Back to school in Hungary

On September 1 Hungarian children are returning to school, and the press is full of complaints about the financial burden this places on the family. Before I go into some of the details of what Hungarian schools demand, a sidenote and a personal hobby horse. In Hungary the educational establishment, specifically the ministry of education, still hasn't figured out that it would be much cheaper for the parents if the schools or school districts, similarly to the practice here, purchased textbooks and lent them to the children for the year. If a child ruins the textbook then the child's parents will have to compensate the school for the loss of the book. Otherwise the book is lent out to a new child the following year. Some textbooks can have quite a long life expectancy (until they become outdated). This practice teaches children to take care of the books that don't belong to them, and it is decidedly less wasteful than having parents purchase brand new books each year. And the textbooks are not cheap.To give a few horrifying examples, especially considering average Hungarian wages: the price of the first-grade textbooks in a Budapest elementary school (Szent László Általános Iskola) is 8,000 Ft ($50), for fourth graders 11-13,000 Ft ($70-$80), and for seventh graders 16,000 ($100).

But that is not the end. I'm not even sure whether I will find the English equivalents of all the items that the school demands because I don't know what is what. The above mentioned elementary school has an arrangement with one particular store for the basics; this package costs 6,000 Ft. (almost $40). However, it's incomplete and most likely includes only crayons, pencils, erasers, notebooks, and such. But the school usually demands a great deal more than that. I am copying the list attached to an article in Népszava, "This year it is a bit more expensive to begin school." So, here in paragraph style, starting with the Hungarian description (since sometimes I'm guessing at what these "must-haves" are) is the shopping list for parents of first graders. I will give the total price at the end.

(1) Tisztasági csomag (hygiene package: towel, glass, a package of napkins, Kleenex); (2) Tornazsák (fehér zokni, póló, shorts, jó minőségű tornacipő ) (gym bag: white socks, T-shirt, shorts, and good quality sneakers); (3) Ünneplőing, illetve szoknya vagy nadrág (clothes for special occasions: usually a white shirt/blouse and blue pants or skirt); (4) Iskolatáska (backpack); (5) Papírdosszié (paper folder); (6) Vízfesték (watercolor set);  (7) Dobókocka (dice? What's it for? Taking on Vegas?) (8) Stift vagy folyékony ragasztó (This is a bit of a mystery but it is either "stift" or liquid glue); (9) Vékony, vastag ecset (thin and thick brush);  (10) Olló (a pair of scissors); (11) Üzenőfüzet (a little book in which the teacher sends messages to the parents); (12) Leckefüzet (I guess this is a booklet in which homework assignments are recorded); (13) Papírcenti, 100 cm (measuring tape, thank God from paper and therefore cheap); (14) 2 csomag írólap (two packages of writing paper); (15) 10 db boriték (10 envelopes; I wonder what these are for); (16) Zsírkréta (I assume some kind of crayon); (17) Gyurma (modeling clay); (18) 30 félfamentes rajzlap A/4, 20 famentes rajzlap A/4 (drawing paper); (19) 2 csomag kivágóminták (színes papir) (colored paper for cut outs); (20) Korong (that is a disk but I can't fathom what the kids need this for); (21) 1 db hangjegyfüzet, 2 db négyzethálós füzet, 3 db vonalas füzet (1 notebook for music, 2 notebooks for math, 3 notebooks for writing); (22) Hurkapálca (skewer; another mystery); (23) Tolltartó, 12 színes ceruza, 1 radír, 1 hegyező, vonalzó (pencil holder, 12 color pencils, 1 eraser, 1 pencil sharpener, ruler).

My head is spinning. I checked what my local Connecticut elementary school demands for first graders (the only outlay for their parents) and found this: 1 pencilbox, 1 pack of 16 Crayola crayons, 2 folders, 2 Elmer glue sticks, 1 pair of blunt scissors, 1 ring binder, 2 pink erasers, and 12 #2 pencils. How modest for a town that was awarded not only the "best small town in Connecticut" award but also the "most expensive small town"!

And now let's see what all this stuff costs the poor Hungarian parents. The supplies I mentioned above will cost 14,000 Ft. in addition to the 8,000 Ft. for the textbooks. That is a handsome 22,000 Ft or over $135. For a first grader?! As I already mentioned, the cost of textbooks goes up as the children move from grade to grade. So it's no wonder that parents are complaining. 

I really wonder whether all this is necessary for a first grader. I guess if the school wants to teach them musical notation in the first year the kids need a rather expensive notebook. But is it possible? Is it necessary? I understand that the Hungarian school system is set up such a way that it crams too much into the first year or two. In the end the kids don't have a firm grasp of the three R's. In spite of all this fancy stuff a good 25% of fifteen-year-olds can't understand what they read. They are functional illiterates. This in a country that until recently thought of itself as excelling in education, in learning, in cultural achievements. Something has to change. But how?

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Lia
Guest

FYI a ‘stift’ is a glue stick. 🙂

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Lia: “FYI a ‘stift’ is a glue stick. :)”
You’re so clever! Thanks.

Lia
Guest

And, yes, zsirkreta are indeed, crayons…

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Lia: “And, yes, zsirkreta are indeed, crayons…”
So, it was a good guess! You know when I went to elementary school they didn’t even know what a crayon was! As for the old Greater Orszagh Dictionary, surely one cannot find such words in that thing. But, don’t let me start on Orszagh. He drives me crazy. I’m sure he put an immense amount of work into it, but the final result leaves a lot to be desired.

Lia
Guest

Re Orszagh: there was a major overhaul of the Hungarian-English version that I know about in 1998-1999. I believe they’ve done more work on it since. There are worse examples: http://www.pestiside.hu/20080626/tittie-apples-win-this-weeks-hungarian-translation-booby-prize/ Re all the stuff kids need in first grade here: perhaps it seems like a lot because in the US the school may still supply some of this stuff automatically. I just don’t recall. But I do recall that in US elementary school, all of our so-called supplies fit into an actual cigar box, which my mom decorated with patterned ‘contact paper’. Now, when I send my soon-to-be 4th grader to school here, her stuff barely fits into a boot box and a couple bags 🙂 P.S. I still think she’s getting a better elementary education here than in most public schools in the US. And I say that as a rabidly proud American.

Pál Marosy
Guest
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy Back to school in Hungary – The other side of the story The author of article does not mention the benefits of the children and the parents with children in Hungary. The meal for children is subsidized. For those in need is free! The parents get a fair amount of money for each child every month, they have to do nothing for this money. It is about 5000 HUF (30 USD). Some of the parents with several children live only from this money. Another benefit is the money received for buying a house. The amount of money depends on the number of children. It can be 2000000 HUF (~12500 USD). One can say: something for nothing. My friends from Turkey were laughing when a talked about this. They do not get anything like this. An other benefit is the subsidized school manuals. Those in need get it for FREE: needy families, single parents. Indeed not everybody gets the manuals for free, but hey, this is western style democracy where you have to pay for studying. The days of communism have… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Pal Marosy: – “The other side of the story The author of article does not mention the benefits of the children and the parents with children in Hungary.”
No, the author didn’t because this is an entirely different topic. I was simply struck by the extensive media coverage of the expenses at the beginning of the school year. Given Hungarian salaries these expenses are pretty high. Higher than here and the USA is not exactly a welfare state.

Lia
Guest

Note to Pal Marosy: nothing is FREE. Our taxes (those of us 2 million morons who actually pay them) are paying for the so-called free lunches, textbooks, etc. So please don’t tell me how good we have it in Hungary, due to the ‘free-ness’ of everything. I’d much rather pay less taxes and then pay for what I actually use, i.e. books, lunch, education, health care, etc. … but that’s just the fiscal conservative in me talkin’…

Pál Marosy
Guest

“Note to Pal Marosy: nothing is FREE. Our taxes (those of us 2 million morons who actually pay them) are paying for the so-called free lunches, textbooks, etc.”
Forgive me but that is not exactly the truth.
Those things are coming only partially from our taxes. The other part comes from foreign loans. You might be surprised, but part of the money comes from our English readers (from the US, Western Europe, etc.)
Welcome to the real world.

Adrian
Guest

Eva,
“Pal Marosy: – “The other side of the story The author of article does not mention the benefits of the children and the parents with children in Hungary.”
No, the author didn’t because this is an entirely different topic”
Not an entirely different topic: I have three Hungarian children, two at elementary school, one at kindergarten, because of this some of our education expenses are subsidized.
– Free schoolbooks
– 50% subsidy on school and kindergarten meals
In addition, my employer – a high school – pays me a subsidy of 10,000Ft per schoolchild.
My wife estimates this is worth 224,000 Ft a year, about two months of my net salary. It all comes to us because of our THIRD child, with two we would only get the employers subsidy of 20,000 Ft a year.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Adrian: “My wife estimates this is worth 224,000 Ft a year, about two months of my net salary. It all comes to us because of our THIRD child, with two we would only get the employers subsidy of 20,000 Ft a year.”
I’m on Lia’s side on this issue because I’m a fiscal conservative. I think it would be much better if your salary were higher, enough to pay for the expenses you mentioned. After all, you are a teacher and therefore your salary also comes from the central budget. I think it would be a great deal cheaper. Just think of expenses accompanying all this redistribution.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

All is now explained! I have often noticed many huge ‘Bergens’ trotting along down the lane with a tiny pair of legs underneath them. I have often wondered what was going on and why? Now I know! At that age I carried a tiny satchel containing a slice of bread with a scrape of margarine/sprinkle of sugar for my break, pencil, and a clean piece of rag (my handkerchief). Every thing (even cloth) was rationed.

Adrian
Guest

Eva,
“I’m a fiscal conservative. I think it would be much better if your salary were higher.”
In principle I agree, I am no supporter of unnecessary bureacracy. I made the post to emphasise how significant and complex these transfer payments are, not to advocate them.
But it should be emphasised again that the bulk of the benefits rolls in because we have a third child, the policy has a demographic not a redistrubutive aim. Some economists
http://hungaryeconomywatch.blogspot.com/2007/12/just-why-is-hungary-so-different-from.html
believe that demographics limit Hungary’s prospects for economic growth. By focusing these transfer payments on families that have three plus children, the government provides an incentive for having children (not that I think most families are planned around incentives). By paying them through the school system, only families whose children attend school benefit, thus providing an incentive to send your children to school.
If you agree with Hungary Economy Watch, that Hungary needs a large well educated work force to secure economic growth, and that transfer payments do provide incentives for family and educational behaviour, any policy change should address these issues.
PS we realised last night, we overstated the annual figure (no school meals during the holidays) it should be 194,000 Ft a year.

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