector, demand for work determines supply. If newspaper sales fall, more journalists have to pursue other job opportunities, for example. That is obviously not the case in Poland with teachers. Here, the longer you are a teacher, the harder it is to fire you. Most teachers have enough tenure to be virtually impossible to let go.

The results of such a system are obvious. Since it is based on tenure alone, quality doesn't matter and a lot of older, not-so-good teachers block places of their potentially/maybe better younger competitors. Another result is that the number of teachers is roughly flat at about half a million despite a significant decrease in the number of kids attending school due to demographic changes. Basically, the supply of labour is constant regardless of the demand.

To add insult to injury, and I wouldn't be blabbering about all of this if I couldn't criticise Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the salaries of these teachers are legally set to rise. This was not a proposal by some populist left-wing party, but by the "most liberal" of all parties in Poland: the Civic Platform. The prime minister of course claims this is to secure better schooling for our children and ensure their competitiveness on the global marketplace.

To achieve that, we have set up a system that promotes inefficiency, fights competition, penalises quality and shows that political rationale is more important than reason. But hey, it's half a million votes, ain't it?


  1. Well teaching education does not lend itself well to so called "market" solutions like competition and salaries based on success. As for the fate of all the bad teachers etc etc., there are always some very good teachers and bad teachers in any school but the system can only get rid of so-called bad teachers if they can replace them with better teachers or indeed any teachers at all.

    The salaries of teachers in Poland, given the training required, are hopelessly low so attracting good candidates into the teaching profession is going to be difficult without substantial pay rises. As for the "statistics" you quote about face to face time of Polish teachers I take it you've used a calculation based on the total periods taught, their length and days in an entire year including holidays. Is that so? If it is then it's sleight of hand and you know it.

  2. Anyone who thinks that teachers work less than 3 hours a day obvoiusly has had not real contact with schools in Poland.

    The comment above makes all the correct points about the falseness of these figures. The statistics are taken from the OECD education at a glance report, that asks the question how many hours do you teach a day. This is not the same as how many hours do you work, nor even how many hours do you spend in the classroom. It does not take into account preparation, trips, consultations, meetings, etc. The report also funnily enough does not look at other OECD statistics, such as the one showing that Polish teachers are the worst paid out of all the OECD countries.

    Education is not a business and is not run according to the laws of supply and demand. It is about providing a service for Polish children - and it does this very well. The Programme for International Student Assessment, which is run by the OECD, has recently praised Poland for the great improvements it has made recently in its quality of education. In all the categories covered by the PISA research Poland is situated in the top 11 EU countries – 5th place for reading, 7th in the natural sciences and 11th for mathematics.

    Still lets not let facts get in the way of a good old rant against teachers.

  3. Couple points: I didn't say work, I said teach - which means classroom hours.

    Two - does anyone sees a connection between a too high number of teachers and their too low salaries?

    I am sorry but being a teacher is exactly same kind of a job as every other - nearly every job can be presented as being a "service" to some group. Why are academic teachers subject to demand and supply forces and other teachers cannot?

    Three: by locking in a sector you prevent competition and effective allocation of resources - of course you will always have good and bad teachers - my point exactly is that in Poland you cannot get rid of the bad ones effectively. You don't know if there are better teachers to replace them if you lock in the sector. By giving blanket raises (like the current government did) you significantly decrease their effectiveness and in result you get worst paid teachers in OECD.

    Four: Looking at results of every year's matura exam I would say that trends in quality of Polish schooling might not be as rosy as one would paint them. Not to mention a growing discomfort from universities about usefuleness of matura as a universal exam and their complaints about declining level of teaching.

    And of course there is the issue that non-teaching people have about 114 free days (weekends and holidays) in Poland in 2012, while teachers will get over 180.

  4. It is a tough balance between making education both functional and cost effective. If you look at the facilities in the majority of schools you will see these are severely lacking, yet the government spends more GDP% wise on education than countries like Japan, Australia, Korea and Germany. The class room size is all lower than these countries too. This would suggest based on these figures that there are too many teachers. Yes the salary of teachers is easily too low on individual basis but if you look at it in these sense that the junior teachers get a lot less than the senior teachers (ie once they have completed tenure) you can see the reason why. Also it is a known fact through the education industry in Poland that once a teacher reaches tenure they put in less hours of preparation and work "outside the classroom" as there is no requirement as they, as previously mentioned, are basically unable to be removed. I am a private contract teacher, and when I tell other teachers that for the most part of the year I am working a minimum 25hour week plus travel time they are all genuinely shocked. While of course the figures represented here are included as an overview they are henceforth remotely accurate. It is a trend on the whole. I believe the government needs to control its education spending and use it in a more targeted way. So that education in Poland is more effective both in class and in coffers.