The new Hungarian education system: The model was France

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before. Rózsa Hoffmann, the Francophile, most likely turned to the French system when under her stewardship the whole Hungarian primary and secondary education system was turned upside down. Among other things, she wanted children to start their language education with a romance language (clearly she had French in mind) and wanted to discourage the study of English because it was too easy. At least it was very easy according to Viktor Orbán, who greatly regretted having focused on English as a student. I wonder what would have happened to him as a politician on the world stage if he had learned only Russian.

So, after all, it seems, Viktor Orbán was not the prime architect of the new system although most likely he and Hoffmann saw eye-to-eye. Surely, a highly centralized educational system must have appealed to Orbán who thinks that all problems, economic or otherwise, can be remedied by increasing centralization. Both might have recalled their youth when life was simple: the central government imposed a national standard so everybody was taught the same thing. And perhaps Rózsa Hoffmann sang the praises of French education, which is highly centralized. Whatever the precise scenario, Hungary will now imitate the basically nineteenth-century French educational system.

All educati0n programs in France are regulated by the Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et de la Vie associative. The ministry is huge and the minister of education is “one of the highest-ranking officials in the cabinet.” The budget of the ministry is  €64.6 billion. The ministry is responsible for 15 million students, and the 1.5 million teachers and university professors are civil servants. The idea of enrolling all children in kindergarten at the age of 3 is most likely also borrowed from France where between the ages of 3 and 6 children attend “maternelle” classes which are normally attached to the regular schools that children attend between the ages of 6 and 11.

Rewind

Apparently, the French system hasn’t changed much since the 1880s when Jules Ferry, the minister of public instruction, created it. The curriculum is determined by the ministry. Classes are large and students have to take far too many subjects.  The question is whether this old-fashioned system is effective in the twenty-first century. If we look at international statistics, France is not exactly in the forefront of educational achievement.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes an annual report called “Education at a Glance” in which they use such metrics as educational performance, class size, and teachers’ salaries to rank countries. According to the 2012 report France and Hungary are neck to neck in the middle of the pack that includes countries like Thailand, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan. In Europe Finland leads in reading comprehension, mathematics, and science. In reading comprehension France is #21 while Hungary is #25. In mathematics France is #22 while Hungary is #29. In science Hungary is #22 and France #27. Well, if I had a two-thirds majority and if I were willing to turn the whole education system upside down, I wouldn’t imitate France. I would try to learn from the Finns. But Viktor Orbán would never turn to Finland because the Finns’ egalitarian attitude toward education would not align with the interests of his constituency, the upper middle class.

The Hungarian system may end up even worse than the French because while in France there are 26 districts in Hungary there will be 175. And to make matters worse, in Hungary a new administrative unit was established to serve as an intermediary between the schools and the ministry, the so-called Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ (Klebelsberg Center). Yet another layer of bureaucracy.

A few days ago a reporter from a Hungarian Internet newspaper talked to Nelly Guet, who has extensive experience with the educational systems of France, Germany, and Switzerland. She had little positive to say about the French system, and she emphasized that the European Union’s recommendations go against the kind of centralization characteristic of French education and just introduced in Hungary. Guet pointed out that the centralized system introduced in the 1880s served a kind of “nation-building mechanism” that would make a child from Bretagne the same as one from Paris. Moreover, at least that French reform was secular as opposed to what the Orbán government is doing by bringing religious education into the public school system and encouraging the churches to take over more and more schools.

Guet quoted a few “achievements” of the French system. Thirteen percent of students don’t finish high school because compulsory education ends at the age of 15. In Hungary the dropout rate is actually lower: 11%.  French children, just like the Hungarians, leave school without learning a foreign language. Although a European Union goal is that at least 50% of all students who finish high school get a college degree, that figure in France is only 27% while in Hungary last year it was 35%. (Hoffmann and Orbán are doing everything in their power to lower that number!) Interestingly enough, the best French students leave France to study, and they often work abroad. In France, just like in Hungary, life-long learning is an unknown concept.

A typical Hungarian story. The efforts of the last twenty years to make the Hungarian educational system more flexible and to prepare youngsters for the modern world have been overturned. The country is going back more than a century to find a model that will make its students less competitive both academically and professionally. Madness!

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I would like to call readers’ attention to a new Internet publication entitled The Hungarian Historical Review (http://www.hunghist.org/). The first double issue includes some studies dealing with urban history. I especially enjoyed “In the Web of Political Language. Verbal Warfare and the 1945 Change of Regime in a Residential Building in Budapest” by Ágnes Nagy. It describes the tensions between “the genteel” and gentile Aranka Richter and her Jewish neighbors before and after the liberation. A fascinating read.

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Paul
Guest

My wife tells me that compulsory school age in Hungary is to be lowered from 7 to 6, so I assume this is all part of this? If so, then these changes are not all bad.

Although I think we send our kids to school too early here in the UK (my son will start school at only 4 years and 2 months old), I’ve always thought 7 was far too late. Especially as in some cases, children actually started well after their seventh birthdays.

And my experiences with my Anglo-Hungarian children growing up with Hungarian children of the same ages has confirmed my doubts. At 6, my daughter could read and write in both languages while her contemporaries were still being encouraged to sleep each afternoon in the local óvoda. Kids want to learn at 5 and 6, they don’t want to be treated as babies.

Paul
Guest

“I would like to call readers’ attention to a new Internet publication entitled The Hungarian Historical Review (http://www.hunghist.org/)”

This looks excellent, Éva – right up my street! Many thanks for drawing it to our attention.

gdfxx
Guest

“French children, just like the Hungarians, leave school without learning a foreign language.”

The French think that their language is the lingua franca, and it is indeed still used many international organizations and in the former French colonies. I guess this is how they justify the lack of teaching another language in school. Hungarian is somewhat less popular.

The fact that there is no foreign language instruction in Hungarian schools is surprising to me. In Romania – and thus in Transylvania – they used to teach Latin and at least one more foreign language (in addition to Russian, which was dropped in the late sixties). I must add that this did not guarantee that most students left high school with usable knowledge of a foreign language.

cheshire cat
Guest
About when to start school. The first classes in Hungarian school are nothing like in an English school. Reception in England is a lot like a Hungarian ovoda, except that they begin to learn how to write. But in Hungary, once you are in school, you have to sit at your desk for 45 minutes in one go several times a day, you are not allowed to get up, talk, fidget. It is quite horrible, I think, and the difference between the ovoda and school is so big it is a huge challenge for most children. That’s why parents have been increasingly holding their children in the ovoda for as long as possible: to delay the shock. Tamas Vekerdy, a famous child psychologist has been advising so for decades! to save the children, so to speak. A desperate attempt to compensate for the mistakes of a bad school system before lower primary education gets properly reformed. Now that you mention Finland (they come up as first in other education system results as well, not only in OECD’s reports, it is rather fascinating!) – Finnish children also start school at 7. On the whole, I agree with Paul: starting school at… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest
It’s seems quite fitting that I’m sitting in Paris talking about the 1900 century qualities of the French and Hungarian schools systems. I guess I don’t hang with the “right” crowd because the people I work with in France work hard, are very productive and are pretty smart. I think I’ve mentioned this here once before, OV sent at least one of his kids to the American school in Nagykovácsi. The real sick thing in the this school system is all the rout memory work…You don’t really have to learn anything is your good at memorizing things and can parrot them back. And oh, I love the testing. It’s perfect, don’t want to teach, give the kids a test.. oral is best as you have to mark on the spot so no extra work at home. And, the strict adherence to the book. The asteroid and the meteor were two events that could have been used to get kids engaged in science. I asked my youngest if they mentioned it in physics and she said no.. even though they are covering material relevant to both events. It’s like how to make something more b-o-r-i-n-g than one can imagine! I’ve taken… Read more »
Jean-Paul
Guest
To introduce (without contesting the general analysis with which I agree) some precisions concerning the French system: – There is one foreign language taught from age 11 (optional, but it’s mostly English) and a second from age 13. It’s just that this teaching is terribly inefficient. But it suffices to look at the lack of knowledge of foreign languages of American, English, Spanish etc children to realize that the mastery of English or other foreign languages of Northern European children is more an exception than a rule. – The French system is indeed quite bad in compensating social inequalities (to the contrary of, for example, the Finnish one), and the success of children is predominantly determined by the social/cultural capital they bring in from home. In fact, the French system is competitive to the extremes and is very efficient in raising a small -15-20% of the students- elite that is extremely well-formed and will continue in the elite and very selective universities (“Grandes écoles”), another 20-25% that have a good level and go to the non-selective universities, but it leaves behind all the rest. That explains the bad results in educational performance that are evaluated based on the system as… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
Firstly, student performance rankings (reading, science, math) quoted in this piece come from the PISA study, not Education at a glance. Between 2006 and 2011 the French stopped cooperating with the Pisa project, resuming only in 2012. It is likely that when the new results will be published, France will not fare well; however results before that are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Second, education is compulsory in France until 16, not 15. Third, I don’t know where Mrs Guet found her figures, but several of them don’t make sense, notably because the percentage of French aged 25-34 with a college education exceeds by far that of Hungarians (see Education at a glance, table A1.3a). And “the best French students leave France to study” is plain wrong. Actually, the best upper secondary students compete for the national ‘grandes écoles’, which will ensure their career in big French corporations or at the top of the government. Only the second best enter University – and yes, for those aiming for instance at PhD and post-doctorate levels it is often better to go to the US. The elitist nature of the French education system is one of the reasons why… Read more »
Paul
Guest
Eva S. Balogh : Paul, children normally enter school at age of six in Hungary. Some parents hold their children back because they think that being a year or two older they will do better in first grade in comparison to six-year-olds. It is sick! Éva – our experience is different – all my children’s cousins and their friends and neighbours have started school in the school year after they were 7 (some some were nearly 8). And CC is right, the difference between óvoda and school is huge – the poor kids go from a loving, gentle, child-centered environment straight into a Gradgrindian, Victorian system, where they sit at rows of desks and memorise ‘facts’ all day. If ever something demonstrates the two faces of Hungarian culture/society, this is it – the contrast between how children are loved and cared for with the way they are ‘educated’. I would have no trouble at all with my children attending óvoda (although only until 5 or 6), but no way would they go to school in Hungary (which is exactly why we still live in the UK). CC is also right about the way children are introduced into school in the… Read more »
The cause
Guest

Nowadays roughly the half of the Hungarian pupils who enter the school belongs to the so-called Roma minority. The average roma children had even enormous problems with the Hungarian language too. (most of them also can’t speak their own ethnic languages too.)

The cause
Guest

“If we look at international statistics, France is not exactly in the forefront of educational achievement.”

It is true for the United states. Just look the ratio of Nobel awarded scientist of USA. More than half of them were not born or educated in the USA. USA has a wrong ratio of Nobel-award / capita.

The cause
Guest

It is very surprising but true: The successful economy ans prosperity are not based on the educational system of a country.

Paul
Guest

I do love these nutters! No danger of HS getting boring with these loonies around.

“of Nobel awarded scientist of USA. More than half of them were not born or educated in the USA” – in a country built almost entirely on immigration? What a surprise! (if remotely true)

And, surely, the question regarding such non-native success, is not ‘why there?’, but ‘why not here?’ For instance, what is it about Hungary that discourages its best sons and daughters from staying in their country of birth?

The cause
Guest
And what about the American and Canadian system? Canada has only twenty scientists for 33Million people: It doesn’t sound so good…. Ralph M. Steinman, Physiology or Medicine, 2011 Willard S. Boyle*, Physics, 2009 Robert Mundell, Economics, 1999 Myron Scholes*, Economics, 1997 William Vickrey*, Economics, 1996 Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, Peace, 1995 Bertram N. Brockhouse, Physics, 1994 Michael Smith, born in the United Kingdom, Chemistry, 1993 Rudolph A. Marcus*, Chemistry, 1992 Richard E. Taylor, Physics, 1990 Sidney Altman, Chemistry, 1989 Henry Taube*, Chemistry, 1983 David H. Hubel*, Physiology or Medicine, 1981 Saul Bellow*, Literature, 1976 Gerhard Herzberg, born in Germany, Chemistry, 1971 Charles B. Huggins*, Physiology or Medicine, 1966 Lester B. Pearson, Peace, 1957 John C. Polányi, born in Germany(of Hungarian parents), Chemistry, 1986 William Giauque*, Chemistry, 1949 Frederick G. Banting, Physiology or Medicine, 1923 Ernest Rutherford, born in New Zealand, Chemistry, 1908 Eva S. Balogh : @MarcelDé: “The elitist nature of the French education system is one of the reasons why it doesn’t score well overall. This is what a few figures in an article cannot tell, and also why they shouldn’t be used as the sole basis for debate when talking about education. But this is… Read more »
The cause
Guest

But Canada has only 15 scientific type ( Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry or physics) of Nobel award.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
But this is exactly the problem. Today, the elitist type of educational system doesn’t satisfy the demands of the economy

I agree, I’m only surprised you didn’t choose that angle. Furthermore, what do Hungarians themselves want for their children?

The French are still rather keen on their ‘republican elite’ approach (which started before the Revolution and was largely developed by the Empire), most of them only wish it was more socially inclusive – ie, that kids with lower social backgrounds had a real chance to get to the top.

Guest

Our trolls are getting crazier and crazier – maybe we should ask it about all those Hungarian scientists who had to flee Hungary: Von Neumann, Teller, Szilard, Karman, just to name a few …

The cause
Guest

Wolfeus, Germany also has a Wrong ratio of scientific type of Nobel-awards / capita…. Especially after World War one…..

wolfi :
Our trolls are getting crazier and crazier – maybe we should ask it about all those Hungarian scientists who had to flee Hungary: Von Neumann, Teller, Szilard, Karman, just to name a few …

Guest

@The cause: So are you putting Hungary and Nazi Germany in the same position ?
Hm, I thought you Fidesz guys always say that Horthy etc were not antisemitic fascists …

PS:

I think you’re in the wrong place …

The cause
Guest

I didn’t put Hungary and Nazi Germany in the same position. Germans caused and planned the Holocaust, and they forced countries like Hungary to send Jews to concentration camps. Don’t forget: Nazi Your Germany occupied Hungary in 1944 and you installed fascist regime of Szálasi . It might Horthy was an anti-semite, but he was not nazi or war-criminal like Hitler. That’s why he was not imprisoned after the War. Horthy was considered a reliable witnesses at Nuremberg Trials against nazi war-crimes. Horthy was not even of the list of MOSAD, (Dont forget the list of MOSAD was much more longer than the war-criminal list of Allied powers)

wolfi :
@The cause: So are you putting Hungary and Nazi Germany in the same position ?
Hm, I thought you Fidesz guys always say that Horthy etc were not antisemitic fascists …
PS:
I think you’re in the wrong place …

LwiiH
Guest

The cause :
I didn’t put Hungary and Nazi Germany in the same position. Germans caused and planned the Holocaust, and they forced countries like Hungary to send Jews to concentration camps. Don’t forget: Nazi Your Germany occupied Hungary in 1944 and you installed fascist regime of Szálasi . It might Horthy was an anti-semite, but he was not nazi or war-criminal like Hitler. That’s why he was not imprisoned after the War. Horthy was considered a reliable witnesses at Nuremberg Trials against nazi war-crimes. Horthy was not even of the list of MOSAD, (Dont forget the list of MOSAD was much more longer than the war-criminal list of Allied powers)

wolfi :
@The cause: So are you putting Hungary and Nazi Germany in the same position ?
Hm, I thought you Fidesz guys always say that Horthy etc were not antisemitic fascists …
PS:
I think you’re in the wrong place …

I love revisionists… it’s like a good bed time story.

Member

Orban will use taxpayers’ money again to deliver government, i.e. party propaganda to each household & the money will go through a company belonging to the fidesz nomenklatura:

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130225_GiroSzasz_akcio

The cause
Guest

AHA, United nations and international Court of Justice (Nuremberg Trials) and MOSAD are revisionist organizations? Are you kidding?

LwiiH :

The cause :
I didn’t put Hungary and Nazi Germany in the same position. Germans caused and planned the Holocaust, and they forced countries like Hungary to send Jews to concentration camps. Don’t forget: Nazi Your Germany occupied Hungary in 1944 and you installed fascist regime of Szálasi . It might Horthy was an anti-semite, but he was not nazi or war-criminal like Hitler. That’s why he was not imprisoned after the War. Horthy was considered a reliable witnesses at Nuremberg Trials against nazi war-crimes. Horthy was not even of the list of MOSAD, (Dont forget the list of MOSAD was much more longer than the war-criminal list of Allied powers)

wolfi :
@The cause: So are you putting Hungary and Nazi Germany in the same position ?
Hm, I thought you Fidesz guys always say that Horthy etc were not antisemitic fascists …
PS:
I think you’re in the wrong place …

I love revisionists… it’s like a good bed time story.

ffret
Guest

Tappanch, these things have a number of reasons why they get done:

(i) steal money through Fidesz-connected companies,

(ii) fine tune voter data base,

(iii) give Fidesz-related companies a practice in such huge projects, obvioulsy the more well-oiled you are, the better (and Fidesz’ machinery is well-oiled; MSZP or Bajni never even participated in a national roll-out),

(iv) rachet up propaganda. It is not enough if the local municipality magazines, the state media, the various commercial channels, the free newspapres like Metropol play their assigned roles in the Fidesz media system (and non-Fidesz media continues to be dumb, uncritical and afraid), you also need direct marketing. You need a full arzenal.

(v) there is no downside. People simply don’t care about the syphoned-off billions any more, they lost their sensitivity, unless you can connect the money to individuals with smoking gun eviodence; otherwise they could not care less (especially as this item appears pnly at HVG as a line item, an hour later it will be buried in the avalanche of news). Politics is dirty and people know that, they get angry only if one can humanize the problem (pinpoint one person, and brand him like the guy with the ‘mobile phone boxes’).

Member

@The Cause: Just out of sheer curiosity: what’s your point?

Are you trying to say that the changes in the Hungarian education system, implemented by the Fidesz and the KDNP, are actually benefiting the system? Where do you want to start? Centralization, cut of funds, low wages for teachers, religious influence in publicly funded schools, excessive tuition without need based financial support … Pick your weapon, but please stick to facts.

Zdenek
Guest

I guess we have a new topic for tomorrow (see link below).

Now there is an all-out war on liberal professors at ELTE.

Victory cannot be complete without the total humiliation of the enemy. And Fidesz and Jobbik just love to hate these profs: liberal and Jewish.

The conservatives set up about 17-18 years ago their well-financed university (through the Vatican treaty, i.e. Hungarian taxpayers on a regular basis and through good government connectons, i.e. Hungaran taxpayers on a project-basis) the Pázmány University. Liberals, as usual, have been doing nothing. Now, surprise-surprise, they are the first target of the ‘downsizing’, the more famous and accomplished the prof, the better.

The vision- and strategylessness of the liberals and the left are now coming back to haunt them. Unlucky us.

http://nol.hu/belfold/radnoti__tarjan__tverdota_-_az_elso_nevek_az_elbocsatottak_listajarol

Vándorló
Guest

The condition of French education is far worse than stated here. The results of the latest international PISA tests show educational levels have dramatically declined between 2000 and 2009 (non-mastery of reading up from 15.2% to 19.7%). The full catalogue of the failure of the French system over the last decade makes grim reading; but should you want to, Le Monde detailed the wreck some days ago: http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2013/02/20/le-niveau-scolaire-baisse-cette-fois-ci-c-est-vrai_1835461_3232.html

On the wider issue of what type of educational system works, an excellent video presentation posted on TED outlines some of the best data we have on this: “Andreas Schleicher: Use data to build better schools” http://www.ted.com/talks/andreas_schleicher_use_data_to_build_better_schools.html This looks at the PISA data in details. Probably more interesting than all that are the viewers comments to the talk.

Member

Tamas Fellegi, Orban’s former minister and old friend will defend the Orban government and the Fidesz party against charges of antisemitism at a hearing of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, February 27.

http://hvg.hu/vilag/20130225_Fellegi_a_magyar_demokrata_erok_szemben_a

http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/press-release/look-ahead-house-foreign-affairs-committee-0

Let us remind the committee, that Mr Fellegi was characterized as an antisemitic converted Jew in Orban’s circles back in the eighties, when antisemitism was still not in fashion in Hungary.

http://www.168ora.hu/itthon/iskolatarsak-3534.html

But apart from the messenger, the message is also false. The Fidesz party co-opted Csurka’s antisemitic MIEP, regularly co-operates with Jobbik, so the handful people of Jewish origin in Fidesz pay serve as figleaves only.

Member

Half correction:

The 168ora article is damaged on 168ora.hu. I found a copy of this article at

http://regi.sofar.hu/hu/node/25758

This copy contradicts my previous claim about Fellegi’s personality, but it does not refute my statement about the current policies of Fidesz..

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