Trampling on individual freedom: First the Internet, now education

Almost a month ago I wrote a post that touched on Viktor Orbán’s brainstorm to introduce dual education. The upshot of the scheme is that some students will have to spend a large part of their time in school preparing themselves for a trade in a kind of apprentice program. Right after the announcement of that scheme on October 10, I wrote that Viktor Orbán was contemplating an educational program that  Nikita Khrushchev had tried in the Soviet Union. I reminded readers that the Soviet experiment had been a flop.

In my haste I fear I missed a sentence that foreshadowed what has come to light lately. Orbán is not thinking of introducing dual education within the present structure of public education. Instead, he plans to force a certain number of youngsters into vocational schools. This will be achieved by closing about half of the gymnasiums that currently graduate 190,000 students a year. Orbán wants no more than 60,000-80,000 matriculants. If more students would like to go to gymnasium, which is the traditional route to university, tough luck!

I can hardly find words to express my outrage. Orbán’s regime is trampling on Hungarians’ rights. The government fears the internet, so let’s make sure that fewer people can get to it. They decide that Hungary needs more skilled workers, so about 120,000 students are deprived of their right to enter the school of their choice.

Not that the current public school system is all that terrific or fair. I have a problem, for example, with the homogeneity of the student bodies of elite gymnasiums: practically all students come from the same socioeconomic group in Budapest and some of the larger cities. Admittedly, most countries have struggling educational systems; few can be described as success stories. Finland is always held up as a model given its spectacular results over the last twenty years, and lately one can read a lot about Poland where in the last ten years or so PISA test scores have shown a remarkable improvement.

Today there are three main types of schools serving Hungarian students between the ages of 14 and 18. There are the vocational schools that are, like their American equivalents, pretty useless. In these schools students spend a decreasing amount of time on academic subjects: 100% in grade 9 and 40% in grade 10. In the last two years they allegedly learn a trade. These schools don’t offer “matriculation,” without which one cannot enter university. The second type of school is unknown in Canada and the United States, the two countries I’m most familiar with. It is called “vocational middle school” (szakközépiskola). These schools seem to be a mixed bag. For example, some concentrate on economics, others train students to enter the catering business. These schools do offer the option to take matriculation examinations. The third type is, of course, the beleaguered gymnasium.

Earlier all these schools were under the ministry of education, but in 2010 the Orbán government abolished the separate ministry of  education and put it under the mammoth ministry of human resources. Well, that is coming to an end. From here on the two kinds of vocational schools will be overseen by the ministry of national economy. The man who will be responsible for these schools is Sándor Czomba, an engineer without any experience in education. Czomba in a speech at an exhibition ironically entitled “Decide well–At stake is your future!” outlined some of the steps that will be taken. Teachers, parents, students–be prepared. The government will examine each and every gymnasium and will decide which ones do and which ones don’t deserve to exist. Czomba reassured his audience that “this will not automatically mean that there will be no gymnasium in a given community.” Unreal!

The traditional graduation, "the ambling"  Fewer will be marching into universities

The traditional graduation, “the ambling”
Fewer will be marching into universities

How can they achieve their aim of reducing the number of students seeking acceptance in a gymnasium? There are several possible methods. For example, they could demand a certain grade point average as a prerequisite for entering gymnasium. Just think how many future leaders could fail right here. Pick your favorite: Winston Churchill comes to mind. They could try to steer students toward vocational education, in effect browbeating them, all the while describing student decisions as personal choices. The problem is that these “choices” severely limit future options. How many 14-year-olds know what they want to do with their lives? Mighty few. Even older students have a hard time deciding. One of my favorite stories is about a student of mine who complained that I had assigned a psychologist to serve as his freshman faculty adviser. What on earth was I thinking? I showed him: he himself had written the summer before arriving in New Haven that he wanted to be a psychologist. He didn’t even remember it.

To give you an idea of how far Orbán is from mainstream thinking, the European goal is that 75% of all youngsters take matriculation exams and that 40% of all matriculants enter college or university. With this new program Hungary cannot reach this goal. University-bound students will come mainly from gymnasiums, especially since the current five-year program of vocational middle schools will be reduced to four years, during which students will spend a great deal of their time engaging in practical training at the expense of traditional academic subjects. Moreover, the Orbán government wants to introduce stricter college entrance requirements. For example, students will have to know a foreign language. But since language training in Hungarian schools is notoriously poor, high school students will struggle to learn a language well enough to pass the required language exam. The surest path to passing the exam is private tutoring, which only well-off parents can afford. It is unlikely that students from the vocational middle schools will ever learn a language well enough straight out of high school, and few of them will have well-heeled parents who can pay for the necessary private lessons. As we will see tomorrow, the new undersecretary in charge of higher education, again an engineer and not an educator, already announced that Hungary does not need to have 40% of the adult population be college educated, as suggested by the European Union. For Hungary 30-35% would be more than adequate.

Some suspicious souls speculate that Viktor Orbán does not want a highly educated public. The more ignorant the better. They can be more easily manipulated.

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Paul
Guest

I suspect the reason is simpler than that. Orbán, like most of Fidesz, simple fears and distrusts ‘intellectuals’. He wants a society he feels comfortable in, not one where he is constantly reminded of his intellectual inferiority. He needs to dumb-down Hungary to his own level.

The future is very bleak.

beacon
Guest
“Some suspicious souls speculate that Viktor Orbán does not want a highly educated public. The more ignorant the better. They can be more easily manipulated.” Retarded propaganda. School begins at 6 years old, if a change is made now to how the education system works the results of it will first start to appear 12 years from now. And those are the first results only. Before an education system has any electorally significant effect 30-40 years will have to pass. Every year about 1% of the population gets educated. So if you change the whole system now the first 1% who were studying completely in the new system will appear in 12 years. In 22 years their rate will go up to 10%. And so on. Educational changes are much more long term as having any chance to do with present politics. For example the Rakosi era deepest darkest communist system that took place in the 40s and 50s still has an effect on todays politics. People that were going through that communist education system are still with us, and have positions of power in the public life. They even influence Hungary-USA relations. These people, were molded by the Rakosi… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
Eva it looks to me that Orban’s Hungary wants to model itself only our own county. Approximately 34% of Americans 18 years of age and older hold college degrees according to the United States Census Bureau report of 2007. Nineteen percent of Americans have attended college but have no degree. I share your abhorrence of the type of tracking being proposed in Hungary, but unfortunately it exists all over the world. I was tracked effectively from age 15 when I joined the Junior a Reserved Officers Training Corp in high school until the day I graduated college and became an officer. In my case it is my family that to a degree dictated my track into military service. There are thousands like me that me were raised to be in the military. West Point, VMI, and the Citadel (military colleges in the USA) are filled today with young people who experienced similar forms of educational tracking into military service. It is what it is and I have no regrets. Possibly choice in education is sometimes dictated by family circumstances and values, sometimes by state policy including funding policy for higher education. In the ideal world young adults would be able… Read more »
shelbslsmith92
Guest

Wow…I knew how controlling Orban was, but didn’t realize he was taking it to the extent where he was changing the educational system :/ this is sad, and I’d really like to read up on your source material (if you don’t mind sharing…I follow the news but most of it only really talks about the gas deal that Hungary and Russia are striking up).
Also, I found @beacon’s reply interesting. I love how you bring up the Rakosi-Stalin era and how it has impacted Hungary’s identity and way of thinking today.

Member

THis brings into mind the 1970s when my generation was applying for high school. Everything Orban is thinking was done in that time. There were no guarantees to be able to enter high school, and many of my classmates did not meet the required marks. Those were the kids, who ended up in vocation schools that taught sewing, nursing, car repair, waitering, etc.
There were always exceptions to the rule although. Some kids, who’s parents were well connected to the communist party did get into high school, and it did not matter what they marks were. University entry was very much the same. Some kids worked very hard to get in, some bribed their way in, and some had parents who had great party connections, and had to be admitted regardless of their marks. I guess Orban not only wants to restore the Horthy era…

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Member
Elitists might clap their hands, worldwide. The full extent of the consequences could be understood only in conjunction with “reforms” in the University education. This new elitist system will confine Hungary to a second or third grade status within or outside the EU’s economy (periphery, support capitalism, etc.). The outcome would be just opposite what OVi was so vocal about two years ago: in no time, Hungary will be a German colony. Or, anybody else’s. (As usual, just the opposite happening what he is saying.) I am not surprised he has taken his daughter to Switzerland. To some extent, Rakosi and Stalin are still with us. Agreed. For example, like many of us I hate authoritarianism (at first I found weird the practice of applauding and quoting leaders in the US), I cannot stand propaganda, etc. Please, don’t deny people’s right to change. That is our only hope for Hungary. I highly appreciate what Eva is doing. This post is timely. Two short OT on the sideline: 1. The meeting with State PM Horst Seehofer seem to be of crucial importance to OVi. Planned or not, the visit to Bavaria aimed at securing his back and divide. PM looks more… Read more »
wohveli
Guest
Do you know what it is to live in this system? My wife is a teacher in szakközépiskola and has lost the hope of any future in Hungary. Thanks to KLIK/Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ her school is unable to secure enough teachers. Due to law, KLIK is responsible to find and hire all the teachers for the schools. Except that they only do the hiring and firing part. Her school lost two very critical teachers because the new, strickly enforced rules that pensioners can’t be teachers. These two were teaching very critical core subjects (technical field) in the school. Yet KLIK has not been able to deliver any replacements for them. And this school feeds the future workers for regions big export factories. But now missing the core teaching due to law and KLIK: While the school can’t hire a teacher, then can find them at their own expense (from general budget). They indeed found a one teacher who wanted to shorten his commute. But when the teacher informed his school, that he is going to switch to other school, his headmaster told that he won’t go, he won’t allow that. And here comes the funny part when it comes to… Read more »
Member
For years already, my Hungarian colleagues at universities have been complaining about their students: young people coming from schools are increasingly naïve and ignorant. The Hungarian school system obviously never was really good at developing creativity and independent thinking, and the language teaching, of course, has been a catastrophe as long as I know… In the Central European feudal tradition, the working class really didn’t need an education. (In Austria, when discussing Finland’s successes in the PISA tests, I’m always confronted with the same argument: “But youth unemployment in Finland is so much higher.” The silent assumption behind this comes directly from the 19th century: don’t educate the common people, because that will leave them in a limbo, they’ll start desiring the impossible, i.e. to become like gentlefolk, and despising honest hard work.) And children of the higher classes would get their positions by virtue of their birth and connections; the “gymnasium” was simply a class marker, it wasn’t so important to really learn trigonometry or Latin but to be able to show (off) that you had studied them. Somehow, I believe that the Socialist system in Hungary never really destroyed this way of thinking, it just replaced the privileged… Read more »
ambator
Guest

Please tell your wife for me, to speak to her colleagues and organize a “work to rule” campaign. No matter how much clout his principal has, that would sober him up at once.
How can so many educated, smart people be so stupid!
But what I really wanted to mention is the look-out campaign I am on, trying to catch at least one, only one single politician who would point out the obvious, that even for a successful training for a modern trade, secondary school education is essential.
The fact is that Orban lulled the education establishment into believing that vocational training is a natural alternative to secondary school, whereas all children need at least secondary in todays society, including those going onto the trades.
So far nobody mentioned this in any discussion I have heard on the subject.

wohveli
Guest

@ambator
Rule of law has no role in Hungary when everything is rigged. When KLIK came, their one of the first commucations was that teachers should turn to them all their emails and social media profiles that they are using. So that KLIK could communicate directly with them. My wife’s headmaster openly confess that he is keeping record of their political views, because that is headmasters job. That is how Fidesz appointments see their work. Their loyalty is party, not the school, not the teachers, not the students, it’s the party.

Did I mention that FEAR is a thing you can feel in teachers room?

buddy
Guest
Rézgróf
Guest
beacon: you are the same troll loitering here all the time. What do these current teachers of age 25-30 have to do with Stalinism? (Or even the teachers under 60 for that matter. Stalinism ended in 1953.) They were almost toddlers in the late 1980’s in the happiest barrack of the Peace Camp (the Eastern Bloc). There is no way they could have gotten any Stalinist (Communist) indoctrination. What you say is a crazy, but often repeated bullsh*t pushed by Fideszniks: that the postcommunists still lurk in the shadows and whatever we do is justified because we have to get rid of them. Too bad Fidesz is still full of communist era spies, internal informants, former party members, communist party functionaries. They serve Fidesz so they were forgiven. (Rózsa Hoffmann – the now Christian Democrat (KDNP) member – quasi minister for education between 2010-2014 was an enthusiastic Russian teacher and a politically reliable communist era government official.) This message is being pushed relentlessly by the Fidesz media and its servants because the ignorant Bavarian Germans – who still adore Orban – love to hear it, just as the GOP politicians eat it immediately. What, communists? We’re against them!! But like… Read more »
Zulejka
Guest
Oh, this is much more devlish than that. Only Westerners and liberals are almost genetically too naive to face the real situation. The point is that Orban will close down only the *state-owned* gymnasiums. Get it? Outside of Budapest even now there are few places where there are 2-3 gymnasiums, or a real choice. Even in such places one or more is surely already a parochial (mostly Catholic) school, which parochial schools in Hungary receive the exact same kind of state subsidies (and in fact more!) than public schools. Now, after this cull, in most rural places the only available gymnasium will be a Catholic school. However, in Hungary, unlike in the US or in Western-Europe, the Catholic Church is a really active, very conservative in every sense, political instrument and a tool for Fidesz, which coopted the church via KDNP (whice, besides being a pseudo-party, is also a kind of representative of the interests of the Catholic Church within Fidesz). When all is said and done, this culling will mean that about half of the gymnasium kids will graduate from parochial schools, where teachers (again, unlike in the US or Western Europe) are hired solely based on loyalty to… Read more »
Jan
Guest

Hello Dr. Balogh,

I am reading your blog with great interest and great sadness. I remember well the hopes and dreams of students in Szeged in 1991-1992 when I got this now-framed tee-shirt.

Jan Holmes

Sent from my iPad

>

Member

@Zulejka: Very interesting observation. I certainly did not look at it from that angle, but I think you a re right. Coming out and saying that we will shot down private schools would generate outrage, but Fidesz again packaged a deal on a way that people ail knot realize the full implication.

billy
Guest
It is true that Charles Gati, Paul Lendvai and Eva S. Balogh and many others were educated under the Rakosi / Stalinist education system. Their influence, the Rakosi influence is still very powerful in today’s Hungary. And even more so in the west. Because after 1956 the KGB and its Hungarian wing sent thousands of agents into the west. They always had the same cover: they “participated in the revolution” and they had to flee. It was the perfect cover. Their role was to monitor Hungarian expats and get into important positions within their host countries. But there is no replacement for these ideological warriors. They are getting older and there is nobody who could take over their place. The ideological foundation (giving up their lives for the “cause”) can only be found in someone who received proper training from the KGB and or Hungarian variants. The Rakosi / Stalinist education system was very good preparation for such life-long service. Not everyone is willing to throw away years of their life to fight an ideological war, a cultural war. That requires a very special type of person, who is utterly loyal. Who will never give up. Not until the very… Read more »
Guest

Meanwhile Navracsics is European Commissioner for education…

An
Guest
@wohveli “Rule of law has no role in Hungary when everything is rigged. When KLIK came, their one of the first commucations was that teachers should turn to them all their emails and social media profiles that they are using. So that KLIK could communicate directly with them. My wife’s headmaster openly confess that he is keeping record of their political views, because that is headmasters job. That is how Fidesz appointments see their work. Their loyalty is party, not the school, not the teachers, not the students, it’s the party. Did I mention that FEAR is a thing you can feel in teachers room?” Hungarians should start familiarizing themselves with Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy… even though the Orban regime is not a brutal dictatorship in that it is not jailing and killing people (not yet?) but its everyday operation (expanding control, suffocating the civil sphere and autonomy in the society, intimidation, inciting fear, brainwashing, control of the media) is dictatorial. One point Gene Sharp makes that no dictator is able to stay in power without some support and collaboration from the population (this support could be voluntary, misguided, opportunistic, or forced by intimidation). The regime needs people… Read more »
Jean-Paul
Guest
The development of the vocational middle schools (“szakközépiskola”) that give a kind of matriculation examination will allow the regime to claim, by adding up the numbers of students of these schools with those of the gymnasiums, that it achieved the European target of 75 %. It will forget to add that the educational level in these schools is quite low, and certainly doesn’t allow continuing studies at a university level. And if criticized on this point, they will say -as they answered when criticized on a number of point in their ‘constitution’- that in most European countries there is a similar system: a general education gymnasium or equivalent, and a more specialized vocational middle school. Except that in Western Europe attending the latter do not exclude entering college level education, but that they will forget to mention. This system will lead to Hungary losing one of its still existing attraction for foreign firms to implant factories or research units, i.e. the existence of a well-educated workforce. The catastrophic state of the Hungarian education system for the last 15 years has already begun to weaken this aspect and these new rules will only strengthen this trend. Orbán has the illlusion that… Read more »
Andrew
Guest

An wrote at November 8, 2014 at 10:37 am:

Hungarians should start familiarizing themselves with Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy…

I am glad the Gene Sharp was mentioned here. He is a student of Ferenc Deak.

Tamas Csapody is teaching his ethics to students at ELTE and SOTE.

Hungarians will be wise to nurture the ideas of Deak Ferenc and Gene Sharp.

beacon
Guest

“The catastrophic state of the Hungarian education system for the last 15 years has already begun to weaken this aspect”

What are you talking about? Between 2002 and 2010 MSZP-SZDSZ had total control over the education Ministry. There is not a single word of criticism in the blog post about those years. That can only mean that education was pretty much perfect in those years, and now you say it was in a “catastrophic state”?

Zulejka
Guest
@Some1 One of the craziest of things is that the Hungarian Catholic Church is a staunch Fidesz ally, supporting Orban’s and Fidesz’ anti-Western, anti-globalization ideology. But if you really think about it, the Catholic Church is a globalized organization par exellence and is by definition a Western institution when it comes to the East – West divide (ie it’s not an Orthodox Christian institution, the center of which is Moscow — many in the West doesn’t not know that Moscow seriously thinks of itself as the Rome of the East). But the Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists all support Orban to the very last bullet because they feel that Orban is their natural ally, as opposed to the more urban, liberal (jewish) left-wing parties. There was a weird post on Orban’s facebook page a couple of days ago. Orban alongside Gergely Pröhle (the demoted Lutheran pseudo-moderate politician) inaugurated a new Lutheran kindergarten in the provinces. The title of the post was “Hungary, the land of tolerance”, in other words because Hungary although being overwhelmingly a Catholic country (at least on paper) allows a (essentially a privatized/outsourced but still Lutheran) Protestant kindergarten (well, the public kindergarten somehow didn’t get funds to renovate… Read more »
beacon
Guest

@Jean-Paul
I wrote to the commenter Jean-Paul. He said the “Hungarian education was in a catastrophic state in the last 15 years”. I wanted to know how his theories connect to what the blog was talking about. For example was the catastrophic state (according to Jean-Paul) in the MSZP-SZDSZ years done to produce people who are: “The more ignorant the better. They can be more easily manipulated.” Or does the commenter Jean-Paul offer other explanations as to why HE thinks education was bad in those years?

DN
Guest

“But the Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists all support Orban to the very last bullet because they feel that Orban is their natural ally, as opposed to the more urban, liberal (jewish) left-wing parties. ”

Doesn’t anyone find it tiresome? Everything is always about the Jews? Why do you think that left-wing parties are Jewish? What gives you the right to label them or the liberals as jews? How about you dial back the antisemitism and start to think in realistic terms. Not everything is about the Jews all the time.

D7 Democrat
Guest
I have a split-opinion on this topic. In our house (20 flats) 4 lawyers and 3 accountants live. Great stuff for when I need to do my tax returns or for when the 7th District takes me to court for daring to breathe without a license. But have you ever tried to find a half-decent electrician, plumber or carpenter in Budapest? It is next to impossible. Hungarian parents have incredibly unrealistic opinions regarding their Little Darlings’ (particularly their masculine Little Darlings’) intellectual ability. Of course, they are the brightest child ever to inhabit the earth and it is the deepest insult to suggest that with sufficient finance and state-support they will not become the best lawyer/accountant/*financial consultant* in Budapest. Obviously Orban’s plan to close down schools is an attempt at social engineering- the middle-class is quite big enough and by golly we don’t need any more lefty/liberal intellectuals diluting its ideological purity. But that doesn’t disguise the fact that realistic career advice is non-existent in Hungarian schools and it would actually benefit society as a whole if the vocational sector was properly developed. But the fact that the term “long-term strategical planning” has no Hungarian equivalent and rampant parental snobbery… Read more »
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