Fear factor has Poland out in force

9th April 2010 at 01:00
Teachers in Katowice used to rule with an iron fist. Now they are turning to the police for help with pupils. Colin Graham reports

Back in the days of Communism, teachers in Poland didn't resort to the law. In many ways, they were the law. Respect was virtually guaranteed.

You only have to look at a scene in the Dekalog series by film-maker Krzysztof Kieslowski, in which students are shown jumping from their seats to stand reverentially before a lecturer.

Times have changed. These days, a not untypical sight in a classroom is of pupils chatting while the teacher is trying to explain something, objects being thrown and mobile phones ringing. Fireworks in the playground is a growing menace.

It is for this reason that teachers in the southern city of Katowice have taken matters into their own hands and lodged complaints with the police against their pupils. They have reportedly made 160 accusations against some 17 children for unruly behaviour.

Monika Michalik, headmistress at School No 4 in Katowice, said: "Earlier, there were no problems on this scale with our pupils. We have become afraid there will soon be threats made against teachers and these could become real acts (of violence)."

Polish teachers have been venting their concerns on professional websites. "After two lessons, I have a torn, aching throat and feel as exhausted as if I'd been working 12 hours non-stop," one wrote.

None of this may come as a shock to teachers in the UK, but in former Iron Curtain nations, the upsurge in errant behaviour is a massive jolt to a profession which for decades could implicitly count on deference.

More alarm was caused by a study by the Department of Youth Protection at Warsaw's Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology (IPN). Researchers studied the behaviour of 3,000 pupils at 90 schools in Warsaw and found that one in ten secondary school children carried knives or other similar weapons and that by the time they were in their final years, over a third had taken drugs and 60 per cent had drunk alcohol.

The incidence of aggressive behaviour was also shown to be growing, with around 15 per cent of second-year students having engaged in some form of verbal abuse of their teachers, 14 per cent committing acts of vandalism on school property and 10 per cent getting in trouble with the police. By their third and final year, 28 per cent said they had been in a fight on school premises.

Yet the reseachers warned against thinking that Polish schools were facing an apocalyptic future - in a wider context, the figures were not so damning.

Krzysztof Ostaszewski, the director of the research team, said: "It would be a sensation on a global scale if the results of our survey showed a decrease in bad behaviour among teenagers."

Wlodzimierz Paszynski, vice-president of Warsaw's education department, said: "We should not seize on these studies to engage in scaremongering. The schools do not represent a personification of evil. The children are normal."

Yet one recommendation put forward by IPN was that more attention be paid to teachers' mental health - a sure sign things have changed in Poland's schools.

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