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Pioneering Pre-school

Pre-school education is all too often the ‘Cinderella’ of the system; this is certainly the case in Britain where state provision of pre-school education does not keep up with the demand. However, in Poland there is a very well-established network of state pre-schools which children can attend between the ages of 3-6 (7). Formal school education before the age of 7 is not compulsory in Poland, but in practice many children attend pre-schools, if not from the age of 3 then at least when they are 6.

We paid a visit to Poznan’s Przedszkole Nr 44 im. Janusza Korczaka where we met and talked to school Director Jolanta Rekucka and teacher Aniela Konieczek . They spoke to us about their work and the philosophy underpinning it.

Before you read what they have to say, try to answer the following questions:
  • Did you go to pre-school? What can you remember about it?
  • What do you think children should learn at pre-school?
Now read the first section below to find out about what is happening in the pre-school.

Section 1
  1. Jolanta has been working with pre-school age children for over 25 years, whilst Aniela  has some 17 years experience of teaching in the school. Both of them quite clearly enjoy their work and take their responsibilities very seriously.
  2. “We don’t consider our job as simply teaching these children,” says Aniela. “We consider ourselves responsible for ‘bringing them up’ whilst they are in our care. In this school we try to help the children become independent and confident in themselves and their abilities. We treat every child as an individual VIP; we take them seriously, we listen to their problems, and their joys! We work at helping them to develop communication and social skills so that they can cope with any situation. Preparing them as autonomous, responsible individuals is very important to us.”
  3. “Education is a process”, adds Jolanta. “We’re at the very beginning of this process; it’s not just about knowledge but it’s about developing and building skills. We like to think of pre-school education as the first step en route to a PhD!”
  4. “Learning should be fun” says Aniela. “Children are naturally curious. They want to explore and understand the world around them. At pre-school we structure their play and games so that they become a learning experience. Children learn a lot through play”.
  5. Aniela’s class of 4-year-olds are certainly a lively group. The sounds of busy, happy chatter fill the room and small children are working together in little groups on a variety of different activities. Aniela prepares a new scheme of work for the children every month. She bases the work around a topic or theme which she chooses herself following the approved Ministry of Education (MoE) Pre-school Syllabus. Her priorities when developing the scheme of work, she explained, are the needs of the youngsters. “I help them to explore the world around them, their environment.”  Last month the class worked on the theme of transport. They learned about road safety, they explored the local railway station and they role-played ticket buying and selling (and practised counting and numbers into the bargain!). This month Group 2 are working on projects connected with textiles and clothing; they have already staged a fashion show and there is a tiny sewing machine in the class that the children have been learning to use. They even had a visit from a tailor who brought along a life-size sewing machine and gave a demonstration of how to make a blouse. Counting, getting to know colours and exploring textures are all integrated into the work but so too are manual skills such as coping with shoe laces and managing buttons!
  6. Aniela is working  specifically to develop literacy and numeracy amongst the children. Jolanta takes up the story: “Aniela studied for a special licencjat under the guidance of Professor Bronisław Rocławski and now, with the approval of the parents, she is using his method with her class... and getting good results already! You can see the children love it, they are really fascinated.  It has never been the responsibility of pre-schools to make children literate, but we should at least make them interested! These children are interested, and by exploiting their natural curiosity, the method is helping the process of acquisition.”
  7. Professor Rocławski’s method is the result of 11 years of research which yielded excellent results;  it maintains that the teaching of reading and writing can begin even with very small children.  The Professor has devised a number of techniques and teaching aids which Aniela uses to good effect. “Aniela is passionate about her work with the children on this” adds Jolanta. And this is clear for all to see; there are colourful pictures of dwarves and other creatures transporting letters around the room, the children  practise ‘active listening’  with  sound recognition and  production games every day, and each child has their own set of alphabet blocks to play with and manipulate….the world of letters and sounds is no stranger to this classroom!

Reading for the main ideas
  • In one or two sentences try to summarise the attitudes expressed by Jolanta and Aniela.
  • How would you explain the difference between ‘teaching children’ and ‘bringing up’ children?
Reading for specific details
  • Name 2 ‘practical’ skills  the children have learnt.
  • Name 2 skills more traditionally connected with education in schools that the children have learnt.
  • How do the children practise ‘active listening’?
Reading for vocabulary

Find words or phrases in the text which have similar meanings to the following. (Paragraph numbers are given in  brackets)

  • having the ability to take care of oneself (2)
  • the most important things(5)
  • the ability to read and write(6)
  • a basic knowledge of maths(6)
  • getting or obtaining knowledge(6)
  • to use or control something with skill(7)
Before reading section 2 consider the following questions:
  • What effects do you think the new reforms will have on pre-school education?
  • Do you think pre-school education will ever be made compulsory in Poland?
Now read section 2 to find out what Jolanta and Aniela think.

Section 2

And what of the reforms? Do they believe the reforms will have much effect on their work?

“Yes” answers Jolanta, “the reforms are sure to affect us too, but I think it likely that it will be to a much lesser degree in the pre-schools than in other environments.  Actually,” she adds “ some of the proposed reforms we’ve heard about are nothing new to us! We’ve been working this way for years, we’ve always had an integrated, holistic approach, with the childrens’ needs as paramount!“

Do they believe education from the age of 4 or 5 will ever become compulsory in Poland, as it is for example in Britain?

“I don’t think so” says Jolanta. “Although, I think it’s possible the so-called zero-year for 6-year-olds might eventually become a compulsory requirement. All pre-schools were given the opportunity to voice their opinions about the coming reforms and in this school we took advantage of that chance. We suggested that the 6-year-olds are left as the responsibility of the pre-school because we don’t believe the schools are yet ready to cope with these youngsters. We aim at helping these children make a fluent transition from pre-school to primary school at the age of 7. But we can see a huge difference in skills development, in social development and in self-confidence between those children who come here at the age of 3 or 4 and who stay with us, and those children who arrive at the age of 6 for the zero year. In fact our 4-year-olds are often more confident, self-assured and skilful than some of those 6-year-olds!”

“In my opinion” adds Aniela, “4-year-olds need a pre-school education. Children need to learn how they fit in to the world around them, they need to develop social skills and they need to mix with other children to do that.” A glance at the busy, happy, well-adjusted 4-year-olds in Aniela’s class certainly adds weight to her words!

So do they think their school is special?

“Special?” they say in surprise?

“Not at all!” says Jolanta. “We’re just a typical Polish pre-school” she adds modestly.

Discussion questions
  • Do you agree with Aniela that “4-year-olds need a pre-school education”? Why? Why not?
  • Do you agree with Jolanta’s speculation that the new school starting age may eventually be 6? Do you think this is a good or bad thing? Why? Why not?
  • Do you think this is a ‘typical’ example of a Polish pre-school or is it ‘special’?
  • Did you attend pre-school? If so, what was it like? Did it resemble Pre-school 44 or not? In what ways was it the same or different?
Vocabulary development: grouping words.

The words below all relate to education. Can you group them into the following categories: types of course, types of school, types of teacher, verbs connected with education?

attend pre-school
lecturer vocational
revise infants school
play truant headmaster
secondary school study
technical director
high school distance learning
learn grammar school
memorise primary school
headmistress theoretical
teacher practical
junior school teaching assistant

What are the differences in meaning between the words in each category? Use a dictionary to help you if necessary.

For answers refer to teacher's notes

Anyone interested in learning more about Professor Rocławski’s method
can contact him at: Zakład Logopedii w Wyższej Szkole Pedagogiki Specjalnej w Warszawie. Teaching materials can be obtained from: Glottispol-Roclawski

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