Center on International Education Benchmarking

Poland Overview

Poland was among CIEB’s Top Performing Countries for 2012. This profile has been archived and is no longer being updated.

Poland has made impressive progress on PISA on each round of testing since 2000.  In 2000, Poland ranked below average in all three subjects.  By 2012, Poland ranked in the top ten countries in science and reading and 13th in mathematics.  This remarkable rise in achievement is likely attributable to two major rounds of reforms in the structure of the country’s education system, the first in 1999 and a second round after 2009.

The 1999 reforms abolished the eight-year primary school structure that had existed during the communist era.  Under that system, primary school led to a high stakes exam at age 14.  Students who scored in the top 20 percent on this exam entered the lyceum, the academic secondary school that offered a path to higher education.  The rest of the cohort attended vocational school and had no opportunity to enter higher education.  The new structure put in place in 1999 is a six-year primary school and a three-year lower secondary school, which extended common schooling by a year for all students.  At the end of the new lower secondary school, when students are 15, they choose among four options for upper secondary schooling (including the traditional lyceum), all of which offer the opportunity to take the matura exam needed for university entrance.  The newly created upper secondary options included two types of technical lyceums that offered both technical training and academic training to prepare for the matura.  Students who entered the vocational school program can extend their schooling by 2-3 years and prepare for the matura.

This structural reform was accompanied by a new exam system, with a diagnostic exam at the end of primary school, an exam that determines eligibility for upper secondary options (academic, technical and vocational) at the end of lower secondary and then the matura at the end of upper secondary.  A new core curriculum was introduced for primary and lower secondary school and the academic requirements of technical and vocational upper secondary schools were strengthened.  Unlike the Soviet style curriculum, the new curriculum provided frameworks that allowed schools and teachers flexibility to adapt curriculum for their own students as long as it was aligned with the national frameworks.

The second round of reforms, initiated in 2007, focused on changing teacher education to support the new roles of teachers, expanding compulsory schooling to include 6-year-olds in a new kindergarten year, expanding early childhood education for all 3-5 year olds with a goal of 90 percent enrollment for 4- and 5-year-olds by 2020 and adding new regulations and oversight to ensure the quality of care for children under age 3.  In addition, the vocational education system was radically reshaped.  The training areas were updated and broadened to meet the needs of the global economy; employers were involved in setting standards and evaluating students and new work-based learning opportunities were organized.

Read more about Poland’s education reform efforts here.

PISA 2012 Mean Scores by Country for Reading, Mathematics, and Science

Poland PISA Mean Scores 2012 Graph

Poland’s Education System at a Glance

Graphic of Poland's Education System


The World Economic
Forum Global Competitiveness
Rank 2014
Innovation Rank 2014
Population 38,346,279
Languages Polish
Ethnic Makeup Polish 96.9%
Silesian 1.1%
German 0.2%
Ukrainian 0.1%
other and unspecified 1.7%
GDP (PPP) $814 billion
GDP Per Capita $21,100
Origin of GDP Agriculture: 12.9%
Industry: 30.2%
Services: 57%
Unemployment 10.30%
Youth Unemployment 26.4%
Secondary School Completion 91%
Adults with Tertiary Education 25%

Source: CIA World Factbook (September 2014)
World Bank Data (September 2014)
and OECD Education at a Glance 2014


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