Historical story

Stupid as ... a pre-war student

strong> It is commonly believed that we are witnessing a drastic drop in the level of high school graduates. At the same time, the education of the magnificent Second Republic of Poland is given as a role model. Some even say that the pre-war matura exam is equal to today's master's degree! People who lived before the war would certainly not agree with them

Reading the pre-war newspapers makes it easy to establish that the lecturers of the interwar period were devastated by the level presented by graduates and students. As reported in March 1939, the Lodz "Republika" was widely agreed that the intellectual level of high school graduates is frighteningly low .

Some teachers and lecturers did not stop there, pointing also to the glaring lack of education leaving the walls of Alma Mater! In the aforementioned article, the journal gave several examples confirming the above thesis. It is probably worth quoting them and thus at least partially verifying the myth of pre-war education .

Ah, today's youth

According to the research conducted by Dr. Józef Pieter (psychologist and pedagogue), the state of knowledge of young people wishing to enter studies at the end of the 1930s was terrible. The news from astronomy is erroneous ( ignorance of the causes of changing seasons ), chemistry is also insufficient ( fat is sometimes called an element ).

Research by Dr. Józef Pieter was not the best proof of the knowledge of interwar high school graduates.

Anyone who thinks that maybe at least in the case of humanistic knowledge it was better would be wrong. None of these things. As the scientist sadly noted:

Information about the system was the subject of special lectures (in the so-called "Science about contemporary Poland), so at least some elements of the concept should be known. Rather, it is quite the opposite. For example, to the question Name the main authorities of the modern state Only in one case was the legislative, executive and judicial authority the correct answer.

In the majority of cases, the answers were:President Mościcki, the cabinet of ministers, voivodes, starosts i. t. d., to the question of what is the opposite of a democratic system? the answers were mostly inaccurate, and sometimes they were true curiosa [...], the following were mentioned:monarchy, fascism, oligarchic system, soviets, ancient states, aristocracy, Nazism, constitutional system, kingdom, theocracy, crowd rule - all possible forms of the system.

No better image of the youth of that time was presented by prof. Kazimierz Bartel - five-time prime minister and lecturer at the Lviv Polytechnic. Namely, he stated that 58% of the students did not know who Rajmund Poincaré was - president and five-time prime minister of France, who died a few years ago! In addition: 11% could not say anything about Galileo. 48% did not know who Ryszard Wagner was.

Also pre-war students were to show considerable gaps in general knowledge (coloration:RK).

However, the most critical was the economist prof. Adam Heydel, working at the Jagiellonian University. He cited many "interesting" cases.

And so, after asking about the definition of the word "Orthodox" , the answer is "Orthodox". On the other hand, for some, the "questionnaire" is a piece of paper that is used in a store or office to write names. There were even those gifted who did not know how much 5% is from 200, explaining that they did not have a paper and a pencil to compose an appropriate… equation. Worse yet:

there are doctors of both laws who do not know if Hungary borders Poland, and the former Courland describes "such a small country" between Lithuania and Russia, and Germany - in their opinion it is a country lying between Russia and Poland ...

The cover page of the issue of "Illustrated Republic", which served as the basis for this article.

Nihil novi sub sole

The Krakow scientist not only pointed out mistakes, but also pointed to the reasons for the terrible condition of Polish education. They were:

  1. Bad preparation in high school is due to its organization and its methodological attitude.
  2. A home environment showing extremely poor resources of general culture.
  3. Overcrowding of universities.

Doesn't that sound familiar? Also, the commentary of the Łódź daily to the whole matter could well be included in an article written not more than seventy years ago, but today:

Primary school and high school, while implementing modern pedagogical and methodological slogans, went too far, devoting too much time to teaching (forever) some cardinal things. It turns out that The ridiculed pre-war school, dry and verbalistic to the core, however, was able to teach much more than our modern school. […] It must be endured as soon as possible an order to award at least 90% of students to the next grades.

So, as we can see, the unsurpassed level of education in secondary schools in the Second Polish Republic is largely just a myth. Perhaps it is worth taking this into account when, when discussing the miseries of contemporary Polish education, someone will again refer to a pre-war high school diploma equal to the current master's degree.


  • The low level of academic youth is the result of errors in the education system in general and secondary schools , "Ilustrowana Republika", March 8, 1939, p. 7.