Or rather its total lack of it. Learning throughout life (continuing education) was and still is a totally alien concept in Hungary. First of all, in the Kádár regime one rarely needed to learn new things. If you were a skilled worker in one of the large state factories your future was absolutely secure. It almost never happened that the worker lost his job or that within that factory entirely new skills had to be acquired. I guess one reason for this absence of learning was that the machinery the workers used didn't change a lot over time. (Most of the Hungarian factories' equipment at the time of change from socialism to capitalism was hopelessly obsolete.) As for continuing education (a hot topic in the Hungarian media lately), it was limited to a very small group of people such as medical doctors, researchers, and university professors. I'm almost certain that a high school teacher of history didn't bother to read much after he got out of college.
A few days ago there was a conference organized by UNESCO on the topic of adult education and it turned out that the Hungarian situation is really bad. In Europe Hungary is dead last. Only about 5% of the adult population is involved in formal learning of any sort. Let's say, taking courses on handling the computer, using a word processing program, or getting around on the internet. The situation is especially bad in the older group, fifty and over. Only 5% of Hungarians over the age of 50 use the internet, as opposed to 30-40% of their peers in Western Europe, and even this 5% for the most part confine their use to e-mailing.
There is a late night program on ATV, Változások (Changes), that has in-depth discussions on various topics. For the last two weeks or so the theme has been public education. As part of the series the four experts had a vigorous discussion that began with a startling observation. One of the panelists claimed that Hungarians are not inclined to learn later in life because they think they know everything already. And they think they are superior to their neighbors. During the Kádár regime they got used to the idea that Hungary was the most desirable (or the least awful) place to live in the Soviet bloc. This false sense of superiority was further fueled by the relative successes of the first few years after 1990. The economy picked up, people started to live a bit better, and they somehow thought that this was going to last forever. Of course, economists and sociologists knew perfectly well that beneath the surface there are serious problems: half a million people with less than an eighth-grade education, another one million with no skills, too few people in the workforce, etc. Here and there attempts were made to organize job training programs for the uneducated and unskilled, but (as often happens with such programs) the students learned totally useless skills. People finished the course and there was still no job. No wonder that their enthusiasm didn't last long. What to do with these people, I haven't the foggiest. It seems that the Hungarian government doesn't know either.
Going back to non-job-related adult education, formal and informal. Americans have long had a fetish for self-improvement and a desire to learn new (often hobby) skills. They get together in informal literary clubs to discuss classical literature, modern fiction, or hot-button nonfiction titles. In almost every high school in the evenings there are adult education courses. At our high school one can take Arabic, flower arranging, introduction to computers and the internet, cooking, knitting, ballroom dancing, basic computer maintenance, ceramics, Spanish, tap dancing, yoga. Should I continue? The fees vary but are usually under $100. For the wealthy, universities organize foreign tours for alumni with the expert assistance of a faculty member. For no cost at all, people can listen to entire college courses. Many universities put some of their more famous lecturers on the internet. Recently I listened to 26 lectures on the American Civil War and Reconstruction, and currently I'm trying to squeeze in a course on Greek civilization.
Hungary is a wasteland in this respect. Once upon a time was a lecture series called Mindentudás egyeteme (University of all knowledge) that was very good. You could see it on television and on the internet. The funds given to the progam by a multinational corporation dried up and the series came to an end. Again, it was good but it was obvious that putting on these lectures was expensive. A huge lecture hall had to be rented, the lecturers had to be paid, and most likely they had to pay something to the television station as well. How much cheaper and simpler it is to videotape a university lecture. The professor comes free because he is giving his normal lecture for which he gets paid by the university. The only other expense is broadband service for the university's web site. And often foundations foot the bill.
One final thought. Using one's brain is apparently necessary for older people's mental health. Use it or lose it, the saying goes. Perhaps if Hungarians were more active mentally throughout their life they would feel younger and more fit. As for physical activity that is another story. Equally depressing.