Hungary’s government is traumatizing teachers, students and parents

More than 5,000 teachers, students and parents took to the streets of Miskolc last week, in what may have been a first in modern Hungarian history, to demand that the Orbán regime in Budapest end its heavily centralized and authoritarian approach to public education, where teachers and school administrators are stripped of all autonomy and where they are ordered to essentially turn students into unthinking, uncritical robots and serfs. More than 30,000 Hungarians from across the country signed a petition declaring solidarity with the Herman Ottó High School in Miskolc, which spearheaded the teachers’ revolt, and 732 institutions nationwide joined the cause as well. Days after the revolt in Miskolc, the regime’s 41 year old state secretary for public education, Mrs. Judit Czunyi, was removed from office and was replaced with László Palkovics, who seemed open to one of the central demands of the teachers, namely to eliminate or vastly scale back the scope and authority of the Klebelsberg School Maintenance Centre (KLIK), which today interferes in every aspect of the daily life of all public schools in Hungary.

Teachers, parents and students march in the northeastern city of Miskolc on February 3rd. Photo: MTI.

Teachers, parents and students march in the northeastern city of Miskolc on February 3rd. Photo: MTI.

Zoltán Balog, the Minister of Human Resources, to whom the state secretary for public education reports, claimed rather incredibly that Mrs. Czunyi’s removal had absolutely nothing to do with the growing protests. The fact that the two events coincided was apparently nothing more than a mere coincidence, in Mr. Balog’s explanation. And while Mr. Balog agrees that there are challenges to overcome in the field of public education, he feels that things are moving in the right direction.

Many school administrators in Hungary would disagree with the minister who oversees a monstrously large ministry. For instance, because the centralized system created under KLIK is unable to handle the vast administration required to run schools across Hungary, utility bills in several small rural schools remained unpaid. On Monday, an elementary school in the town of Gyöngyöstarján was unable to resume classes, because heat was shut off, after KLIK failed to pay several months worth of gas bills on behalf of the school.

The situation only gets worse, though. The Népszava daily reported late last year, that even in KLIK’s headquarters in Budapest, the landline phones remained disconnected and there was no internet for weeks, due to large debts and unpaid bills. Teachers across Hungary consistently receive their pay cheques late, or they receive less than the amount to which they are entitled.

The Orbán regime created an incredibly centralized, highly controlled public education environment, where teachers are to discourage critical thinking among students and simply stuff them with indigestible amounts of lexical information, and where they and principles must follow the marching orders of KLIK. Yet the system is totally chaotic, overburdened and can’t manage the most basic tasks.

The Budapest president of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), Ágnes Kunhalmi, published a lengthy column on the hvg.hu website today, in which she wrote that schools must prepare students not for 1930, but for 2030, in a clear reference to the uniquely regressive nature of public education under the Orbán regime. Ms. Kunhalmi argues that schools must be centred on the needs of students and children, and must prepare them for the fact that 70% of today’s kindergarten students will eventually be employed in fields and tasks that don’t even exist today. As such, ingenuity, flexibility and creative, critical thinking must be emphasized. All of these are, naturally, anathema to any dictatorial regime.

“Just like lamp lighters, ice cutters and telephone operators have disappeared, so will other professions vanish in the future…The role of a modern school is not simply to impart knowledge, but to build the student’s ability to keep learning over the course of an entire lifetime,” writes Ms. Kunhalmi. Yet instead, by forcing teachers to do little else, other than pump massive quantities of lexical information into students, without any regard for the student and his/her unique abilities, Budapest is traumatizing everyone involved in public education and discouraging future generations of young Hungarians.

“In 2030, nobody can use the excuse that, ‘sorry, but the government 15 years ago was foolish and built a centrally-controlled planned economy, and that’s why I can’t complete the task at hand,'” wrote Ms. Kunhalmi.  “Today’s educational policy failed not because a good idea was poorly implemented, but because it was destined to die from the very beginning. Those directing educational policy tried to play a hundred year old record in 2010. It is certain that Fidesz will come to an end. The bigger questions, however, is: What type of public education system do we want when they are gone?”–added Ms. Kunhalmi.

The revolt in public education continues this coming Saturday, with a national demonstration planned for Budapest.

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4 Comments

  1. Charlie London says:

    I can imagine Zoltán Balog presiding over his massive ministry – rubber stamp in hand!

    He just looks a gormless idiot and of course we saw his (Lutheran?) religious bigotry when he gave some of the poorest children a ‘treat’ at a top BP hotel!

    I bet he has all his emails printed off and then writes instructions on the paper copy – probably like Orban too.

    The ‘rubber stamp’ amuses me in Hungary – if you take something back to a retail shop you have to queue at different places collecting stamp after stamp after stamp – ending up sometimes with everything covered in red, green and black ink with concomitant initials.

    Spar supermarkets are the doyens of the rubber stamp! They all wear white coats! And only slide open the window when they’ve finished their gossip and have exercised their power in making you wait – but reserve a particular disdainful look as though you smell (I don’t!).

    The rubber-stamp fest was just unbelievable to get a couple of cheap fridge magnets with proof at a ‘turo-rudi’ purchase!

    Imagine what it’s like collecting authorised initials and rubber stamps across the distributed education system!

    It’s the same probably with Matolcsy too probably – seeing him trying to work the IT is a hoot!

    And then there’s creationism and Darwinism. I bet all that is controlled by the gormless Balog – and the Roman Catholic Unchristian church (KDNP?).

    However we have problems here too but I would suggest they are extremely rare here:

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/03/headteacher-mocked-twitter-claim-evolution-not-fact

    Yes Rubber – Stampship is a wonder to behold in Hungary!!

  2. “Budapest is traumatizing everyone involved in public education..”

    Best word to describe the government policy. People have to be traumatized first so that they can reprogram them, slowly instilling their poison until they beat them all into oblivion.

    Anybody has the antidote?

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