The Ministry of Education has come up with two shorter-hour kindergarten alternatives aimed at increasing the percentage of Polish 3- to 5-year-olds who are in school.
Ministry officials hope the alternatives, one of which will allow kindergartners to attend classes fewer than five days a week, will help Poland lose its status as the European country with the smallest percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds in school. Only 30 percent of Polish children attend kindergarten.
“We want year 2008 to be the year of the preschooler and popularizing kindergarten education,” said Minister of Education Katarzyna Hall. She said the ministry hopes the new programs will be particularly beneficial to children from educationally deprived backgrounds and from rural areas, where educational opportunities are limited.
One of the new alternatives would have children attending kindergarten every day. The other would allow them to come fewer than five days a week.
Both alternatives would require them to go to class at least three hours a day and 12 hours a week – a much shorter period than traditional kindergarten. Class size would range from three to 25 children.
Traditional kindergarten involves children being in class from early in the morning to late in the afternoon.
“Alternative kindergarten is not necessarily full-time kindergarten,” Hall noted. As long as the core of the shorter-hour program is education – rather than recreation – the alternatives will be valuable, she said.
A concerted effort will be made to ensure that those who teach the alternative programs are well-qualified, Hall said.
A feature of alternative kindergarten that some parents might like is that parents will be given a chance to take part in classes.
They can help organize classes, for example, or prepare meals.
For some years EU grants have helped many Polish villages with small populations offer kindergarten classes. About 9,000 children are attending 800 classes under this effort.
Hungary, Belgium and Ireland have Europe’s highest kindergarten participation rate – 100 percent. More than 90 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds attend kindergarten in the Czech Republic, Italy and Switzerland.
Research on children’s development indicates that the period between age 3-5 is of tremendous importance.
Experts say children who attend classes during that time develop better intellectually, emotionally and socially than other children. They also do better in school later.