First of all, the Polish Educational System is based on the eastern model. This means that usually, it's ''no electives, must pass everything, FINAL DESTINATION''. This has been changing of late, however, but it's slow in coming. Education up to age 18 (legal age in Poland) is mandatory. Yes, the government ''will'' hunt you down if you don't send your kid to school.
Schooling is divided into tiers:
* Basic School (szkoła podstawowa) - ages 7-13, six years (often translated as Primary School),
* Gymnasium (gimnazjum) - ages 14-16, three years (ofter translated as Junior High School),
* Intermediary School (szkoła średnia), which can be one of the following:
** General Lyceum (liceum ogólnokształcące) - ages 17-19, three years (ofter translated as High School),
** Technikum - ages 17-20, four years (High School with a science- and technology-based curriculum),
** General Vocational School (zasadnicza szkoła zawodowa) - ages 17-18, two years.
* Higher School (szkoła wyższa) - ages vary, duration varies (often translated as College or University).
'''Basic School''' begins at age 7, but parents usually send their brats to some sort of pre-school earlier, where they'll be kept under professional care, rather than interfering with Mommy's or Daddy's career too much. It covers pretty much everything the government expects the average Pole should know. Funnily enough, if one paid strict attention in Basic School, one'd learn ''nothing new'' in Gymnasium or most of Middle School, since much of those is reiteration of what they expected you to forget in Basic School. Basic School ends with a competency exam, which is considered along with your grades to determine what Gymnasium you can be accepted to.
'''Gymnasium''' is also called the repository for misbehaving children, since the attendees are all in a difficult age. Most Gymnasiums are public, but there are a few private ones. Gymnasium ends with a competency exam, similarly to Basic School, and this exam counts towards meeting prerequisites of any Middle Schools one would like to attend.
'''Intermediary Schools''' offer a lot of variety. There are a lot of private and public Intermediary Schools out there. A General Lyceum is mostly a reiteration of what one has been learning so far, with maybe some more complex Maths (if one goes to a school that emphasizes mathematics) and new material in Polish class. There are exceptions, though - if you go to a real hardcore school like This Troper, you might start learning the cool stuff, like Latin, Basic Philosophy, and so on. Technikum is a little less reiteration and more teaching people a job - at the end of it, you get to take a Technician's exam, which is if you pass, entitles you to title yourself a Technician. This is also a kind of school one usually chooses if he or she plans to study on the Technical University. A General Vocational School is, well, for people who barely managed to scrape by or were interested in experimenting with drugs or the opposite sex a little bit too much. It teaches a job, and little else. Standards are very, very low - showing up to classes regularly makes you a star student. On the other hand, main purpose of such school is not general education, but blue-collar professional training. Up to the 80s they were a common choice for people who simply wanted to get a job quickly.
General Lyceum and Technikum end with a Matura exam (very rough equivalent to an A-Level or GCE). This is an important exam, and was in the past the only exam of such caliber one took before Higher School. Passing the Matura exam means you've completed Intermediary Education, and entitles one to apply to attend a university. (You still need to pass the final year of your Middle School, however - there have been examples of people failing one or the other, thus failing to qualify for university at all.)
Ah, '''Higher Education'''. It can be a decade's worth of vacation, or something that breaks a man's spirit. Public and private universities exist in Poland, the former being theoretically free to attend (but you can rack up quite the cost due fees on class/year resits). Private universities require tuition, but are generally lighter on having to take resits. Rather than being organized by school year, as in Basic School, Gymnasium or Middle School, universities organize time by semester - this means failing a semester is a serious affair.
There are currently two titles one can earn through Higher Schools - Engineer/Licentiate ("inżynier/licencjat", equivalent to a bachelor degree and Magister/Magister Engineer ("magister/magister inżynier", equivalent to master degree). The former usually takes about three years, the latter about six. This troper attends a university (and division) where one gets an Engineer title after four years, and a Magister Engineer title after 5 years. Depending on school, it can also follow the regular 3/5 years curriculum common for most two-tiered Bachelor/Master studies.
Now, what is putting yourself through all this good for? You've got a shiny diploma or three. Will it net you a job? Hell no - you're by now overqualified. The way to get a career going is to start attending a university, get a job on the side, ensure the boss likes you enough to keep you, and then quit going to university. ( - if you finish Uni, chances are your employer will NOT extend your employment, because you've begun to be a threat to their own position, not to mention entitled to a much higher salary. In your place, they'll hire some student who wants to earn some money on the side... and who is only marginally less qualified than yourself.)
Then, you ask, why would anyone want to attend? There are a few reasons - for example conscription dodging. It is nowadays obsolete - going to school, any school, excused you from being drafted, until the local Uncle Sam decided to get rid of draft altogether. If not conscription, then, well, not wanting to work (like this troper) - getting into a university that uses mild measures against failure can ensure that one doesn't have to lift a finger for up to a decade. To extend this, one can always apply for a job as teaching assistant.
There is also another, historical facet of this. After the fall of communism, many people pointed out that Poland has much less graduates that Western countries ('Western' being synonymous to 'better developed' at the time) so many people enrolled into universities thinking that education will automatically improve teir living standard. Many of them were right, especially the engineers, programmers and scientists who were in great need during the computerization and technical development performed in the 90s. Many others (lawyers, economists, managers, linguists, journalists, doctors) also found the jobs fitting their education. Then the market was saturated with professionals but the people continued to attend universities. As for now, Poland sports the highest percentage of tertiary education students and graduates in the EU and pretty high unemployment rate among the same age group. The idea of getting a job after Matura and enrolling into University or specialist courses as needed for the career advancement (lifelong learning) is still a rare concept among young Poles.
Everywhere except universities, grades are: 6 ("celujący" - lit. aiming [at the top]), 5 ("bardzo dobry" - very good), 4 ("dobry" - good), 3 ("dostateczny" - sufficient), 2 ("dopuszczający" - passing) and 1 ("niedostateczny" - not sufficient). Most teachers allow grades such as 3+ or 5-, to denote some kind of above or below average score for a grade, but such grades aren't actually legally recognized. It also should be noted that this grading system has been introduced in the late 80s, to people over 40 who do not have their own kids in school may still use 2-5 grading when talking about their school years, similar to the mentioned below.
In universities, the scale is similar: 5.0 (very good), 4.5 (good plus), 4.0 (good), 3.5 (average plus), 3.0 (average) and 2.0 (fail). Some teachers also use 2.5, but it's not a legally recognized grade - it still fails. The only exception is the Medical University that uses the 1-6 grading, similar to one used in basic and intermediary schools.
Thanks to a nutjob education minister, Poland's schools (excepting universities, which aren't subject to the Ministry of Education) have mandatory uniforms. As of right now, there is already a legislation in progress to abolish this, making uniforms a decision the principal makes. When this troper was in school, there wasn't anything such as a dress code - but rather if the teachers found your outfit rather ''too'' daring, you'd get all kinds of unpleasantness, starting with informing the parents what exactly their kid was wearing to school.
** Some schools actually had a dress code before the uniforms became mandatory. This could range from guidelines such as: skirts shorter than so-and-so many centimeters are not allowed to actually having to wear a uniform.
** After novelization of law in 2008 uniforms in schools are not mandatory.
** It's more complicated. Due to the some inconsistencies in the lawmaking process, there were no precise guidelines and many principals had little to no experience concerning school uniforms, so many schools ended up introducing [[CheapCostume haphazard vests]] just to fulfill the word of the law. The idea was promptly abolished. On the other hand, good private schools (usually run by the religious organizations) usually have some kind of dress code, more than often based on the British one.
** In the communist era, school aprons (not uniforms, as they are made of thin material and worn 'over' regular clothes) adorned with the school emblem were mandatory for basic school students. They start to vanish in the late 80s and were universally considered butt ugly.
In universities, it depends. Some have strict dress codes, in others you can go to an exam wearing shorts and a stained T-shirt and nobody would comment.
* It's more or less the matter of courtesy. Most universities does not have any dress code but many older professors consider exam a 'special occasion' and expect students to dress up as they would dress for any public function or job interview. This applies to oral one-on-one exam though and almost no one gives a damn what do students wear when attending written exams.
''Passing and Failure''
As a general rule, you need to get a minimum passing grade in every class in a given year in order to pass. If you fail something, which is rather difficult, since the teachers would rather not have to deal with you for another year, you get to retake that year along with the class which is taking it the first time. If you continue failing, you continue having to retake the year - until you reach age 18, whereupon you can decide to damn it all and stop going to school altogether.
In universities, it's rather harder. You still have to pass everything to pass the semester. If you fail, your first choice is to pay a fee (can be anywhere from an inconvenient amount to a totally absurd amount of money) to retake a failed class in a year's time, while continuing to study everything else normally - there are also strict rules on with how many classes you can do this (typically two or three classes at any given time). If you fail the second time, you get bumped down a year or even a few years (depends on university policy) - paying more fees. If you fail a third time, your final option is to write a 'commission exam' to pass the class. If you fail that, you're thrown out. Due to the large number of students and lax admission policy (at least in comparison to pretty difficult exams of the past) some universities or departments have very strict policy during the first semester or a first year - some do not allow freshmen to retake the failed tests, some state that more than one failure means expulsion.
As a general rule, you get to decide what school you attend. The curriculum and the classes are decided by the Ministry of Education and the school in question. This also applies to universities, though you do get a limited choice of some groups of classes you'd like to take (note that in some the actual decision may be "made for you" by the university's higher-ranking staff, restricted to specific subjects or years, or even combinations of all three at once). Yes, you still have to pass everything in order to pass. Isn't this nice?
Generally, failure on your first try is common and to be expected of at least a large minority. Resits of pretty much everything are commonplace and nobody is surprised when 90% of test takers show up for a resit. Or the resit of a resit. Or the resit of the resit of the resit. Et cetera. There is typically at least one chance to retake any of the major exams at a later time either to improve your result or to pass.
* It depends - 90% resit rate usually indicates that there is something deeply wrong with either students (who may be total slackers) or the professor (who may be unable to adjust the exam to the material he teaches). Of course, nearly every school and department has its TrainingFromHell adherent.
** It varies depending on the subject, school and professor. From what I've seen, the actual rates tend to be around 40%, usually for a mixture of both causes mentiond above.