Digital Poland? A long way to go.

In the audited period the percentage of people with at least basic digital skills has gone up from about 46% at the end of 2017 to about 50% at the end of 2020. More and more people prefer to have their issues resolved via internet. Also the number of households having at least one computer is growing. Digital skills gained significance in the COVID-19 era when internet surfing skills and working from home became crucial. Though, according to the European Commission report on digital progress DESI, only 44% of Polish citizens had basic digital skills, whereas the EU average was 56%.

Efforts to improve digital skills of the society were taken by numerous entities, including the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, two ministries and municipalities. There was no single entity in place to coordinate, monitor and support other entities to improve digital skills in the society.

Minister of Digital Affairs

In the audited period, the Minister of Digital Affairs drafted three programmes to support the development of digital skills in the society. The last one was the Digital Skills Development Programme 2030. It was prepared before the end of 2019 but the Minister submitted the relevant draft act to the Council of Ministers only in December 2020, which NIK finds inadequate. The Council of Ministers failed to adopt the Programme by the end of the NIK audit. According to the Minister of Digital Affairs, adoption of the Programme is scheduled for the third quarter of 2022.

The Minister of Digital Affairs investigated the situation in the digital skills area. The analysis revealed among others that despite a considerable drop in the number of digitally excluded persons in 2019-2020, about 13% of Polish citizens are outside the scope of the digital economy, e.g. they do not make electronic transactions or purchases. Interestingly enough, the analysis also showed that Poland is among the EU countries with the lowest employment level of women in the ICT sector.

In the COVID-19 pandemic period, when schools and other educational facilities operated in a limited scope, the Minister of Digital Affairs created a website, providing support to teachers, school principals and students in remote learning. From March 2020, proposals of educational materials and tools were placed on the website.

Minister of Education

The Minister of Education and Science made sure 62 digital textbooks and about 30 thousand other digital materials for general and vocational education in primary and secondary schools were published on the Integrated Educational Platform. In 2018-2021 (until 30 June), over 580 thousand teachers participated in training programmes to improve their digital skills and in other forms of professional development. However, the Ministry failed to specify performance indicators to evaluate digital materials for schools. That made it impossible to tell if measures taken in this area were effective.

From the school year 2017/2018, the Ministry of National Education systematically implemented subsequent changes in digital education. IT classes for pupils in primary schools were introduced as part of the education reform. From the school year 2019/2020, the changes also covered secondary schools.

In 2020, in view of the COVID-19 epidemic, an ad hoc study was conducted for the needs of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. The study addressed remote learning in the time of suspending classes in universities. The study showed among others that in case of 88% of remote classes, university teachers used email contact with their students. Only 15% of remote classes were conducted using external materials and courses. Besides, 72% of universities participating in the study did not have access to open educational resources, such as digital textbooks or the whole courses which could be provided to other entities.

The Minister of Education and Science failed to analyse the needs of academic staff in terms of developing digital skills. The Ministry explained that this analysis is part of the report prepared by the National Centre for Research and Development of 2020. The report indicated among others that there was a shortage of hardware, software and tools for online work in universities. Therefore, it is essential to develop the universities’ IT infrastructure. Also, teachers need to learn how to operate IT equipment and software designed for online work. Despite the NCRD report findings, the Minister failed to develop the concept of preparing and using digital educational materials in universities or developing digital skills of academic teachers. The reason was he did not want to interfere in “the universities’ autonomy”.

Municipalities

The majority of audited municipalities included digital skills development in their strategies and took efforts to define their inhabitants’ needs in that respect, e.g. by means of surveys or consultations during village gatherings. All the municipalities took information and promotion activities, e.g. highlighting advantages of resolving customer issues via internet.

The municipal offices effectively and, in most cases, properly executed grants for the development of digital skills as part of projects of the Operational Programme Digital Poland for 2014-2020, co-financed from the EU funds, thus achieving the assumed results. In 24 audited municipalities over 6 thousand persons in total were trained. In 58% of institutions single irregularities in grant execution were identified. However, they did not have any significant impact on final results.

The audited municipal offices took efforts to develop their inhabitants’ digital skills, although the municipalities’ own tasks did not explicitly define any obligation to do so. In all 24 audited municipalities, computer skills workshops, courses and training programmes were provided to their inhabitants of all ages, especially elderly persons. Educational activities were offered not only by educational facilities but also libraries, community centres or social welfare centres. 

In all the audited municipalities, teachers participated in various forms of education and professional development, such as: courses, training programmes, workshops and post-graduate studies.

Recommendations

To the President of the Council of Ministers and the Minister of Digital Affairs to:

  • appoint a single entity responsible for coordination of activities taken by institutions participating in the development of the society’s digital skills;
  • finish works on the Digital Skills Development Programme and implement the Programme.

To the Minister of Education and Science to:

  • consider the need to develop a concept (strategy) for preparing and using digital educational materials in universities.

Article informations

Date of creation:
22 April 2022 12:26
Date of publication:
22 April 2022 12:26
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
22 April 2022 12:26
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
Illustration: hands on the laptop keyboard, electronic system model with icons of a person, cog-wheels and jigsaw puzzle © Adobe Stock

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