The prevalent model for handwriting education in Poland is a loop-less, fully-joined vertical cursive, which can be traced back to primers by Marian Falski, the first of which was published in 1910.
Education in Poland is governed by the Ministerstwo Edukacji Narodowej (MEN), or Ministry of National Education, through its Ośrodek Rozwoju Edukacji (ORE), or Education Development Center. It is overwhelmingly publicly funded, and although private schools exist, they are a small minority. There are three levels in the Polish education system: przedszkole, or pre-school education, for ages 3–6 years; szkoła podstawowa, or primary school education, for ages 7–15 years; and szkoła średnia, or secondary education, for ages 15–20 years, with its first four years known as general secondary school. Education is compulsory starting from preschool and until graduation from general secondary school.
As a result of the educational reforms of 2017, textbooks are now provided for free, including in e-book format, as part of two government programmes. They can be accessed through the educational platform of the Ministerstwa Edukacji i Nauki, or Ministry of Education and Science, which also offers digital materials for primary and secondary school students. The textbooks published by the ORE include primary school primers, which were last published in 2020.
Poland’s podstawa programowa, or core curriculum, is published by the Ministerstwo, and available online where it is continuously maintained. It mentions handwriting education very briefly, stating that the country’s goal is that students must learn to write by hand, legibly and fluently, in sentences and continuous text.
In Poland, the prevalent model for handwriting education is a loop-less, fully-joined vertical cursive, and students are taught upper and lowercases simultaneously. Handwriting primers show samples of this style, alongside instructions on how to draw them. When it comes to reading, students learn that through a serif typeface.
The Influence of Marian Falski
The work of Marian Falski (1881-1974) is central to the approach to handwriting education in Poland. He was an engineer who studied psychology and pedagogy at the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute, who was interested in the topic of children’s literacy.
In 1910, Falski published his first handwriting primer called Nauka czytania i pisania, or Learning to read and write, at a time when new ideas about education were sweeping across Europe making existing textbooks appear dated and ineffective. His primer became the cornerstone of Polish literacy education, and it was the only compulsory textbook in the subject for decades. It was updated by Falski himself for many years, and was reprinted several times, even after his death.
Before Falski, textbooks in Poland were usually cheaply produced, and targeted towards various different social and religious groups, including guilds. These books all featured letterforms based on English Copperplate. In contrast, Falski advocated for completely vertical writing. This was keeping in line with the widespread sanitary movement in Europe, and its health-related warnings against slanted writing, which was seen as causing postural problems and myopia, and was generally considered less “hygienic”.
Made by Klemens Kostecki, the calligraphy samples in Nauka czytania i pisania are clearly the basis of the handwriting style taught in Poland today. Letters are fully joined, unadorned and feature un-looped extensions that are shorter than the Copperplate models of the time. Letters “p” and “b” have closed bowls, and and those with descenders require a rather artificial exit stroke to connect with the next characters. In the ogonek, the curved stroke is on the right, and the finial on the left, a design decision that caused a controversy of no small amount.
Even though Falski’s primer has had different titles, illustrators and calligraphers over the years, the calligraphic style featured in them has remained largely unchanged. Under the name Elementarz, it was last published in Warsaw by Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, or **School and Pedagogical Publishers, in 1974 and has been reprinted several dozen times.
The controversial design of the ogonek, as seen in the 1956 edition of Marian Falski’s primer, Elementarz (Falski 1956).