Children Universities in Poland

by Jolanta Różowska, Malopolski University for Children, Chrzanów
and Jerzy Jarosz, Children University of Silesia, Katowice

Children Universities in Poland have been established since 2007. As any data are available or any researches have been published - their growth and the number can be only roughly estimated. By the end of 2008 in Poland there were only a few of them. However in 2011, their number could be estimated at the level of about 150. Most of them were established in major Polish cities. What can be recognized at the moment – the middle of the year 2012 -  is the rapid development throughout the country, including movement in small towns. As the effect of that growth, the number of educational projects for children in Poland - under the name of the children's university - is likely to vary from 200 to 300.

Since the beginning,  those universities gained a lot of attention - they were very popular in the media, and there were mainly the media (Internet, newspaper, TV) which have contributed to the sudden and spontaneous formation of Polish CUs at many locations. There was no movement in a centralized manner - it was rather a bottom-up actions of individuals clustered around very different institutions involved in education. This meant that the Polish organizers of children universities in Poland represent various institutions: they include academic institutions, bodies of local government, also non-governmental organizations like  private individuals forming different NGOs: societies and foundations. Among Polish organizers of CUs there are private companies as well.

As concerning the names of these projects - they generally have  the word “university”  combined within the name (sometimes academy), accompanied with the synonyms  of the terms  “kids” and with the local name derived from the parent institution or location of these projects, which are added to determine unique of given university.

Most Polish CUs are formed on voluntary bases. There are  classes for children ages 7-12 (with the extension of 5-15). The activities are carried out during the school year, generally from October to May (with the extension of September to June), in children's spare time from school classes (weekdays afternoons or Saturdays). They are regular meetings of the registered population of children. As estimating the size of the Polish universities, it can be said, that the biggest ones enroll about 700-800 children per year, while the smallest work with a group of about 80 students. On average, we can say that the average Polish Children university works with about 200 children per year which gives a total of almost 50 thousand students: Polish CUs participants.

All Polish CUs are either located at universities, or collaborate with universities, using the university's halls and laboratories, employing academic staff as lecturers or establishing advisory boards of academics working for universities. This enables the CUs to enhance the cooperation with the university. Vast majority of Polish CUs tend to maintain university customs, cultivate academic traditions and celebrate academic ceremonies.

Among the organizers of CU who represent a group growing out from universities itself are both state owned universities - as well as private ones, universities -and polytechnics, those which exist in large  - and medium-sized cities. Most  of these "academic" CUs offers classes (lecture and workshop) that are fully interdisciplinary. They offer a wide - or sometimes a full spectrum - of academic disciplines. There is an alteration within this group and these are  CUs offering classes strictly related to the specific activities of the forming institution, so they specialize in specified areas (for example, they organize activities only on economical subjects). Generally, it may be stated that to this "academic" projects group belong the largest Polish CUs which offer classes for the largest group of children. They also earned the greatest reputation in the country.

The second group of the CUs' organizers are non-governmental organizations. They are among the pioneers of the CUs movement in Poland. They are mostly non-profit organizations, such as private foundations or associations whose main objectives for establishing was to create a CU, and their  most important statutory objectives is to expand the scientific interest of children.

The third group mentioned, are the organizers which represent local municipalities of small-sized towns. Those organizers, by forming their local law, enforce authorities to form and  conduct CUs as the cities own projects. As the result, these CUs formed that way are conducted at community centers or educational centers. They are govern directly by local offices or administrative bodies o local government.

The last group of Polish CU organizers are commercial companies and partnerships, especially those which previously dealt with training or teaching courses (like languages schools). Usually, these companies when starting their CU - afterward organize their own network of CUs throughout the Poland, very quickly.  This network of CUs are coordinated and managed by the various departments involved in the parent company.

The financing of Polish CUs project comes from various sources. There might be the funds coming from donations - (municipal or university), sponsoring organizations (NGOs) and tuition fees. The most stable projects are entirely based on funds coming from tuition fees.

So these numerous projects CU are independent bodies, which standards, objectives and the way the curriculum laid down vary throughout. Any national priorities or objectives have not been defined nor any common policy has been agreed to. The exchange of experience or setting common standard takes place informally, through personal contacts of some organizers. This is determined by the nature of given  organization and its openness  to influences from outside. It should be noted here, that the the activity EUCU.NET  contributed significantly to the integration of Polish environment. Since 2009  Polish representatives have  always been present at all EUCU.NET international conferences, and always sought to actively participate in  discussions, projects and establishing future joint activities. The EUCU.NET  constitutionary meeting which  took place in Krakow in April 2011, was hosted by one of Polish CUs organizers. Poles constitute one fifth founding members of the EUCU.NET

Polish CUs work outside the compulsory education system. CUs collaboration with local bodies of the Minister for Education - whose duty is to oversee the formal education system - differs from region to region. In certain areas of Poland  local bodies of the Minister for Education  collaborates or engage  in promotion of CUs activities especially in the field of information policy  while elsewhere this  cooperation is very weak as some  CUs state their mission as acting parallel to the national education system.

The great changes in Poland, in early 90s where the started point also for the very heated debate over the level of the Polish education system. This discussion underways on progress evaluation, verification of the students' knowledge, quality improvement of the education system. The education reforms have been carried out, virtually uninterrupted, since 1999. It started from the reform  of the first level of education - the six-graded grammar schools were established in place of eight-graded common schools. The same time the middle, three-graded schools have been created, with the establishment of mandatory state exams at the end of that education stage. In the last two years, the age of children started their school education has been lowered to 6. Next year, the big reform of high schools will come into life. The secondary education will include the specialization after the first year of high school.

The CUs activity fits very well in this overall education context, as through their  innovative approach to learning and teaching, they arouse very high interest of parents, children and the institutions wishing to organize a similar initiative in their  area, recognizing the children universities novelty  and unduly seeing them as a remedy for weakness of the Polish education system.

As for possible future actions which  can be taken towards the creation of 'organization' or 'network' of children universities in Poland, it seems very easy to set up an annual, national conference of representatives of Polish CUs. It could be a time and place to exchange experiences and ideas and to promote certain trends (for example, the functioning as  a 'non profit' organization). At such a conference, simultaneously,  the conference of  'representatives of students could be held by. The conclusions reached at those two events might be presented in the common closing of both 'wings'. Such actions are easy to organize contrary to establishing a regular network due to the large diversity of forms, goals, models  etc of existed Polish children universities.

Poland, July 2012

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