How human capital is being wasted in Poland

08.12.2017 11:19|Marcin Lipka

"What causes the excellent results of Polish youth in human capital research not to later translate into similar achievements of adult Poles? Perhaps it is due to a lack of a comprehensive policy for continuing education in our country," writes Marcin Lipka, Conotoxia Senior Analyst.

Marcin Lipka, główny analityk

In the "Responsible Development Plan" (Strategia na rzecz Odpowiedzialnego Rozwoju, SOR), also known as the Morawiecki Plan, it is stated that the essential conditions for rapid economic development and improvement of the quality of citizens' lives are human capital with high skills and qualifications adapted to the challenges of changing realities.

In the context of human capital, "SOR" also describes that multiplying and exploration of skills, creativity and knowledge potential is crucial because it encourages the realization of professional aspirations. This enables adaptation to a constantly changing economy, which is necessary for creating new innovative solutions. The quality of human capital is also connected with better health, which is a requirement for maintaining professional and social activity and a high quality of life .

At the beginning of the race, Poland is at the forefront

At the first stages of building human capital, Poland is achieving major success. It has been proven by the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) survey, which is carried out every three years. Half a million 15-year-olds from more than 70 countries (also from non-OECD countries) take part in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test.

Both in the PISA survey of 2012 and 2015, Polish students were above the OECD average in all three basic categories (reading, mathematics and life sciences). In 2012, Poles ranked eighth in the world and fourth in Europe in mathematics.

Apart from the PISA ranking, young Poles are doing well in other statistics serving the first stage of building human capital. According to the Education and Training Monitor 2017 for Poland, prepared by the European Commission (EC), the percentage of people with third stage education in the 30-34 age group is above the EU average (39.1%) and amounts to 44.6%. Also, the percentage of people leaving the educational system too early (education not higher than junior high) is low in Poland and amounts to only 5.2%, while in the whole of the EU it is twice as much (10.7%).

Poles do not combine learning with work...

The first worrying signals related to maintaining the initially good results of human capital concern the lack of combining formal education and practice. According to Eurostat, only 2.7% of people aged 15-19 have done any work in Poland (at least 1 hour in the examined week). The EU average is 11.4% and in Denmark or the Netherlands it is even 50%.

The employment rate is worse than expected for those who continue their formal education at the age of 20-24. It amounts to only 11.4% in Poland and, despite the generally improving situation on the labour market, it has constantly decreased over the last decade (18.2% in 2008 and 15.7% in 2010).

Not only is there a lack of motives to promote employment among young adults but also some systemic restrictions are imposed on seeking paid employment. As can be read in "A survey of the labour market" prepared by the National Bank of Poland, a full-time student cannot register at the Labour Office.

...and work with studying

An even more serious problem than low participation during education is the extremely low percentage of employed people who are improving their skills at the same time. According to the latest Eurostat data (for 2016), only 24.7% of adults (25-64 years of age) have participated in any educational process (formal or informal) during the last 12 months. Only three EU countries, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, are achieving worse results than Poland. The EU average is above 40%, 46% in Czech Republic, 52% in Germany, and the leaders in the EU, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden, are in the range of 60-70%.

It may be interesting that Polish students have a low percentage in the categories of gender, age and education. Also in the case of people holding a university diploma, Poles are clearly failing to keep up, only four EU countries are behind.

How can the result be so poor? Perhaps the statement in the Morawiecki Plan that there is still a low awareness of the benefits of lifelong learning in Polish society can explain it. Too many people are convinced that the knowledge they have acquired is sufficient and there is no need to improve.

Further development of Poland is at risk

A lack of continuous improvement in qualifications quite quickly translates into a significant deterioration in the results for Polish adults in the competency tests of PIAAC (reading comprehension, mathematics, problem solving using information technology). As in the case of PISA, the surveys are carried out by the OECD. Unfortunately, unlike the 15-year-olds ranking, here Poland occupies places below average.

Low results of relatively young people (25-34 years old) in mathematics may be particularly disturbing. Poles ranked 17th in this list among the 26 OECD countries in the list, e.g. the US, Czech Republic and Slovakia are ranked 5th and 11th respectively. In terms of the amount of people with the highest results, Poland also ranked low. Only 8.4% of those taking part in the survey were high (level 4 or 5). Here, only 6 countries were worse than Poland and in Finland, Japan and Sweden almost 20% reached the highest scores.

PIAAC Results adequately depict how the high level of human capital represented in the PISA tests and developed during school education is wasted by a lack of adequate policies aimed at the process of continuous learning and improving one's qualifications in adult life.

Without a comprehensive repair of these lapses, Poland will probably not catch up with the developed countries and will have problems with maintaining a distance to the countries of the region, which is clearly visible in the statistics for the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


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