The Evolution of Education in Poland: From Parish Schools to Universities

The education system in Poland has a rich and diverse history that spans centuries, reflecting the country’s cultural evolution and its people’s enduring pursuit of knowledge. This article will take you on a journey through time, tracing the development of education in Poland from the establishment of parish schools in the 12th century to the formation of modern universities.

The Birth of Education in Poland

The roots of education in Poland can be traced back to the 12th century when the Cathedral Chapter of Kraków established a library, providing Polish intellectuals access to European literature. This marked the beginning of a long-standing tradition of education in Poland, which was further solidified with the establishment of the Jagiellonian University in 1364 by King Casimir III in Kraków. This university, one of the oldest in Europe, was founded with the understanding that the nation needed a class of educated people, especially lawyers, who could codify the country’s laws and administer the courts and offices.

The 16th Century: A Turning Point

The 16th century marked a significant turning point in Polish education. During this period, 90% of all parishes in Lesser Poland and Greater Poland had schools where grammar and Latin were taught at the basic level. Secondary education was available in cities and larger towns. At the Jagiellonian University, 65% of students came from urban backgrounds, 25% from the nobility, and 10% from peasant families. This period also saw the idea of compulsory education being put forward by Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski in 1555.

The 18th Century: The Birth of a Ministry

In 1773, King Stanisław August Poniatowski established the Commission of National Education, the world’s first state ministry of education. This marked a significant milestone in the history of education in Poland and set the stage for the development of a comprehensive and structured education system.

The 20th Century: Overcoming Challenges

The 20th century brought numerous challenges for Poland, including the partitions of Poland and World War II. Despite these challenges, the Polish people’s commitment to education remained unwavering. After Poland regained independence in 1921, compulsory education was introduced for all children aged 7 to 14. However, the newly created Polish state faced several implementation problems – a lack of qualified teachers, buildings, and funds. Despite these challenges, by 1978, only 1.2 percent of the Polish population was illiterate.

The Modern Era: Continuous Improvement

In the modern era, Poland has continued to prioritize education. A major reform of the education system took place in 1999, changing the overall organisational structure from 8 (primary school) + 4 (high school/liceum) years of education to 6 (primary) + 3 (junior high school, gimnazjum) + 3 (senior high school, liceum) years. This reform increased time spent on core subjects and delayed vocational study by one year. As a result, Poland’s OECD educational rankings for reading and science shifted from being below average to being in the top 10, and to the top 15 for mathematics.


The history of education in Poland is a testament to the country’s commitment to knowledge and learning. From the establishment of parish schools in the 12th century to the formation of modern universities, Poland’s education system has evolved to meet the changing needs of its people and society. As we look to the future, it is clear that education will continue to play a vital role in shaping Poland’s cultural identity and contributing to its progress.