Poland: Teachers’ protests at the start of school – politics

In white shirts or blouses, in dark blue suits, in pleated skirts with white stockings, the students go back to class on Monday in Warsaw after ten weeks of summer vacation. It looks like there’s something to celebrate. Not just for the little ones who are holding their parents’ hand on the very first day of school, but also for the older ones.

But many teachers don’t feel like celebrating. With whistles and everything else that makes noise, with posters and flags, more than 1,000 teachers from all over the country gathered on Friday in front of the ministry of Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek in Warsaw. There were protests like this before school started in the past, too, but obviously nothing has improved as a result. If anything, it gets worse, also because the double-digit inflation rates are practically causing salaries to fall.

Earning like a cleaner after 19 years of teaching

A group of teachers came from a vocational school in Krasnystaw in south-eastern Poland. “I’ve been here for 19 years,” says an economics teacher, “and I earn just as much as our cleaner.” The mechatronics teacher says she will have to look for a second job, “but then, of course, preparing for the lessons will suffer.” Her colleague teaches hairdressing students, she has five children, her husband works in construction in Norway, she says she rarely sees him. “It’s about the money, but it’s also about appreciation, about recognition of our work.”

The speaker calls out from the stage: “The heart is our competence.” The three teachers blow their whistles and, hand in hand, push forward to the speaker’s platform, where opposition politicians are also speaking. Things were better under Donald Tusk’s government, the young, blond mechatronics teacher had said.

Minister of Education Przemysław Czarnek is committed to teaching Christian values.

(Photo: Jacek Dominski/imago images/Eastnews)

Tomasz, who has been teaching computer science in the Carpathian town of Rymanów for 27 years, doesn’t care which party the education minister belongs to. The main thing is that it is no longer Przemysław Czarnek. “We simply need a good and understanding Minister of Education.” Both with an understanding of what the children and what the teachers need. A school psychologist from Grębów in the south tells of the blatant increase in psychological problems among young people, many cut their skin, she says. Such cases have increased significantly since the pandemic.

There is already a shortage of teachers and places on the courses remain empty

The starting salary for a teacher is 3690 złoty gross, which is about the same as the minimum wage, the equivalent of 825 euros. For comparison: Whoever decides to join the army gets 4960 złoty from the start, i.e. about 1110 euros. There is a noticeable amount of advertising on large posters for a career as a soldier, but not for a career as a teacher.

There is a shortage of teachers, and fewer and fewer want to take up the profession, university places remain vacant. From the point of view of the teachers’ associations, this is due to the money. But not only. “We want modern training,” the speaker’s platform called out on Friday. The teachers’ union ZNP calls for a curriculum that is “worthy of the 21st century, not the 19th century”.

Minister Przemysław Czarnek stated in a letter to teachers, students and parents at the beginning of the school year that the focus was “on patriotic education and the promotion of local traditions”. But also on “modern technologies” and the preparation of students for the job market. All fourth graders will receive laptops, and teachers will receive vouchers to purchase technical equipment. From Czarnek’s point of view, this is already the “school of the future.” In addition, the salary of the teachers has risen to a record level since the beginning of his tenure, namely by more than twelve percent. But that doesn’t offset the inflation rate. The teachers’ union is demanding a 20 percent increase in salary.

The minister wants to protect students from sex education classes

Are not at the level of the 21st century from the point of view of the international organization Human Rights Watch, for example, Czarnek’s views on sex education. Health and sexual education in Polish schools is largely in the hands of private clubs and organizations – but Czarnek would like to end that. Under the slogan “Let’s protect the children”, his so-called Lex Czarnek bans topics that “promote the sexualization of children”.

President Andrzej Duda has already vetoed the law twice, but the current version went through the Sejm in August and is currently before the Senate – where the opposition has a majority. The final decision rests with the Sejm and the President.

There was also strong criticism of the newly introduced school subject “History and Present” and the associated textbooks. It criticizes about homosexual couples, blended families and artificial insemination. At the time, Czarnek responded to the allegations that there was no obligation to use the textbook. The fourth volume of the history book, which the German-Polish commission of historians compiled, has not yet been approved in Poland.

For Czarnek, the Catholic religion is the basis of upbringing and education. A “return to the Christian roots and a return to the universal moral and ethical principles that come from Christianity” is necessary in school education, he said in a speech in August.

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