While the Polish system is not quite as polarized as that, many schools in poorer areas do not cut the mustard and let out students who can't even read at a normal level.
I can't really speak about Poland's education at the present time, but from what I remember, it would have been hardly possible for a secondary school (liceum, technikum) student to graduate without solid skills in reading an writing. At the time, relatively small number of spelling errors on a final test would sent you back to school for another year, and that, regardless of what kind of genius you showed in your essay otherwise (expected 10 pages).
What shocked me in the US were questions some Americans asked me when they saw Polish laborers reading newspapers during lunch breaks: are they really capable of reading? :) (the newspapers had very few pictures, and yes, those Polish laborers, were actually reading the text)
I was talking about college-level education, which is reserved for above-average achievers no matter where you go.
I went to Wroclaw University to study English Philology. The University was on the lower scale among Polish universities offering that degree. I later had a chance to study approximately the same at Vanderbilt (USA) and Brock(Canada). In both cases it was a walk in the park compared to Poland. Strangely, on both sides of the pond my profs. were either Brits or Americans.
Again, the studens in North America were eager to discusss and "solve problems" but many had fairly low degree of knowledge on the topics they were supposed to discuss.
When I was in a secondary school in Poland I always had problems with math. About the highest I ever achieved in math there was at a level of a mild imbecile. In Canada I did much much better at a university level while enrolled in computer science.
I think that with the broad availability of information today, the value of memorization is declining, but you still have to be able to analyze what's out there to be able to function in most walks of life.
I still can't see how you can analyze anything unless your brain has all, or most of the material to be analyzed available without having to google while you're discussing a given topic.
Could you offer some examples?