View from here - Fear factor has Poland out in force

16th 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.

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

It is for this reason that teachers in the southern city of Katowice have decided to take matters into their own hands and have lodged complaints with the local police against their pupils. They have reportedly made 160 accusations against some 17 children for their unruly behaviour. This is a massive jolt to a profession which, for decades, could implicitly count on deference.

Monika Michalik, headmistress at School No 4 in Katowice, said: "We have now become afraid that that there will soon be threats made against teachers and that these threats could soon become real acts of violence."

More alarm was caused by a recent study from the department of youth protection at Warsaw's Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology (IPN).

Researchers studied the behaviour of some 3,000 pupils at 90 schools in Warsaw, and found that, by the time they were settled into their final years, more than a third of pupils 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 against school property and 28 per cent of those in their final year admitting they had been involved in a fight on school premises.

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

Yet one of the recommendations from the IPN team was that more attention should be paid to teachers' mental health - a sure sign that things have changed in Poland's schools.

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