Viktor Orbán’s latest attack against Hungarian education

There is trouble again in the field of public education. With the reverberations from the teachers’ strike not entirely quelled, the government has already managed to get the teachers wound up anew by introducing yet another set of school reforms. As if the Orbán government had lost its magic touch and is unable to gauge the mood of the country. Even if at the moment no strike is in the offing, neither the teachers nor the general public are satisfied with the government’s response to what they consider to be an educational crisis. To announce a total reorganization of the public school system at this junction can only lead to further tension. I find it intriguing that while the government has been hyperactive in the field of education, introducing one so-called reform after another, in healthcare, another trouble spot, the Orbán administration has done practically nothing. It is hard to say which strategy is better since both education and healthcare are in terrible shape. Viktor Orbán’s luck seems to be running out.

In order to understand what the government is contemplating, we have to take stock of the current Hungarian school system which, I must say, is pretty complicated. A Hungarian child begins his studies at the age of six in an eight-grade elementary school (general/általános iskola), from which he can move on to middle school (középiskola). There are three types of middle schools: “specialty middle schools” (szakközépiskola), gymnasiums, and trade schools (szakiskola).

Gymnasium courses of study are of varying length. Most common is a four-year program, entered after finishing eighth grade. But there are gymnasiums that can be entered after the fourth grade. And there are a few in which a student spends six years, leaving elementary school after the sixth grade.

Just to complicate things, there are also the specialty middle schools which, I understand, are as popular in Hungary as the gymnasiums (approximately 200,000 students in each, or 40% of all high school students). Until now at least diplomas from specialty middle schools allowed students to enter college or university. Their “matriculation” was the equivalent of those who finished gymnasium.

Only about 100,000 children, or 20% of all high school students, attend the third type of middle school, the trade school.

The new “reform” focuses on the specialty middle schools and trade schools. As usually happens in Orbán’s Hungary, we have no idea whom the government consulted before presenting its plans because those considered to be experts on education were horrified when they learned the details.

In my opinion, the essence of the reform is to lower standards while trying to give the impression of higher value by changing the branding. The “specialty middle school” (szakközépiskola) will from here on be called “specialty gymnasium,” and “trade school” (szakiskola) will be named “specialty middle school.” All three kinds of schools, the government claims, will enable students to take their matriculation exam, which is a necessary prerequisite to entering college or university. But in reality, there are huge differences between the quality of education the students in the three types of schools will receive.

In these new specialty schools the time allotted to academic subjects will be grossly reduced. Formerly 22-23 hours a week were devoted to these subjects. According to plans, the study of a broad range of academic subjects will be reduced to 12-15 hours. Study of the “specialty” subjects will be increased to 12-15 hours a week. While the same number of hours will be devoted to literature, math, and history as before, students will be able to study only one of the natural sciences, depending on their “specialty.” Those whose specialty is healthcare will study only biology. If the specialty is engineering, the person will study only physics. Only those who are interested in mining, tourism, and surveying will study geography. Those who are interested in hotel management will learn only a foreign language. In brief, if parents enroll their child in one of these schools, the child’s whole career might be determined at the age of fourteen.

Teachers are horrified. In our complex, fast-changing world, to narrow the educational base to such an extent is a totally mistaken notion. Viktor Orbán imagines the Hungary of the future to be a mini-China where millions of blue-collar workers toil in large factories. But we all know that in the long run such an economic structure cannot be maintained, even in China. As people often say, Hungary can offer only intellectual capacity, which can be attained only through education. Yet Orbán is systematically lowering educational opportunities and cheapening educational offerings.

Critics of Orbán’s vision are worried about the educational opportunities of children herded into “specialty gymnasiums” or even worse “specialty middle schools” whose career opportunities will be greatly diminished. Children at the age of fourteen cannot make responsible decisions about their future careers. It is most likely the parents who make the decision, often without any knowledge of their children’s inclinations or true talents. I can speak from experience that even at the age of eighteen many people only think they know what they want to study. One of my favorite stories is of a freshman who complained about the faculty adviser to whom he was assigned. Who on earth came up with the idea of hooking him up with a psychologist? In fact, there was a very good reason for the decision because on his application he indicated that his “possible major” would be psychology. Half a year later he didn’t even remember what he put down. I also met a college student who was busily preparing to study medicine after graduation but halfway through discovered East European history. Today he is a university professor. That’s why I’m such a fan of the so-called liberal education, with little specialization at the B.A. or B.Sc. level. Specialization can come later.

globe

Shortly after this latest brainstorm of the government became public came the “revolt of the geographers.” The Magyar Földrajzi Társaság (Hungarian Association of Geographers) began collecting signatures against the decision. In their estimation, no geography will be taught in about 900 high schools if the government goes through with its plans. They were soon followed by chemists and physicists. In brief, the government is setting the stage for even more intense conflict with educators.

After word got out that very few high schools will teach geography, the joke began to circulate that the reason for this decision is that perhaps this way Hungarian students will be unable to find the country to which they want to emigrate on the map.

April 28, 2016
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Member

“the joke began to circulate that the reason for this decision is that perhaps this way Hungarian students will be unable to find the country to which they want to emigrate on the map.”
It seems as though not only would they not be able to find their country of choice on the map, but they also will not have the skills to make them enough money to even afford to leave.

Istvan
Guest

Eva you did an excellent summary of the newest Fidesz proposals, really better than any summary done by the Tanitanék movement up to now. The movement has produced some passionate essays against the KLIK and the Fidesz reforms. There is one titled: The Sea of Silence that can be read in Hungarian at http://www.tanitanek.com/Egyuttmukodes/Start#/Uzenetek that I like.

Unfortunately even though the Tanitanék movement has passion it has been largely abandoned my the many compromised non teacher unions in Hungary that currently survive at the determination of Fidesz labor laws. Even the two major teachers unions are deeply intimadited by Fidesz threats and act with caution. I agree with Eva that the Fidesz vision is for a technically competent workforce that is overwhelmingly industrial and lacks the intellectual skills to challenge their Fidesz maters. Its really an Orwellian vision of an authoritian state.

LwiiH
Guest

I will add a positive trend that I’ve been watching develop. Local companies are working very quietly in the background opening up incubators and supporting other alternative educational opportunities. What is evolving is a generation that is taking responsibility for their own education and the education of others and not relying on broken government programs. At issue is currently people have first have to first survive these broken programs. But I feel the underlying trend, a quiet revolution sort of speak, is the development of an alternative that will soon allow some people to avoid the current system.

Hippo Crites
Guest

No, no – you’ve got to stay on message – only bad things are happening in Hungary.

LwiiH
Guest

I am on message. I guess you missed “broken government programs”. I should have also added this is only in Budapest so everyone else is still left behind. So what do we say, a pound short and a day late but….

Barbara Wall
Guest

Living 67 yrs in the US, I have to say that giving children a trade education is a great idea and should be viewed with optimism.
So many children have been herded into college prep courses, then on to college…to do what? Have a liberal education. Here, the liberal education is liberal indoctrination. Propaganda for the left’s agenda and the destruction of nationalism. We have millions of kids here that can’t do anything. They aren’t college material, they hate school. They are dropping out of high school from sheer boredom. Bring back the trade schools of the 50s and 60s. Carpenters, plumbers, auto body repair, HVAC, mechanics, roofers, all sorts of tradesmen are needed in a country. There is no shame in manual labor. Watch the History Channel’s shows on blacksmiths…fabulous! Artisans…we need those as well. Stop the insanity. Everyone is not ‘equal’.

Observer
Guest
@Barbara Wall To start with I suggest you go beyond History Channel for information. Maybe they are, the “blacksmiths…fabulous! “ but talking about blacksmiths and artisans is a bit passé, isn’t it? You may be at least 67 years behind the times, but don’t despair, so is Mr. Orban and his bunch– they also want to start developing “production” now, with simple, but strong workers (perhaps for wielding the heavy hammers, remember the Communist posters?). Yes, “ ..giving children a trade education is a great idea “ and at least 700 years old (e.g. Medieval guilds), but to “Bring back the trade schools of the 50s and 60s” is not so great. FYI there have been many developments since and with the great variety of new materials and technologies even the trades require more thinking. Determining a child’s future at the age of fourteen was practiced in DDR (Communist Germany) with mixed results, to say the least. Then came the studies of the brain development, the neurons and circuits formation, the role of stimuli in this development peaking at the age of 14-15, etc etc. One way or another, there are no examples of progress and prosperity based on menial… Read more »
Bowen
Guest

Maybe Ms. Barbara Wall imagines a lovely Hungarian fantasy where shepherds make their own clothes from sheepskin, and wood-workers hand-make their own flutes to amuse tourists. Which is all very nice, and will guarantee lots of successful folk-craft festivals, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is gearing up for a massive shift in terms of artificial intelligence, robotic labour, 3D-printing, nanotechnology, renewable energy, and so on. Any sane educationalist would admit that we simply do not know what today’s children need to learn in order to thrive in tomorrow’s world. Children need to learn how to think independently, to learn for themselves, to co-operate in teams, and so on.

Locking 14-year-olds into some kind of 1950s ‘trade’ is insane.

Ágota
Guest
Dear Barbara, I am afraid to say that you have apparently no idea about the state of the US. There is marked, significant difference between the earnings potential (and actual earnings) of white collar (ie. college educated people) and that of the people without a college degree. The entire Trump (Sanders) phenomenon is based on the precarious situation of the blue collar, non-college educated (high-school educated) people. They used to be middle class – not any more. While the lower middle-class people were happy and prosperous in the 1960-1970’s their situation started to become problematic from the 1980’s on. Earnings stagnated, jobs were lost to automatization, lost to more efficient Asian competitors etc. As a result people without a college education in the US are no longer middle class and they are mighty unhappy. They blame the Mexicans, the Chinese, the elite, the liberals, godless communists (less so blacks these days, because that’s not acceptable even for a Trump). While living without a college education and still being part of the middle-class is possible in some countries (Switzerland and Germany, perhaps Austria and North-Italy — note that we talk about the richest part of the entire world) this isn’t true… Read more »
Observer
Guest

@ágota @bowen

Thanks for the serious response. I also perceive a link between stagnation/deterioration of the economic well-being/prospects of the middle class (see T.Pickety’s Capital …) and the raise of populism and the polarization in political life. I know for certain these bid no good, e.g. Hungary is already suffering the consequences, i.e. it is markedly falling behind in the region.

Re. Barbara. She made me laugh and then I was in the mood …

Guest
@Observer Today 6:21 am I think that when Pickety and other refer to the ‘middle class,’ they are in fact referring to the vast lower middle classes that had their heyday in the 60s and 70s, but became ever more redundant in the workforce in the wake of the information, communication, automation and transportation revolutions that began to gather pace from the 80s on. Unfortunately, the information, communication, automation and transportation revolutions, which together coalesced into what we term ‘globalism,’ have generated a tsunami-like exponential rate of change the impetus of which a world of competing nation-states could not possibly curb and control than the frontier states in the Wild West of the US could the robber barons of the 19th century. With 20/20 hindsight, the air should have been let out of the lower middle class balloon a lot more gradually, a lot more carefully and with a lot less thoughtless abandon than has been the case. But who or what could have foreseen and then resist on behalf of the lower middle classes the torrential avalanche that globalism has proved to be, particularly when it was precisely those lower middle classes that were also the prime beneficiaries of… Read more »
Guest

Corrections:

Picketty and others (para 1)

. . . could not possibly curb and control ANY MORE than the frontier states in the Wild West of the US could the robber barons of the 19th century. (para 2)

Observer
Guest

Sorry “rise of populism”

Hippo Crites
Guest

I know this will (as always) be censored but it has to be said how inane this view is. College educated children are unable to find jobs because 90% of topics taught in college have no bearing to reality. Do you really think that everyone in college does nanotechnology? Some are English or philosophy majors whose prospects are far less than those who started out as plumbers and their debt is >100k. College =/ college. Unless, of course you are in academia – which I suspect many here are – then it’s a great gig.

Guest

This is about Hungary, n’est ce pas?

Guest

Hello Norant IG……..

You make the usual mistake of understanding what education is for.

A university education equips one for life – with the soft skills and required skills to develop further – a continuing process which developes a person to become a useful member of society – and to pass their knowledge on. Thus enriching society with an ever-growing knowledge pool to enrich the world – leading to, for example, a Nobel prize if you are lucky.

Isaac Newton recognised his own contributions “standing on the shoulders of giants” – building on work of those who went before.

It is not a dead-endsville for a dead-end job.

Orban’s standing-on-the-feet-of-midgets education will be OK for Audi.

But that’s all.

Guest

……and btw, there’s very slim pickings in this subject for your antisemitism – but I’m sure you’ll manage it….

Guest
@Hippo Crites Today 4:26 pm Why should this be censored? No need to be precious about this. Over the past half a century there has been an entirely unwarranted exponential explosion of graduates in soft subjects in the various humanities and social sciences fields, and with mass education in these subjects came a dramatic lowering of academic standards and a super-inflation of useless academic papers and publications. This is as true of Hungary as of the US or Australia. Also, in light of the likely rapid disintermediation (through automation) of many of the functions in the legal profession, far too many law graduates are still being produced, especially in the US. But taking a graduate course and the debt burden that goes with it is a matter of private choice. After all, there are plenty of community colleges and state colleges for gaining information and qualifications in subjects of interest without the exercise costing an arm and a leg, as in elite universities, where much of the costs are actually covering luxuries, useless amenities and inflated administrations entirely irrelevant to the courses of study, with the rest covering the just as inflated academic salaries, particularly of those teaching the plethora… Read more »
Hippo Crites
Guest

You know of course that that is how many European systems work, right? Not just the Hungarian one. Germany has a very similar system. You are absolutely delusional if you think that the middle class in the US will reengineer themselves into engineers and software programmers. Even if you can do that (?) they can’t. The only way to address this is to put up barriers to trade.

Guest
@Hippo Crites Today 4:43 pm I think you are barging in on open gates. After all, what is stopping a young person in the US from becoming a tradesperson? Nothing, to the best of my knowledge. Your apparent claim that barriers to trade would make young people want to become tradespersons instead of rocket scientists is an utterly ludicrous proposition. On the other hand, if you mean that barriers to trade could open up employment opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled people who used to be lower middle class, you may have something. Just bear in mind that the price that would need to be paid by the entire nation for that subsidy to lift the unskilled and semi-skilled back to the lower middle class would be a significant impoverishment and lowering of living standards for everyone else, including your good self. Having said this, the problem remains what to do with the masses of lower middle class people left high and dry by computerization, automation, robotization and globalization. As of today, no cut and dry answer can be given to this question, just as no cut and dry question could ever be given at the start of any of the… Read more »
Member
Dear Barbara, In the USA and in Canada it is every student’s right to enter secondary school. In Hungary you cannot automatically enter a secondary school, you must apply. You are talking about college, but in Hungary even the secondary level of education is still a privilege. In the USA and in Canada there are alternative high schools that in fact teach trade. Have you ever heard of Vocation schools? You and the government should not make a decision n the life of a 13 year old child by denying the right of basic eduction, and decide on the child’s future! You should know well that if a child does not go to secondary school, the chance that later returns and enters higher education is slim. This has noting to do with liberal eduction but all to do with education! The alternative in Hungary is to work on low paying jobs. You are talking about roofers, plumbers, etc. These are well paying jobs in Canada and in the USA. In Hungary theses jobs are not well paying jobs. You have to educate people to understand the consequences of their choices. You cannot push them into a life that with a… Read more »
Guest

“Watch the History Channel’s shows on blacksmiths…fabulous! Artisans…”

Many of the artisans which you admire have in fact learned their trade at art colleges.

And any college, including art colleges, worth their salt, have as their number one priority the fostering of critical thinking. Art and craft are about selection and application, which requires critical thinking – something which seems to be anathema to those who hate “liberal education”, as you do.

Member

@’inflateable’ Barbara Wall

What, tnan, arba’a, hamsa.

pinyó
Guest

OT (from the NYT), but applies to Hungary as well:

“On one end of the “middle class” spectrum is a dream inexorably receding from view; on the other is a pair of socioeconomic blinders obscuring the harsher economic realities of those further down the scale. “The upper middle class are surprised by the rise of Trump,” Reeves told me. “The actual middle class are surprised we’re surprised.”

Member

Istvan Tarlos (Fidesz mayor of Budapest) admits that funding of various projects are based on supporting Fidesz.
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20160429_tarlos_istvan_fischer_ivan_bfz

Member

Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister lied!!!! (No surprise there!) Orban lost against Gyurcsany on a trial. Orban lied about Gyurcsany to the public and now he has to publicly apologize as well as pay for the expenses of the trial!
http://index.hu/belfold/2016/04/29/orbannak_bocsanatot_kell_kernie_gyurcsanytol/
I cannot wait for the comment of “latefor” which will never arrive! ha

Observer
Guest

Lying and cheating has been Orban’s life form, no ethnic insinuation here. From school age through his 1989 speech* to the present. (See Jozsef Debreceni’s books) I have challenged many to find a longer statement without a lie, half truth or a slippage (csúsztatás).Not only the frequency, but the nature and manner of Orbán’s lying is also exceptional – absurdly far out, brazen with in-your-face aggression. Here I see the ethno cultural factors at play.
* The organizers of the 1989 opposion rally had to agree to the still ruling Communist power’s condition that there would be no tirades against the Soviets. All signed and kept to it, only Organ reneged.

Guest
Great piece on the Orban road to possible educational ruin within the country. The whole strategy appears to be lop-sided as well as harming the potential of future generations to prepare for the challenges ahead as new worlds of work and types of workers will be needed. This is certainly not a time to bring in ‘limiting’ aspects as far as interests or entering a career. Shuttling students through ‘tracks’ without envisioning possibilities for change risks stifling student future aspirations in their eventual quest to contribute to their society the best way they can. Considering that the educational attainment of my parents was perhaps only a few grades in the falu’s ‘grammar Iskola’ (not sure if that is the word) I would have to praise the door-opening ‘liberal’ education I did receive here. It gave me the jump to overcome the possible ramifications of having a poor grounding in the skills I would need later on in the working world. It arguably was difficult then. Today…. well it may be ramped up by a factor of 10! Individuals must be prepared to hit the ground running. That is if they wish to succeed in their endeavors and contribute to their… Read more »
Guest

I’ve seen similar discussions on politics.hu and often the question came up:
Why is Fidesz against education for everybody?

I usually answered:
You don’t need education to raise pigs …

Btw it seems that in the USA there’s a “similar” development – to get a degree you (or your parents …) have to invest around 100 000 $. How do you find that money?

Education only for a select few? Is that the direction?

Bowen
Guest

@Wolfi, in terms of parent salary, Hungary is the most expensive country *in the world* to send your children to university, according to some reports.

http://www.independent.co.uk/student/study-abroad/news/parents-in-hungary-spend-most-of-their-salary-on-university-tuition-fees-in-the-world-says-new-a6681926.html

Guest
Re: ‘Education for a select few? Is that the direction? You know I have to say it is getting tougher here to pay for a 4 year college education. It is expensive especially at the elite schools with ‘names’. In my case, our sons graduated from state funded institutions and have gone onto their careers. They did graduate with some debt unlike myself who unbelievably got a ‘free’ education back in the ‘milk and honey’ days. However , as to those institutions , they are even sometimes out of reach for families since they have had to raise tuition as they accommodate more and more families who see ‘value’ there for their hard earned dollars. As a result applications are up. There appears no letting up in ‘getting an education’ and the price seems to reflect it. With demand the price rises inexorably. Our country currently has a big challenge there. If an education is for only the few we can see where that perhaps can lead say in continuing our democratic traditions where an active ‘polis’ requires assertive participation and thinking from the population in ordering society. It would be extremely detrimental the to perhaps see cliques and elites… Read more »
Fux
Guest

OT:

You couldn’t make this up.

Matolcsy is a firm believer of numerology (not kidding).

For example he hates the number 8. He just can’t stand it.

So he changed the address of the National Bank which used to be 8-9 Szabadság tér. It’s only 9 Szabadság tér now.

On his floor room numbers containing the digit 8 had to be changed to 7 +1 or 7/1.

http://nepszava.hu/cikk/1092642-mar-a-jegybank-cimebol-is-elloptak-egy-8-ast

Bowen
Guest

Well, Matolcy’s got something in common with the military dictatorship of Myanmar, which had a similar distrust of the number 8. I trust we will only have Hungarian banknotes divisible by Matolcy’s favourite lucky number in the near future?

“Ne Win, Burma’s dictator from 1962 to 1988, had blind faith in nine as his lucky number, hence the sudden decision in September 1987 to issue banknotes whose face value was divisible by nine (for example 45 and 90 kyat).
The democracy movement’s favourite number was eight, so the 1988 uprising sparked by the ensuing economic crisis began on 8 August (8/8/88). It was savagely put down by the army on the 18th of the following month (1+8=9) of September – the ninth month.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7025827.stm

spectator
Guest

The figure of number 8 is a twin form, way too symmetric, I guess.

Guest

Oh dear!

It’s curtains then for a Chinese opening to the East.

The Chinese see any number containing 8s (the more the merrier!) as very auspicious and lucky.

The Boeing plane numbered 888 is very special indeed, and reserved for the Chinese Airline.

Imagine some Chinese tourists walking in Freedom Square past the MNB and noticing the missing No. 8?

Velly Blad Omen!

On the other hand Right-wing racist groups love the number 8!

Combat 88 means HH – Herr Hitler with a similar group Combat 18 (C18) coded for AH.

And 888.hu means Hitler Hitler Hitler! (OK OK I’m joking!)

There are various other combinations discretely referring to their hero Adolph.

You would have thought that M8tolcsy would have loved the number 8.

Guest

Could it be that one of the reasons for these ‘education reform’ proposals is a recognition in the bureaucratic bowels of the sub-Ministry of Education that there is a looming shortage of suitably qualified specialist teachers because of a chronic inability to attract them into the profession, and at the same time an absolute unwillingness of the government to do anything about that in the light of the many new football stadiums, bridges to nowhere and crony bank accounts that must be urgently funded?

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