Each year, over 250,000 young people take the most stressful exam in their young lives: the maturity exam completing secondary school education. Yet in times of automation and robotisation, exam results matter less on the labour market than teamwork skills, stress management, or dealing with reality, as the young would say. Contemporary education is facing the challenge of redefining its modus operandi: these competencies cannot be taught through the omnipresent lecturing system. Poland has become a breeding ground for concepts to redefine education.

Economy and education have been interdependent for years. It may even be said that they are a feedback mechanism. Historically speaking, people began learning how to read and write in mass in the 19th century once machinery had been introduced to factories. Similarly, once computers and electronics had been introduced in the 20th century, large numbers of young people began pursuing a university education. In the 21st century, the automation and robotisation era, we have no need to spend additional years at school. We need to begin learning differently.
Lesson No. 1: Modern Economy
According to the World Economic Forum “Future of Jobs 2020” Report, over the next three years, up to 85 million jobs will disappear from the market, replaced by machines. Concurrently, 97 million new jobs will be created that are better suited to the new division of labour between people, machines, and algorithms. Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s reality. The report lists redundant competencies from old jobs and those that are indispensable to new ones. These include critical thinking, analysing, problem-solving, self-management (including the capacity for lifelong learning), resilience to stress, and flexibility.
The COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, European and American sanctions – the 2022 economy has experienced a global shock unlike anything it has witnessed for years, its outcomes affecting consumers through skyrocketing inflation as well as companies suffering staff shortages, recruitment issues, disruptions in raw material deliveries, etc. The ever-changing world is also an opportunity for entrepreneurship. In the April issue, The Economist declared that in the fourth quarter of 2021, the number of newly formed companies had grown by 15% in comparison with the pre-pandemic average. This translates into further demand for soft competencies: the capacity to adapt, think out of the box, and swiftly analyse current circumstances. How can those skills be mastered?
The world of education has a propensity to refer to soft competencies of the future collectively as “4C” (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication). The whole world is now facing the challenge of how to make them part of the learning process. With everyone asking the question, Poland has examples of how to do just that.
Lesson No. 2: Education
Poland is still facing the issue of making 4C competencies part of its education system. While in theory part of the learning curricula for years, in practice they are regularly pushed aside to make way for other lessons: pupils are forced to study for the maturity exam, which has remained largely theoretical and knowledge-centred. The Polish government has recently announced a change in teaching entrepreneurship at schools. The previous subject is to be replaced by “Business and Management”, also available as an advanced version for pupils interested in taking it as a maturity exam subject. If properly approached, it may be able to accommodate teamwork on a genuine project. If dominated by answer-focused learning, the opportunity will be lost.
The “Zwolnieni z Teorii” Foundation (Excused from Theory Foundation) I represent provides teenagers with an opportunity to develop 4C competencies in practice while offering them a taste of entrepreneurship. We have been an inspiration to thousands of young people across Poland who have developed and delivered their own community projects. Each year, approximately 15,000 teenagers select a social/public issue they want to tackle, collect a team, come up with ideas for taking action, and try to implement them. They take action to support their local communities by teaching about ecological lifestyles, identifying symptoms of depression, sharing their passion for rock climbing or experimenting with chemistry, and organising charity fundraising campaigns.
Organised by an NGO consortium commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Science and Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, the “Szkoła dla innowatora” (Schools for Innovators) programme is another noteworthy Polish initiative in this context. Pursuant to the programme, 20 extremely diversified Polish primary schools were offered an opportunity to revolutionise and redesign their teaching methods under expert supervision to refocus the curriculum on developing 4C competencies rather than theory itself. Though addressed to a specific group of pupils, this experimental solution will permanently affect the way school administrators and teachers approach education and teaching methods, abandoning lectures and grade-based motivation to nurture the internal motivation of young people and engage them in an active learning process through commitment and emotions. This state-of-the-art learning system will allow pupils to internalise what they have learned instead of forcing them to cram information to pass the next test or quiz. ©℗