Government and church representatives met last week to continue discussions on a decree inherited from the previous government that provides for the inclusion of grades for the Catholic religion in year-end averages in primary and secondary education. Bishops at last week’s meeting argued that religion cannot be discriminated against and that grades from this subject should therefore be included in final averages. Although the Catholic religion is not a compulsory subject and ethics should be offered as an alternative, in practice ethics is often unavailable to students due to financial restrictions and demand.
This means that students who usually excel and who choose to participate in religion, but are unable to fulfil its requirements for reasons of personal conviction, could receive a lower than normal grade and subsequently a reduced final average.
It further means that high school graduates applying to universities could see their chances of acceptance adversely affected by reduced averages, as these averages are taken into consideration by admissions boards when evaluating applications.
It was not clear how students would be affected if they opted for neither subject.
The Left and Democrats, a center-left political coalition, last year launched a judicial challenge to the decree on the grounds that it violates freedom of worship and is contrary to the rule of impartiality imposed on public leaders by the Polish constitution in matters concerning religion, philosophical and world views, according to Rzeczpospolita.
The case is currently before Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal.
The church at last week’s meeting expects the decree, originally issued by former Law and Justice Education Minister Roman Giertych last year, to stand.
“Both sides came to the conclusion that previously accepted positions should be realized,” said Archbishop Jozef Zycinski.
But the new Civic Platform-led government has not yet made its position clear. As reported in Gazeta Wyborcza, the government is first waiting for the Constitutional Tribunal’s verdict on the Left and Democrats’s challenge before clarifying its position.
In the mean time, Education Minister Katarzyna Hall has not ruled out including a religion component in future matura exams if the church prepared standards for the exam. Bishops at the meeting said these standards were in place and pilot programers were already running in two dioceses.
“We shouldn’t dramatize this because a matura religion exam is possible in such countries as Austria and England and also in some parts of Germany. And these are not clericalized countries,” said Archbishop Jozef Zycinski.
The meeting was co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Grzegorz Schetyna and Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glodz.