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Polish Folk High School Association: Grundtvig’s ideas are very relevant to us

At an international seminar in Poland the importance of folk high schools was emphasized with a number of presentations from both researchers, principals and teachers. The country’s folk high schools are experiencing an opportunity for a more permanent support from the state and they are happy that the Danish folk high schools support them

„Folk high schools are medicine for the soul.”
This was said by a speaker to the nearly 150 people who were gathered in early October for an international conference in Szczecin in Poland. The occasion was the Polish high school movement’s 100th anniversary, and the focus was on exchanging knowledge and experiences as well as on the Polish movement’s work to achieve better rights in the country.

During the seminar a large number of presentations were held, and people agreed on the folk high schools’ great importance for the society, people, democracy, health and sustainability.

Tadeusz Pilch, who is a professor of social pedagogy at the University of Warsaw, pointed out in his presentation that Scandinavia is often at the top of lists of the most innovative countries with most public engagement.

„The question is whether it is coincidental or whether there is a reason why the Scandinavian countries are high on those lists. And is that reason perhaps the almost 180-year-old high school tradition in the countries and the money and the support they receive from the government? Unfortunately, we do not get that support in Poland, „he said.

New folk high school association in Poland

Poland’s first folk high school was established in 1921 only three years after the country’s independence. Since then, the number of folk high schools has varied from less than 10 to 79, and today there are almost 20 folk high schools in the country. The schools have often felt pressured from a uncertain economy and a lack of support – but now is the time to work together for better rights. This was announced at the conference by Jakub Mincewicz, president of the new association „The Association of Polish Folk High Schools” .

“Grundtvig’s ideas are very relevant to us at this time. The folk high schools are not an experiment. It is scientifically proven that they are able to do something special and that our knowledge is needed and necessary, ”he said, adding that for him it was about educating and forming the young generation.

Today, nine folk high schools are members of the new Polish association, which according to Jakub Mincewicz is a good start. During the conference, he invited all the high schools that had not yet signed up to join the association as well.

“What do we get out of gathering? We will be able to represent our interests better and together find funding and partners. We will be able to represent a need in Poland and globally. We must remember not only to develop individually. We believe in this collaboration”, he said.

Support from the Polish Government

In recent years, Poland has been criticized internationally for moving in an anti-democratic direction with the national conservative party PiS in front. In early October, the country’s future in the EU was debated after the Polish Constitutional Court ruled that it did not feel compelled to comply with EU legal principles.

The free form of the folk high schools can also seem a bit distant from the country’s approach to education and democracy. But nonetheless, the government has reached out to the high schools and paved the way for greater support for the schools. This is the experience of Ewa Smuk-Stratenwerth, who is the founder and head of the Ecological College in Grzybów and also gave a presentation at the seminar in Szczecin.

„We have not previously tried to work with governments, as they have not been interested in us. Our current government is the first in free Poland to come to us and ask us to take part in a dialogue about the folk high schools. They asked us to share our problems. And they have accepted a program written by us, where we could, for example, say no to having their nationalist approach written in, ”she says, adding that the next step is legislation.

Ewa Smuk-Stratenwerth believes that folk high schools can have a great impact on democracy in Poland.

“As I see it, folk high schools have really changed Danish society and helped to make you Danish. It is a beautiful heritage and you can discuss issues without agreement. We need that in Poland. We do not have to copy the Danish model completely, but we can use it to plant seeds and inspire, ”she says, adding that she is really happy that she managed to gather so many for the seminar.

“There are people who come from established folk high schools that have functioned for several years, and people from schools who only have the name in place. For me, it is a step forward in the history of the Polish folk high schools, ”she says.

Danish speakers
Among the Danish speakers were associate professor Anders Holm, who spoke about Grundtvig, teacher Peter Mogensen from Brenderup Højskole, who gave a presentation on sustainability, and the former teacher from Den Frie Lærerskole in Ollerup, Karl Kristian Ægidius, who received great praise for his support to the Polish high schools over the years. In addition, Secretary General Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen spoke about the role of folk high schools in the democratization of society.

„We are at a crossroads in history. We must develop new ways of thinking and new solutions. The folk high schools are one of the only places where we have the freedom to experiment and find answers to the great challenges we face today. Because we have the opportunity to do something extraordinary. Breaking habits. Play with ideas about how the world could be, and find solutions in them. We are pleased that the Polish government is supporting the Polish folk high schools and hope that they will also take the necessary measures to secure the folk high schools in Poland financially and legally, ”she said in her speech.

About the seminar

„100 years of the folk high schools in liberated Poland (1921-2021)” was held on October 4 and 5 at The West Pomeranian Folk High School in Mierzyn, Poland. It is held together with The Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Szczecin, Polish Naval Academy of the Heroes of Westerplatte and Polish Federation of Folk High Schools.

Folkehøjskolernes Forening participated in the seminar in Poland. The aim of the days was to exchange knowledge, experiences and attitudes as well as to work for a high school law in Poland.

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