English / ქართული / русский /

Journal number 4 ∘ Dahl Martin Sylwia Gwoździewicz


The development of education is an important goal of the policy of Poland and the European Union as a whole. Ever since the crucial character of this phenomenon was realized, many actions have been taken to improve the quality of education and increase innovation.The Act on Integrated Qualification System (ZSK) introduced a different order than hitherto- it did not create new institutions, but defined basic principles and standards of conduct. The Act defines roles and tasks of entities operating in the area of ​​qualifications as well as mutual relations between them. The essence of the regulations included in the Act on ZSK is the introduction of a set of coherent system solutions regarding qualifications granted outside the education system and higher education system as well as greater integration of various areas in which qualifications are given. Therefore, the main purpose of this study is to present the implementation of the ZSK in the education system in Poland.

Keywords: Education system in Poland, Integrated Qualification System (ZSK), implementation of legal regulations, development of education, policy of Poland and the EU 


 Education is an important and complex socio-economic factor of every country. Countries whose education can quickly adapt their offer to the requirements of the continuously changing labor market and the challenges of the modern world, are countries with the fastest and most dynamically developing global economies. Differences between countries in the potential of human assets make a different level of the economies of these countries. Education in Poland, but also in the world, is currently facing the fundamental problem of adjusting its structure and offer to the challenges arising from the globalizing world, unfavorable economic trends and deepening demographic problems [1, p. 300]. EU policy, focused on equalizing opportunities between all EU countries, creates conditions conducive to the development of education, delegating to the countries appropriate financial and intellectual resources. It supports educational mobility, creates support programs whose implementation is aimed at improving the quality of educational services provided in all EU countries [1, p. 275]. At the end of 2015, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland adopted the Act on the Integrated Qualification System (ZSK) [8]. From that moment, a new stage in the development of the national qualifications system has started. The Act introduces uniform terminology, as well as common rules for giving qualifications and ensuring their quality outside of education and higher education systems (analogous solutions were introduced earlier). The adopted regulations should in principle contribute to increasing the credibility and ensuring comparability of qualifications granted both in Poland and abroad [10, p. 8]. The introduction of ZSK and the Polish Qualifications Framework (PRK) is to enable the comparison of qualifications from various fields in the country and more importantly in the international dimension. 

Education system in Poland

Along with the reform of education carried out by the government of Jerzy Buzek in 1999, the period of primary school education was reduced to 6 years, moreover, three years gymnasiums were created, after which students could decide where to continue their education and how (if there was a will) to prepare for the secondary school-leaving examination necessary to be admitted to university. It is also worth mentioning that the three-tier system of education initiated the 12-15 year study cycle. The previous two-tier system of education initiated in 1968 assumed eight-year primary schools and four-year secondary schools (high schools), two- or three-year vocational schools and five-year vocational secondary schools. A two-tier system of education, depending on the choice of the student, guaranteed from 10 to 13 years of study. The old education system also included two-year vocational schools and agricultural vocational schools [2]. Along with the introduction of new reform of education in Poland on 1 September 2017, an eight-year primary school and a four-year secondary school (high school) were restored. At the same time, the Integrated Qualification System was launched.

Compulsory education in Poland begins in kindergartens. Children at the age of 6 are obligated to attend a pre-school. Younger children are not obligated to attend a pre-school, however, all children from the age of four have the right to attend kindergartens and local governments in Poland are obliged to provide adequate number of places. In addition to kindergartens, there are also kindergarten classes in primary schools as well as pre-school points and pre-school education groups. These units are intended mainly for small groups of children and for those whose towns are far away from kindergartens and primary schools. In this way, children have a chance not to skip the first stage of education and are not excluded, which causes equal opportunities for everyone from the beginning. The main educational tasks in kindergarten are: shaping social skills, shaping children's physical abilities, supporting intellectual development and preparation for learning to write and read [3].

The next stage of education is obligatory primary school. Education in a primary school is divided into two stages: from the first to the third grade and from the fourth to the eighth grade. The child starts school at the age of seven. The first stage lasts until the age of 10. It is worth noting that at the request of parents or legal guardians, a six-year-old child can be admitted to primary school. Early childhood education at the first stage of primary school focuses mainly on elementary knowledge acquisition. Education takes place without division into subjects and is run by one teacher who also acts as a class supervisor teacher. Subjects such as art, music, English, physical education and computer classes are often assigned to a specialist teacher in the field. Children may also attend religion or ethics classes, subject to parental or legal guardian consent to such participation. An important element in the first stage of the education is that students are not scored with points. The grade on the certificate after the completion of each class is descriptive.

The second stage of elementary school is the fourth to eighth grade, designed for children aged ten to fifteen. Classes are taught by teachers specializing in particular subjects. Among the teachers teaching one of them plays the role of class supervisor teacher. It is worth noting that class supervisor teacher must have pedagogical background in the area of education and care. Primary school education is free of tuition fee and ends with an exam after completing the 8th grade [4].

After completing primary school, students continue their education in secondary schools. The secondary education includes: a 4-year general secondary school (high school), a 5-year vocational secondary school, an industry-oriented school of 1st and 2nd level (the current three-year vocational school will be transformed into a three-year industry-oriented school, second-level industry-oriented school will last for two years) [5] [ 6]. Completing the industry-oriented first-level school enables student to obtain a diploma confirming student’s professional qualifications, obtain a basic vocational education and to enable student to take up a second-level industry school. Graduates of a secondary school (high school), vocational secondary school and a industry-oriented second-level school receive a secondary school-leaving certificate, and the condition for obtaining it is passing the secondary school-leaving examination in three compulsory subjects (Polish, maths, foreign language). In the case of secondary school (high school) and vocational secondary school, the student must also take the exam in the subject of his choice at an advanced level. The secondary school-leaving examination after the second-level industry-oriented school includes, in addition to 3 obligatory subjects, an exam confirming the graduate's professional qualifications. A student who graduated from the second level industry-oriented school will be able to continue  education in a chosen field of study.

The system of higher education in Poland is based in accordance with the Bologna process on a three-tier structure of studies. Higher education is a first-cycle program, a second-cycle program or a unified master's program run by a university authorized to conduct such studies. However, third-cycle program, or doctoral studies, may be run not only by the university, but also by the scientific institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, a research institute or an international scientific institute operating on the territory of the Republic of Poland. Similarly, postgraduate studies (this form of education can be conducted both at universities and at scientific institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences, research institutes or the Medical Center of Postgraduate Education). Higher education institutions offer full-time studies (at least half of the curriculum is implemented in the form of didactic classes requiring direct participation of academic teachers and students) and part-time studies [7]. 

Implementation of the Integrated Qualification System in Poland 

ZSK cover general, higher and vocational education, including not everything what can be learned at school or university, but also at courses, training, work, home and in any other way. The new solution allow to compare the certificates and diplomas, and thus better plan the improvement of qualifications, and facilitate the proper selection of qualified personnel.  Ustawa o ZSK obowiązuje od 15 stycznia 2016 roku. 15 lipca 2016 roku uruchomiony został portal ZSK oraz Zintegrowany Rejestr Kwalifikacji (ZRK). The Act on ZSK is effective from January 15, 2016. On 15 July 2016, the ZSK portal and the Integrated Register of Qualifications (ZRK) were launched. The register include education and higher education qualification list determined by the Act. In addition, the register will include other qualifications, included based on decisions of competent ministers. This means that interested organizations can already apply for the inclusion of their qualifications to ZSK. ZSK is a set of rules, standards, new functions and roles as well as procedures regulating the manner of operation of various entities related to granting qualifications and ensuring their quality [8]. It is worth noting that the Act on ZSK does not create any new institutions, and the terms such as "certifying authority" or "external quality assurance entity" appearing in the text are names that denote specific functions [9, p. 1]. ZSK is a basic part of the National Qualifications System (KSK). ZSK consists of those elements that already exist in Polish social and economic life, and also currently prepared instruments for effective integration of the entire system - the Polish Qualifications Framework (PRK) and the Integrated Register of Qualifications (ZRK), common terminology and general rules for quality assurance. ZSK is an important tool for lifelong learning policy. Its effectiveness depends not only on the establishment of good legal and organizational regulations or the involvement of institutions and organizations operating within its framework, but also on the understanding of these solutions in society. Knowledge about KSK, new opportunities and opportunities that arise as a result of its modernization, in the long-term perspective may turn out to be the most important factor determining achievement of the objectives for which these measures were taken. Therefore, important tasks will be to promote and disseminate knowledge about these issues, including preparing and publishing periodic reports about Polish qualifications. ZSK should cover all aspects of actions taken in Poland related to the confirmation of learning results. It should be a tool for implementing state policy lifelong learning policy based on partnership of government, local government, employers, employees and society. The scheme of the system solution in the Integrated Qualification System is as follows [9, p. 1]:

  • All qualifications included in ZSK are entered into the Integrated Qualifications Register (ZRK),
  • Each qualification included in the ZSK must be described in a specific manner and be assigned the level of the Polish Qualifications Framework (PRK),
  • The PRK level results from the comparison of the qualification requirements with the level characteristics in PRK,
  • Qualification included in ZSK can be given only on the basis of a positive validation result (checking whether the required learning outcomes are achieved),
  • Qualifications included in ZSK may be granted only by institutions authorized by the relevant minister, or law,
  • Each institution that assigns qualifications included in the ZSK (certifying authority) is subject to internal and external quality assurance - the quality assurance rules are specified in the Act on ZSK,
  • The function of an external quality assurance entity is entrusted by the minister competent for specific qualification
  • The competent ministers supervise the quality of qualifications awarded to their government administration departments (the law gives ministers effective supervision instruments),
  • The functioning of ZSK is coordinated by the Minister of National Education.

The Act contains a basic definition of qualifications. This definition clearly states that it is not essential how a person learns, but what a person applying for qualifications really knows (learning outcomes) and checking this outcomes by an authorized institution. Ording to the Act, the integrated system includes "full qualifications" given exclusively within the systems of education and higher education - after completing specific stages of education (eg secondary school-leaving examination certificate, bachelor's degree diploma, master's diploma), and "partial qualifications", i.e. all others (e.g. driving license, etc.). The system includes three types of qualifications. First, qualifications in education and in higher education - given on the basis of acts regulating the activities of the education system and the higher education system - these are full qualifications and partial qualifications. Second, "regulated" qualifications - given on the basis of other legal regulations (apart from formal education). These are only partial qualifications. The act imposed on ministers an obligation to review qualifications regulated in order to determine which of them should be included in ZSK and, thirdly, "market" qualifications - given without a legal basis based on the principles of freedom of economic activity; The possibility of incorporating market qualifications into ZSK on the request of the interested entity is provided, but qualifications have to meet the conditions set out in the Act on ZSK [11].

All qualifications included in ZSK are entered into the Integrated Qualifications Register. This is an open public register that covers all qualifications included in the ZSK. Qualifications data will be widely available via the online portal. ZRK is run by the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development. Qualifications will be entered into the register at the request of ministers responsible for specific branches of the economy or request of public or private entity.

Each qualification must be described and assigned a level of the Polish Qualifications Framework (PRK). It covers 8 levels of qualifications corresponding to the relevant levels of the European Qualifications Framework, which allow to compare qualifications from various domains in the country and internationally. The levels of qualifications will be placed on certificates, diplomas and certificates, therefore it will be necessary to correct the models of certificates and diplomas by adding the appropriate PRK level [11]. The PRK level results from the comparison of qualification requirements with level characteristics. This will be done by a team of experts in accordance with the procedure described in the law. The recommendation of the team of experts will be binding. The most important element in determining the level of PRK for qualification will be to demonstrate the compliance of key learning outcomes with relevant fragments of PRK level characteristics.

The qualification can be given based on a positive result of the validation. The awarding of qualifications may only take place on the basis of a positive result of validation of learning outcomes required for a specific qualification (checking whether the required learning outcomes are achieved). Achievements validated in a different place and time can be the basis for awarding qualifications. According to the standard set out in the act, in the description of each qualification, the validation requirements applicable to all institutions assigning a qualification will be determined. This will ensure comparability of validation carried out by various institutions. Each certifying authority is covered by internal and external quality assurance. The internal quality assurance system affects the rules of conduct, procedures, methods and organizational solutions. Its purpose is to ensure correctness and to improve validation and certification. The functions of the external quality assurance entity will be entrusted to the minister competent for specific qualification. A list of entities entitled to external quality assurance will be established, which will be run by the minister coordinator of the Integrated Skills Management. Ministers inspect the quality of certification. The certifying authority every 2 years shall report about the validation and certification activities to the relevant minister. The external quality provider entitie reports to ministers on the external quality assurance activities every three years. Ministers may conduct inspections in certifying institutions and in entities providing external quality assurance. There are also situations in which ministers may apply sanctions, with the withdrawal of the authority to certify and deletion from the list of external quality assurance providers [11]. 


It can be concluded that the implementation process of ZSK in Poland ran without any major reservations. Educational institutions, like higher education institutions, efficiently implemented solutions resulting from the provisions of the Act. The fact that the introduction of ZSK will make a real contribution to improving the quality of education in Poland can be controversial. Classic systems and forms of education do not fully follow the revolution in the socio-economic environment. Young people often have the right doubts whether the current contents of the curricula will be important in the near future, because the schools are preparing for efficient functioning, but in a society that is slowly going down in history. Improving the quality of education and thus adapting to the requirements of the modern labor market requires changes in the education system, introducing innovative teaching methods, raising the qualifications of teachers and academic lecturers, cooperation of education with business and shaping completely new competences and skills.

In the right opinion of Maria M. Grzelak and Elżbieta Roszko-Wójtowicz, "it is necessary to implement correctly defined (in the EU and Poland strategic documents) educational goals, which in an increasingly complex world is one of the main factors determining sustainable socio-economic development. Positive changes depend to mostly on the sense of responsibility of current and future politicians, people holding managerial positions in state administration, territorial self-governments, entrepreneurs, non-public associations and institutions"[1, p. 300]. Propably time will show whether the implementation of ZSK in Poland will improve the qualifications and competences of Polish society. 


[1] Grzelak M. M., Roszko-Wójtowicz E., System edukacji w Polsce - wybrane problemy, "Myśl Ekonomiczna i Polityczna" nr 2, 2017.

[2] Zahorska M., Sukcesy i porażki reformy edukacji, "Przegląd Socjologiczny" nr 3, 2009.

[3] Rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 14 lutego 2017 r. w sprawie podstawy programowej wychowania przedszkolnego oraz podstawy programowej kształcenia ogólnego dla szkoły podstawowej, w tym dla uczniów z niepełnosprawnością intelektualną w stopniu umiarkowanym lub znacznym, kształcenia ogólnego dla branżowej szkoły I stopnia, kształcenia ogólnego dla szkoły specjalnej przysposabiającej do pracy oraz kształcenia ogólnego dla szkoły policealnej (Dz.U. z 2017 r. poz. 356).

[4] Szkoła podstawowa – Dobra Szkoła – Reforma Systemu Edukacji, www.reformaedukacji.men.gov.pl (access: 02.11.2018).

[5] Branżowa szkoła I i II stopnia – Dobra Szkoła – Reforma Systemu Edukacji, www.reformaedukacji.men.gov.pl (access: 02.11.2018)

[6] Technikum – Dobra Szkoła – Reforma Systemu Edukacji, www.reformaedukacji.men.gov.pl (access: 02.11.2018).

[7] Struktura studiów w Polsce, http://www.go-poland.pl/pl/struktura-studi-w-w-polsce (access: 4.11.2018)

[8] Ustawa z dnia 22 grudnia 2015 r. o Zintegrowanym Systemie Kwalifikacji (t.j. Dz. U. z 2017 r. poz. 986 z późn zm).

[9] Sławiński S., Omówienie zasadniczych rozwiązań systemowych w ustawie o Zintegrowanym Systemie Kwalifikacji http://www.kwalifikacje.gov.pl/download/Omowienie_zasadniczych_rozwiazan_w_ustawieo_ZSK_o.pdf, (access: 1.11.2018)

[10] Sławiański S., Słownik Zintegrowanego Systemu Kwalifikacji, Instytut Badań Edukacyjnych, 2017.

[11] Skrzyński D., Zintegrowany System Kwalifikacji porządkuje system kwalifikacji nadawanych poza oświatą, www.portaloswiatowy.pl (access: 4.11.2018).