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Polish to clean out communist curriculum;Briefing;International

POLAND

Schools in Poland have only three months to prepare a radical revamp of the education system which will redefine the way children are taught in a post-communist era.

But teachers are concerned that the speed of reform and the lack of funding for local councils could undermine morale, while a sharp fall in the birth rate is likely eventually to cost many jobs.

According to a recent ministry of education report, the changes will mark a shift away from the pre-1989 communist emphasis on the transmission of information to the "development of skills and shaping of personality".

Currently Polish children are taught at primary school from the age of seven to 15. From September 1, primary will end at 12 and children will then go on to new gymnasium schools until 16.

Most of the 18,000 primary schools are being converted to accommodate both phases under one roof, although a few new ones are being built.

During the six-year primary phase pupils will be taught in integrated educational blocks rather than separate subjects. At 12 they will face their first test - not to select their future school but to serve as an indication of their academic development.

The three-year gymnasium will introduce a broader curriculum and allow students to explore issues across a range of subjects including ecology, political and social relations, culture and uses of the media and the Internet.

"We are preparing our pupils to deal with everyday life. There will be subjects covering Poland's integration into the European Union and even how to use a credit card," said Piotr Szepelowska, recently appointed administrative head of primary and gymnasium schools in the suburbs of Gdansk.

Under further reforms in two years' time 16-year-old students will sit a final aptitude test before entering high school. Irena Mos, head of a high school in Gdansk, said the reform would allow teenagers more time to decide what they want to study at a higher level.

But she is concerned that the fall in the birth rate, which will see the number of entrants to primary school slump by nearly 80,000 in 2003, could leave her with nine classes instead of the current 22. Redundancies would inevitably follow.

An official of the radical Union of Polish Teachers , which opposes the reforms, said: "It's not been thought through and there will not be enough money to motivate teachers, whose salaries are as low as 650 zlotys (pound;100) a month."

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