Back to school: The Fidesz government’s educational philosophy

By now it should be perfectly clear to everyone that the new government created by a "revolution" in the voting booths takes the word "revolution" literally. Eveything but everything must be changed. The latest is that ambulances will be painted yellow! I wonder when the Budapest streetcars will become red. Oh, pardon me, not red, orange.

The first Orbán government paid MIÉP handsomely because István Csurka and his fellow MPs were willing to play the role of "silent partners," which the Fidesz-Smallholders coalition badly needed, especially in the second half of its four-year term. MIÉP desperately wanted to shape the media in its own image, and Viktor Orbán let them have the public radio and television stations that became mouthpieces of right-wing propaganda. Now, although the Fidesz-KDNP government has a two-thirds majority, this two-thirds majority can be maintained only as long as the Christian Democrats are ready to support the government. The opportunities for "blackmail" are numerous: abortion, discriminative legislation concerning gays and lesbians, closing stores on Sundays, preferential treatment of churches, especially the Hungarian Catholic Church, and yes, education. That's why a small-minded high school teacher whose religious conversion was quite spectacular received the coveted job of undersecretary in charge of education. For the sake of the Christian Democratic partners Orbán was ready to drop his old friend, Zoltán Pokorni, whom everybody expected to be the next minister of education. After all, he held the position in the first Orbán government.

Although recently Viktor Orbán allegedly tore Rózsa Hoffman, the woman in charge of education, into shreds, my feeling is that by and large her ideas are not all that different from Orbán's when it comes to educational philosophy. The goal is to go against the international trend of higher educational attainment of the population. It reverts back to an elitist system where there are relatively few university graduates and workers don't have more education than, let's say, they had fifty years ago. Why should a factory worker learn history or literature? A good example of this Fidesz-Christian Democratic educational philosophy is lowering the age of compulsory school attendance from 18 to 16. I can already see hundreds if not thousands of sixteen-year-olds who will decide that they have had enough of school: all those useless subjects can be left behind. But then what? What can one do at the age of sixteen with at most ten grades? Flip burgers. 

So, on the one hand, the government is making sure that "the lower classes" remain where they are: their sons and daughters who don't particularly like school can quit at the age of sixteen, and those who do finish high school will have to compete for fewer slots at the universities and colleges. There seems to be a tendency to move toward a system that characterized Hungarian education for a very long time: a relatively small educated elite versus a large barely educated mass. This is the worst possible direction anyone can take today. In the European Union there is a stated goal of 40% of university graduates in the population as a whole. The last Hungarian data I found was that about 30% of the age group between 18 and 22 are attending college or university.

I am not terribly surprised that Orbán and his cohorts would like to return to the good old days when there were relatively few university graduates. In the 1980s when Orbán graduated from law school only about 6% of people between the ages of 18 and 22 attended university. Just between 1990 and 1999 the number of students attending university doubled, and by now has quadrupled. This doesn't sit well with with many professors and alums. I talk to a lot of people who bitterly complain about the drop in standards. I'm sure that this is the case but, let's face it, not all history majors must teach history in high school or university. I just heard that people working as prison guards in California must have a college degree. This is a new world and Orbán is wrong if he thinks that the world will imitate not only Hungary's new constitution but also his old-fashioned ideas about education.

There is another frightening prospect for elementary and high schools. Since the change of regime schools have been under the jurisdication of the municipalities. The "founding fathers" were mindful of the importance of local self-government. Viktor Orbán hates all this freedom on the local level. In his mind that leads to chaos. For example, he points to the incredible indebtedness of the cities and towns because the mayors and the city councils were free to borrow even for daily expenses. That is true, but the municipalities have almost no other sources of income than the money the central government allots to them. And that is not quite enough. A big chunk of the money goes to the upkeep of schools and one municipality after the other tries to get rid of them by handing them over to the churches. Rózsa Hoffmann made that move very easy. Before she assumed her position, if a municipality wanted to hand over the school to the church, it had to share expenses with the new owner for three years. Hoffmann changed that. As soon as the contract between the municipality and the church is signed, the church has full ownership minus the real estate. By now there are municipalities where there are non-parochial schools whatsoever. Whether the parents want to send their children to parochial school or not, they have no choice. Thus, Hungarian education sooner or later will again be in large part in the hands of the Catholic Church. And that Catholic church is extremely conservative if not reactionary. Soon we may see a rerun of the situation in the city of Pécs before 1950 (then population of 70,000): there was not one non-parochial high school in town. You weren't a Catholic: tough luck. You suffered discrimination against "the children of other religions." The Christian Democratic control over education is pointing in this direction.

The future is rather gloomy: "workers" will not have the opportunity for a college education, the number of college and university students will drop, a large number of the municipal schools will be in the hands of the Catholic Church. Or perhaps, and this is also a possibility, the local schools will be nationalized. The ministry will appoint the principals and will most likely approve the one textbook that will have to be used in all state schools. Hoffmann already announced that using different textbooks is nonsense. Everybody should study the same subjects from the same books.

All in all, a brave new world is emerging but one that will set Hungary back even more in the global economy.

 

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hu-ro
Guest

Are the Horthy times coming back?
Stupid patriots rule with the help of the Christian mullahs (schooled in Tehran).
Depressing.
Let us hate the minorities is the emerging ruling principle.
Let us export a lot of Richard Fields to Hungary, to save the people there.

Lutra lutra
Guest

Hungary can only embody a modern, mobile civil society if the population is better educated in both higher education and lifelong learning.
Orbán and the Church seem to want a society where everyone knows their place.
Ergo, Orban believes that we don’t need no education

Member

On the university access question, I notice a big difference in attitude amongst students in Hungary as opposed to the UK where I attended university. In the UK the general way of doing university is to complete the course in the minimum 3 years or whatever. In Hungary people seem to take about twice as long as the minimum to finish university. They quite often graduate in their mid to late 20s with no work experience and having studied at quite a relaxed pace; not exactly the ideal prospective employee. I can see that this might to discourage this.

Member

Uneducated people are much easier to manipulate, and also serve better the interest of the “elite”. Hungary is going back to the class system where education will become a privilege. Limited access to higher education by creating barriers will in deed help to turn out a labour force that can be paid a little, expect a little and fills factories and other institutions. As larger companies are moving in to Hungary for cheep labour (Audi, etc.) what they looking for are people who are reasonably educated, but not educated enough to “move on”. Yes, it is important to have factories in order to employ those who are satisfied (for whatever reason) with the type of work provided, but then again the tail wags the dog here. The other reason education will be “cut back” is to make people dependent on Hungarian opportunities. With well educated people who speak other languages, the Hungarian migration could be unstoppable, and there is a constant cry about how Hungary’s population is shrinking. Versus making sure that a system will be built where doctors, teachers and other professionals would be paid fairly, Fidesz goes the other way to retain people in Hungary.

Member

Aren’t these “propaganda threats” on the higher education to prepare the public for the stink bomb that will follow? The drastic tuition increases?

Jano
Guest
Eva: I don’t know if you’re just unaware of the situation or ignore it, but you have to know that at least third of this 30% are sort of Patomkin diplomas. They indicate no real knowledge, no real usability on the job market. The reason is twofold. One one hand keeping useless schools alive is a job creator of teachers, while on the other hand it boosts the statistics you just cited (and as this example shows the stat magic is working) and also the unemployment situation, as you can classify a lot more people as students who’d otherwise be unemployed. This has a huge drawback of course, namely, it is an enormous waste of money. The important number is not the ratio of the population with a higher education degree but the ratio which describes how many people are working at jobs requiring university education. I think the rationalization attempt is legit and long due, we have to know what we are dealing with. Of course one has to be careful, as for example closing Corvinus would be utter stupidity. I’d rather have less people with degrees as long as the remaining ones are actually worth at least a… Read more »
Member
Jano: If you do not mind, I throw in my opinion. The problem you are mentioning has to do with the quality of the education, then that should be addressed. If the quality of the students who gain admission is not up to standards that need to be addressed. If the educators are not qualified to teach by higher standards that also needs to be addressed. I do not agree to reverse the order and say if we cut back on the number of places offered at higher education that will solve the problem. Most countries in the Western world are aiming to have a better educated population. In Toronto the school board is currently debating several option regarding how to keep more students in school to finish high school. They go as far as suggesting to pay for students to stay in school. Students are highly encouraged to attend collages or universities, as to provide them with a competitive edge even for “smaller” jobs. By not providing opportunity for all for higher education will create a streamed system, just like in the 70s, 80s, 90s Hungary where you often needed connections or your family needed to be in “good… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “I don’t know if you’re just unaware of the situation or ignore it, but you have to know that at least third of this 30% are sort of Patomkin diplomas.”
I don’t quite understand why you think that I choose to ignore something I know to be the case. I guess you think that by not mentioning this or that I want to twist the truth.
But you are wrong. I’m only too aware of the shortcomings of Hungarian higher education. When not one Hungarian university is among the first 300 in the world even the better ones cannot be compared to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or Yale. Out of the sixty some universities I’m sure that a goodly number are terrible but Hoffmann and company are not talking about these but the better state universities.

Jano
Guest
Eva: I just meant that you might have not thought it was relevant. What you described is a very sad thing, but you also have to keep in mind that the financial possibilities of e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, MIT, NYU, etc. (I could go on forever) are not even comparable to a Hungarian institution and when the rankings are made a lot of factors are decisive which is in strong correlation with the university infrastructure. I think this works in favor of fewer but a lot better equipped universities. Out of the 60 something universities, I would say at least 40 are just diploma factories or doing exactly the same as some other place is already doing but with a lot higher quality. It breaks my heart to see people who worked hard for their degree ending up serving french fries at the McDonalds just because the Hungarian university system (and the degrees offered) is lightyears away from the reality of the job market. On the other hand I have to pay an astronomical sum to the alcoholic electric technician since no one else is doing that job anymore. We are on the same page (and also with someone,… Read more »
Member

Jano: ” I don’t agree that everybody should go to university, I know what the European trends are and I have to say I don’t agree. ” I think the North American system is like that too. I agree with you that it should be quality eduction for people who can keep up, but in reality, there are many overqualified people who fill various jobs. If you hire someone for whatever post, for sure you would like first for qualification, experience, but when all things are even you would pick the one who has “better education”. So, you must consider that most students are aware of that, so they aim hire in order to make the best out of what they have. As far as quality of education go, if we take Orban, he had great background, law school, scholarship and all, so he should know better regarding many of the steps he takes are unlawful. Would he/should he get into a university today based on his doings regarding law? Is it the fault of his education what he delivers?

Member

@Jano I don’t believe in a “centralized system”. Sure it will be managable, for the government at least. By the way what do you mean by manageable?
What I would do is the opposite. Decentralization and privatization. “Serious” tuition fees, so students feel the “weight”. But these only work if they are coupled with a very efficient student loan system, starting from subsidized loans but also a good market for private loans. In term of the “education quality” very strictly enforced accreditation standards are needed. In this system it would be like, “Do you want a degree? Your money, your problem”.

Jano
Guest
Mutt: “Do you want a degree? Your money, your problem” Although there is a point in this hard libertarian argument, most of the Hungarian population is just not able to afford that in this way. And that would work a lot more towards an elite based system, but that elite won’t be the smartest and the most worthy but the people with daddy with a thick wallet. I’ll also have to remind you, that the cut back in the number of state financed places still allows anyone to seek a self-financed degree (what’s the best term for költségtéritéses?). Actually the cutback works in the direction what you just described. I agree with some sort of tuition though. Or at least the state financed places should have a lot higher standards to maintain funding. The only plan of Hoffmann I agreed with so far was the strict rules to keep on being funded (like no more than two attempts to pass a course in one semester. This resulted in a huge upheaval, even some of my friends were outraged about it, and then I told them that here in the US or at least at the place I am right now… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest
Jano, now that you nearly “secured” your education you think that not many people with such education are needed? Your arguments sound good but considering that you apparently benefited from another system for me it does not appear very fair at least. The fact that Hungary does not have too many resources is not only a question of being less affluent than say the US or the UK. There is also the fact that Hungary made nearly no progress in growth during the past 10 years (less then its peers), which would have also raised the money available for universities and education. A concentration on core universities could be one way out but given that they will have to be “politically obedient” (if it is even debated to close Corvinus because of its “liberal education”) it is unlikely to produce the results you hope for. And out of some strange reason, it need not be the knowledge actually acquired on universities but just the fact that people came in contact with higher education and the type of learning and research done there, that makes them better equiped to think about other issues in life also (how society works etc.). In… Read more »
Jano
Guest
Mutt again: Under manageable, I mean that the both financial and non-financial resources can be provided and used a lot more efficiently. Someone: “Is it the fault of his education what he delivers?” I never said that quality education produces angels. Orbán is well educated, he know the law, he is totally aware of what he’s doing I’m sure. Education can affect a persons personality but at the end of the day won’t change it radically. And that’s not even the goal. “whatever post” – That’s not true. E.g to hire a a carpenter, you won’t care about their degree in scandinavistics. Of course, I know what you are talking about, I never said that education is bad, what I’m arguing against is the disrespect against people who does not go to university but seek other professions. They work just as hard as us (if not harder) and their work should be appreciated accordingly. A country needs excellent carpenters a lot more than unemployed people with liberal art background working in fast food restaurants. The reason I feel so strongly about this is I’ve personally observed two cases in which the kid wanted to get a non-university degree profession (by… Read more »
Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Over the past few posts I have been thinking what can I add to the heaps of fertiliser emerging from the Fidesz camp? I also considered the burble eminating from ‘Johnny de Troll’. I came to the conclusion I could add nothing. So I will tell the tale of ‘Ngulu’ or N’Gooloo as it is sometimes spelt. I always seem to think of it these days whenever Fidesz or the ‘Mighty One (OV) is mentioned’ Before a certain colonial power gave independence to somewhere it realised that the ‘official artificial insemination program’ for the local herds of cattle depended entirely on stuff coming (by air) from the colonial power. This would never do, so it built a ‘Bull breeding station’. This was in the highland part f the nation, in the land of the Cassowaries. After independence the Minister came to visit and inspect the station. He of course was to make a speech. On the appointed time the minister Mr Megawattee (who came from the Mazawattee tribe) came to speak. All the Cassowary chiefs and the paramount chief were there, as was the official Cassowary ‘Barker’ or ‘cheer leader’ –a high office in Cassowary society-. The minister’s cousin Mr… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “Orbán is well educated.”
Here we differ. Someone who after high school enters law school as they do on the Continent cannot be well educated. Well educated to my mind means of having a well rounded liberal education. I think here of the Anglo-Saxon system used in English-speaking countries.
Just read some of Orbán’s hairbrained ideas about religion, history, philosophy or even politics and then you’ll know what I mean. One gets the impression that some of his “advisors” feed him with “ideas” but since he is not well read, all this new knowledge is floating around in his head in an awful confusion. Go to his website (orbanviktor.hu) there are hundreds of his speeches and you will see what I mean.
I may add that I think he lacks intellectual curiosity. Nothing else interests me but soccer and political intrigue.

Member

I will add to Eva’s last comment that Orban got into law university, but his father was well positioned in the Communist Party, while Orban himself was the secretary of his highschool Young Communists League (he went on to do the same in University). I am sure he had his reasons, but I never heard what those reasons were. In my highschool kids became members, so they would be well positioned for university entry, or well positioned to receive better marks. Again I do not find anything wrong wit this, until the very same people who sucked up to the system turn around and blame everyone else (see Flying F00k Johnny Boy). The point is that what and how Orban got into university will remain a guess. University education does not equal wit he term well educated, well read, open minded, intelligent and such. In some cases on the other hand equals with righteousness and an uberall attitude.

Member
@Jano Taking responsibility for your life is not a “hard libertarian” idea. People should feel the pinch for their decisions to pursue higher education. Of course the state should pitch in, but not with fully founding the schools. As I mentioned a very robust student loan system is required for this to channel the money to the institutions via the students so to speak. But a serious contribution is a must. A system where kids fart around in a college for 5 years for almost free then at the end they are whining to the government that there are no jobs … is, well, bad. (Gosh, since I’m college educated, I think I have to use a bigger word here … like ‘unsustainable’. Yeah that’s it.) In this system the people will ‘regulate’ the need. If kids keep signing up for a certain discipline, then that’s the one. The state should have no word on it. The state’s job is to serve us after all, isn’t it, Jano (wink) ? The word elitism keeps popping up in the post. Actually what is that? Is that when guys with a certain diplomas think they are automatically smarter then us? Especially rich… Read more »
Member

“Well educated to my mind means of having a well rounded liberal education.”
Dang. I new that masters degree in engineering just makes me a hillbilly …
Happy mother’s day to our Blog Mother!

Member

Here we differ. Someone who after high school enters law school as they do on the Continent cannot be well educated. “Well educated to my mind means of having a well rounded liberal education. I think here of the Anglo-Saxon system used in English-speaking countries.”
Law school is undergraduate in the UK, Ireland and most Commonwealth countries except Canada.

Member

Our boy is actually Oxford educated! He spent 6 months in the Pembroke College. And get this. He studied ‘political philosophy’. George Soros payed for it.

Member

David: “Law school is undergraduate in the UK, Ireland and most Commonwealth countries except Canada.” Meaning you can only enter law school in Canada after you have earned your undergrad degree from anything (music, science, history, whatever).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

David: “Law school is undergraduate in the UK, Ireland and most Commonwealth countries except Canada.”
A pity. The Canadian and American system is better to my mind.

Member

Gyurcsany on the ATV at 6pm (today, 5/8).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “Gyurcsany on the ATV at 6pm (today, 5/8).”
In Kuncze’s program?

Member

Yes. The “Kommentar”.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “Our boy is actually Oxford educated! He spent 6 months in the Pembroke College.”
Well, six months at Oxford is not exactly Oxford educated. If I recall he was supposed to stay there for a year but rushed back to Hungary because of the political developments in Budapest.

Member

Right .. The exams were coming.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “Right .. The exams were coming.”
Big smiley. At that point his English wasn’t very good. Even in his first term when he met Bill Clinton he couldn’t really finish his short greetings and in the middle he asked to be allowed to switch into Hungary. Lately I heard him speak in English and he has improved considerably.

Member

Rozsa Hoffmann’s speech (undersecretary of education), yesterday at the Ministry Of National Resources (open day):



Education? Say what?

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