OER textbooks in Polish schools: a year later

Research & Education
re:publica 2014

Short thesis: 

A year ago Polish teachers, parents, open education activists, and textbook publishers were in the heat of a discussion over a bold pilot programme out to create a set of open educational resources - libre-licensed textbooks spanning a part of curriculum. Today bold got bolder, with a plan to introduce libre-licensed government-commissioned textbooks to every school. Publishers are concerned about their business, teachers and parents about quality and political entanglement of content.


Textbooks are a hot-button issue in Poland. With an annual set cost for a single child at around 150EUR covered by parents, and the minimal wage at ~280EUR/month, this is understandable. Evenmoreso when one considers that textbook publishers use variety of methods to ensure that schoolchildren cannot use last-year or older textbooks from their older siblings or bought on the second-hand market. This is going to change soon, due to government-mandated open textbooks programme.

The way free market for textbooks in Poland is construed - teachers choose, parents pay - makes it ripe for unsavory tactics: influencing schools' or teachers' choice by financing equipment or "trainings" is common. Parents foot the bill, with financial help (to the tune of ~32mln EUR) being provided by the government for the poorest families.

Enter open textbooks programme: in 2012 the Ministry of Education decided to pay ~11mln EUR for a pilot programme, creating a limited set of textbooks that not only will be available in digital formats, but will also be licensed under libre CC-By license, making it possible to update them year-by-year without re-printing, and giving teachers the power to use the content in innovative, new ways, remixing it and expanding upon it freely.

Textbook market in Poland is worth ~250mln EUR, hence the programme was met with vehement opposition from textbook publishers, financing a nationwide black PR media campaign. OER activists and NGOs tried to counter that with subject matter information and reasoning, which proved an effective tactic.

Today Polish government moved from a pilot programmet for a limited set of textbooks and schools to preparing to provide libre-licensed textbooks for the whole curriculum, available for all schools, and the black PR campaign is yet again being wound-up. There are legitimate concerns (like the possible political entanglement of content), and bogus ones ("parents will have to pay for iPads for their children to access the content").

Regardless, the programme is the most bold and wide government-supported introduction of open educational resources to schools in the world, bringing open education into the wild. Libre/Open Educational Resources (OER) and Free Software in Education make a lot of sense. Education, after all, is an art of sharing knowledge, and this sharing should not be restrained by copyright or other artificial constraints. It's high time to own up to that simple fact.

stage 3
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 -
15:30 to 16:00