What I'll do next after the polytechnic

Polytechnic schools: Those who remain, go to the poly

Vienna - The Polytechnic School has filled a gap since it was founded. In 1962, the federal government decided in a school reform to extend compulsory schooling from eight to nine years. A new type of school was invented for the new, additional year. The idea: The last year should round off compulsory schooling and provide orientation for the professional world. That didn't work out. The polytechnic school, also known colloquially as poly, suffers from a decline in students and has become a residual school.

"There come those who can't find anything else," says Michael Fellner, who for the past two school years has taught at a Vienna Poly as a teacher with a special contract as part of the private initiative "Teach for Austria". The main problem, especially in Vienna: Many of the students do not speak German enough. In the capital, 73 percent of this type of school have a different colloquial language; in total, it is fifty percent across all types of schools in Vienna.

Different levels

In the 2015/16 school year, 20 percent left the Polytechnic without any further training, in Vienna it was even 28 percent. "The levels are extremely different," says Fellner. For example, he had a Serb in his class who was a great mathematician but couldn't understand the information. Others spoke German, but could not do arithmetic. Still others would have massive family or economic problems.

"I was able to give full throttle for two years, I knew that I would study afterwards. But teachers who are supposed to do this for thirty years have to set limits for themselves, otherwise they will burn out," says Fellner. The 26-year-old will soon start a master's degree in Sweden.

According to the curriculum, it is the task of the polytechnic schools to prepare the pupils for the career decision and to "expand the general education of the pupils in an appropriate manner". After an orientation phase, they can choose a subject area that they want to deepen. Depending on the school, this is, for example, the metal, construction, office or tourism sector.

"Cancellation only"

According to Fellner, this orientation phase of a few weeks is far too short. "The students have no idea what they want to do with their lives." In his classes, he has therefore concentrated on professional orientation and writing applications for apprenticeships. For many students this is frustrating. "You write seventy or eighty applications and only get rejections." Since the companies do not rely on the school system, they have designed tests themselves. Most of Fellner's students failed these exams. "Many go to the AMS after school." In general, graduates from Polys in Vienna are rather unpopular with companies, says the teacher.

This is one reason why some students complete the final year of school in a middle or high school. There are transition classes for those who struggle with regular lessons. There are two such groups at the commercial academies (HAKs) in Vienna and one at the higher technical institutes (HTLs).

A director of a polytechnic who wants to remain anonymous criticizes these classes. Only a few students made the leap into the regular school system. "After one year the students are completely without orientation and without an apprenticeship. The polytechnic school with its wide range would be the right one for them."

Fred Burda, state school inspector for commercial schools, contradicts this. 75 percent of the students in the transition classes at the HAK would then attend regular school, and help would also be given to find an apprenticeship. Bernadette Frauscher, inspector for the HTLs, sees it similarly, but confirms that many use the transition classes as a "bridge until the end of compulsory schooling". "Parents are very averse to the poly."

Neos want to upgrade poly

For Christoph Wiederkehr, Vienna City Councilor for Neos, the solution lies in upgrading the Polytechnic and abolishing the transition classes. "The current system doesn't work, there are too many deficits." You have to counter the trend that the poly is becoming a secondary school. He therefore proposes that the polytechnic schools be extended by one year to two years. "Then there is a year to make up the educational deficits and one for career orientation."

Education Minister Sonja Hammerschmid (SPĂ–) cannot get much out of this when asked. "This consideration is not entirely understandable for us," it says from the ministry. From the ninth grade onwards, there are a number of school types that either enable a further educational career or entry into the dual training system.

School trial is running

The school trial "Poly 2020" is currently underway, with the aim of changing the curriculum so that the type of school is ultimately upgraded. The evaluation is already finished, but the ministry must first process it and draw conclusions from it, according to Minister Hammerschmid's office.

Until then, the students at the Poly will have to be content with the hope of dedicated teachers. Fellner is particularly proud of a Serbian student with whom he found an apprenticeship as a waiter in a hotel on the Ring. "He now knows exactly what he wants, and that's why he made it." (Lisa Kogelnik, 4.9.2017)