PISA: The abysmal results of Viktor Orbán’s educational “reforms”

St. Nicholas (Mikulás) brought a birch rod instead of sweets today. How inconsiderate of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to release its latest results on the scholastic performance in mathematics, science, and reading of 15-year-olds on December 6. The first such study was undertaken in 2000 and it has been repeated every three years.

Hungarian children have taken part in PISA since the very beginning. Their performance was never exactly sterling, but thanks to the efforts especially of Bálint Magyar (SZDSZ) as minister of education, the scores of Hungarian students improved a bit, at least in reading comprehension. While in 2006 they scored 482, in 2009 they got 494. In math and science, however, there was no appreciable difference between 2006 and 2009. Then came the 2012 results, which were really bad. Hungarian children did worse in all three categories than three years earlier.

In December 2013 Viktor Orbán’s undersecretary Rózsa Hoffmann, of the Ministry of Human Resources, announced that the 2012 PISA results “support the urgent necessity of the renewal of public education.” As we know, the Orbán government began in earnest to “reform, ” or as its critics say “destroy,” public education by nationalizing all schools, taking away the autonomy of teachers, introducing five-day physical education and religious or ethical education, reducing the number of foreign language classes and computer science, and piling endless hours of rote learning on overworked students and teachers. All that eventually led to the “teachers’ revolts” we talked about so much this past spring.

In 2013 one couldn’t say with certainty whether Viktor Orbán’s initial educational “reforms,” undertaken in the first two years of his administration, had a major impact on the abysmal 2012 PISA results. Today there can be no doubt. Retro-reform is a disastrous idea. Returning to the teaching methods of the 1960s and 1970s will not do. Failure is guaranteed, especially as measured by a test like PISA, which focuses on how students can apply their knowledge in real-world contexts. It’s hard to apply things learned solely by rote.

The first reaction to the latest results was disbelief followed by anger. Critics of the educational “reform” can now point to hard data. The media called the test results a national tragedy and a disgrace. Not only did Hungary’s students fail. So did Viktor Orbán, whose ideas were put into practice by Rózsa Hoffmann and her successors, claims the Demokratikus Koalíció. MSZP’s Ágnes Kunfalvi, the party’s educational expert, is calling for Zoltán Balog’s resignation. Meanwhile László Palkovics, undersecretary in charge of education in whom Viktor Orbán found the perfect man for the job of transforming the country into one large factory of blue-color workers with minimal educational attainment, is trying to explain away the results.

So what happened in the last three years? Students’ reading comprehension fell from 488 to 472; their knowledge of sciences from 494 to 477. Only their math score of 477 remained the same, which is less impressive if we consider that in 2009 it was 494. Hungarian students’ test scores are considerably under the OECD averages.

Natural sciences–blue; reading comprehension–yellow; math–orange

The government is consoling itself with the results of another test, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), according to which Hungarian fourth and eighth graders performed way above average. This is all very nice, but what can students do with knowledge that they have no idea how to apply?

The teaching methods in Hungary, I’m convinced, have changed very little in the last 150 years. I assume by now children don’t have to sit with their hands behind their backs for 45 minutes, which is certainly an improvement. But rote learning is ingrained in the system, especially among older teachers, whose percentage is steadily growing. Undersecretary Palkovics, just like his predecessor Hoffmann in 2013, claims that the second wave of reforms he introduced haven’t yet had a chance to exhibit their beneficial effects. He added that this was the first time the test had to be performed digitally, which may have negatively influenced the outcomes. Well, that is an indictment of the present state of Hungarian education. I wouldn’t mention it if I were in his place.

Válasz, a conservative weekly and internet site, desperately tried to give a balanced picture when it comes to responsibility for the poor scholastic performance of Hungarian youngsters. It rightly pointed out that the state of public education is a reflection of the condition of the society as a whole. Yes, but to what extent is the Orbán government responsible for the sick Hungarian society everybody is talking about nowadays? Válasz is correct in noting that public education is a very complicated affair which cannot be turned around overnight. It called attention to some of the core problems of Hungarian education: segregation, great differences in school quality, and the poor educational background of parents of a great number of students. It is also true that given the low prestige of the teaching profession, on balance the quality of teachers is poor.

The problem is that the Orbán government has been in power for over five years and by now, if their policy was sound, there should be some sign of improvement. But I’m afraid the trajectory of the “reforms” is fundamentally wrong, leading to undereducated adults who will not be able to fill the kinds of high-tech jobs our modern age requires. Moreover, the growing number of parochial schools, especially outside of Budapest, only intensifies segregation. Unfortunately, this aligns with government policy. Zoltán Balog is convinced that Roma kids are better off in segregated schools because they allegedly receive more attention there.

444.hu was a great deal more critical than Válasz. In their opinion education is the greatest failure of the Orbán government. Unfortunately, I don’t see any recognition of this fact by those politicians who have been busy in the last five and a half years ruining the already flagging educational system. I found a handy chart that lets you compare Hungary’s performance to other countries in every possible category. You will be surprised.

I think it would be time for Palkovics and Co. to swallow their pride and at least talk to those educational experts who think that the present course should be abandoned and an entirely different approach slowly introduced. However, knowing Viktor Orbán’s unwillingness to admit his mistakes, I fear he, Palkovics and Parragh, president of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce who thinks he is an educational expert, will decide that all’s well, that they should proceed on the already chosen road to eventual great success. In fact, Magyar Idők yesterday announced that “Hungarian students are outstanding” according to TIMSS results. But if one reads a little further, one also learns that although 12% of fourth graders’ knowledge of math is excellent, the percentage of students who are below grade level is also high (8%), which puts Hungary in the group of poorly performing countries.

But how can the government improve the situation when the minister responsible for education doesn’t think that functional illiteracy even exists? Or when the chief of staff of the prime minister’s office comes up with the preposterous idea that being a good Christian and a good Hungarian is more important than acquiring knowledge since it might soon become outdated? I’m afraid it’s hopeless as long as Viktor Orbán is in power.

December 6, 2016
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For those who read and speak Hungarian they may find this eventual six part video on what a Hungarian child-centered school system, one that is creating opportunities, iscompetency-based, and democratic would need to look like. http://www.tanitanek.com/igy-tanitanek/

Eva, thanks for a truly excellent and highly informative overview. But in the last paragraph, should it be “functional literacy” or “functional illiteracy?” Anyway, this is how I commented elsewhere on this topic (in my usual charming style), before I noticed that you have already put up your next piece on this very topic: PISA results, what PISA results? Who cares about such trifles in Orbanistan? An irrelevant nuisance, that is all that this PISA is, another Satanic interference by the Empire in Hungary’s internal affairs. It must have been invented by the Jews! And after all, in Hungarian “PISA” is, well . . . just pisa. In any case, the principal goal of Hungarian public education is not to get kids to excel in globalist irrelevances like PISA, but to make good Christians and good Hungarians out of them. Well, according to Herr Lázár, anyhow . . . Comic or tragic, depending on one’s point of view, but that it is pathetic, that is for sure. I think that performing well in exams like PISA or high school matriculation has a very, very large cultural component to it. One of the public (government) high schools in our district is… Read more »

Our goal is to shake up the ordinary people inside and outside of Hungary.

A simple fact is that Hungary is in the pocket of the State of Russia this time again.

Just like the Greeks and Syrians.

This relationship is not yet commonly recognized by the majority of the Hungarians, or just ignored out of laziness.

Let us hear more studies on this subject. The rest can be discussed later.


The excellent cartoon in Népszava says it all. The PISA test has no questions about the main staples of the new Hungarian curriculum, such as Christian Religion, Physical Education, Singing and Choir practice and newly crafted Hungarian History. That is why the Hungarian students did poorly.
Some of the regime’s smarter spokesmen opined, that the poor performance reflects the quality of the questions of the PISA test and not the answers of the Hungarian students. The fault lies entirely with the PISA test and not the Hungarian students, who are the best in the World.
(Perhaps they will take the students to Hero’s Square, give them awards and celebrate their success like the affair they had for the looser soccer team after they came home from the UEFA championship)
They are right. With the right questions, every Hungarian student would have scored a perfect 100%, indicating that they reached the genius level.


I had the chance to see during my sabbatical what education is like in Hungary nowadays, with two kids attending.
Hungarian literature textbooks (Tóth-Valacka) are now split by gender. Boys can read the texts from one end about adventures and mysteries, and the girls can read the book from the other end about preparing for wedding and suffering in world war 2. That’s right: two separate reading lists from the 5th grade on, with different exercises for girls and boys.
The 6th grade textbook explains that men and women have very different genes: they differ more from each other than Europeans and Africans do. It goes on to enlighten the children about the four human races (white, yellow, brown and red if you forgot) as if it were a biological and not a social category. (I work with genes and genomes, so I picked just these two outrageous examples.) And so on and so forth. Seriously, it is a wonder that the kids did not do worse.


I’ve said it before:

You don’t need education to raise mangalica pigs for the elite …

Why does this remind me of a song:

“You go to church on Sunday …”
Tina Turner – Nutbush City Limits


German kids didn’t do too well either – stagnation, but at least no backward development.


“You don’t need education to raise mangalica pigs for the elite …”

You need high and continuing education to raise pigs profitably on a large scale.


I always try to gather info from more sides, so checked the ‘mouthpiece’ paper link Eva provided in the post.
MI, 2016.Dec.05, headline: “Kiemelkedő Magyar Diákok – Outstanding Hungarian Students” (acc.TIMSS, published Nov.29), in it’s article MI mentions that PISA results are expected that very week (note PISA was published one day later Dec.06, with bad results and trends for education in Hungary)
Notice the timeline in this, it shows the mentality behind MI etc., when bad news is coming, try desperately to present some related positive news before, furthermore not go into the bad news and try to find solutions. Exactly this is a good explanation for the Hungarian results and trends in the PISA report.
PS: the by MI promoted TIMMS results are not so easy to get clear, so will comment about those later


In 2010 many people fed up with the corrupt Socialists openly said that let’s give Orban the 2/3s because he needs power to reform all those terrible public services and make Hungary great again.

Of course in reality no 2/3s were legally necessary for reforming education, health care etc. as those areas could be legislated with simple majority.

The 2/3s were only used solely to entrench Orban’s and Fidesz power and loot Hungary.

Orban eventually decided to carry out only one “reform”: that of education.

The reform was not really a reform, however, it was basically nothing more than centralization of every facet of the national school system – which is Orban’s favorite method to deal with any and all national issues.

By now we know that Orban basically blew up education.

And the trends are continuing it is very likely that the results will be even worse at the next PISA study.


giving Hungarian election results with only seats, creates distorted first impression of real support (personal experience!), best give seats and votes together
2010: Fidesz & Co. 68% of seats (53% of votes)
2014: Fidesz & Co. 67% of seats (44% of votes)
data from the very good https://theorangefiles.hu/, if you like more details recommend to check there first

Map about

The map about the ratio of Romani (Gypsy) students by counties in Hungary.

comment image

Of course Eva is aware that the USA ranks below Hungary in math, I thought that should have been noted at least in passing. The United States is in the bottom half of 72 nations and regions around the world who participate in the international test in math. Across the globe, US students were outperformed by their counterparts in 36 countries in math; 18 countries in science and 14 countries in reading. But as Eva knows, if the USA academic data is examined by social class, the children born into the top quartile in the USA look academically just great by every measure. In the USA 79% of students born into the top income quartile in the U.S. obtain bachelor’s degrees, only 11% of students from bottom-quartile families graduate from four-year universities. Having taught at Yale Eva is of course aware of that reality. PISA does not measure government assistance for poor families that accounts for student success for lower income children. Most OECD countries provide much greater assistance than either the U.S. or Hungary for family housing, health care, family income and universal early childhood education, all of which improve student achievement. Korea’s exemplary results may not reflect schools… Read more »

I wonder how the US would look if different states were tested, instead of the national avg. There are fairly large differences in education between states, after all.

Whatever the case, in science and reading comprehension, the United States does much better than Hungary – so much better, that the US’s education system, in 25th place, ranks much higher than Hungary’s, which is 35th place.

Overall, the US does not look so bad. Its system is better than Austria’s, France’s, and Sweden’s (among others).

Of the English-speaking countries, Canada comes in first place. Overall, Singapore is no. 1, followed by Japan. Of the European countries, Estonia is top, followed by Finland.

The Israelis, Romanians, and Slovaks, whose countries come in worse than Hungary, are surely also a bit depressed by PISA results.


Here is some information about State by State comparisons to other nations http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmarshallcrotty/2014/09/29/if-massachusetts-were-a-country-its-students-would-rank-9th-in-the-world/#5ce2dfb521b1 But Massachusetts has a compatively very high percentage of its total population in the top income quartile, see http://www.massbudget.org/reports/swma/income.php

But again if you look at income quartiles of the families students come from in the USA one gets a much better understanding of the social class basis for academic achievement within the USA. One does not have to be a Marxist to recognize this reality, just honest. With the conversion of Hungary to a market based society educational achievement has to also be examined by income strata of families.

This social class achievement factor also applies to the US Army Officer Corp, nearly 18 percent of West Point cadets come from a family with a household income of more than $100,000. In the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) program, 40 percent of enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods in the USA.


Israelis worse than Hungary?
Surely you’re joshing…


See p. 5 of this report.
Hungary is in 35th place. Israel comes in 40th place.


whoops! I was just looking at science data…


Look at the PISA results. Israel comes in lower than Hungary.


Not possible.
Probably a KGB joke…



The Budapest Beacon tells us today that Hungary is withdrawing from the Open Government Partnership – an organization which declares its readiness to support society and civic organizations and to combat corruption.

“To date the organization has suspended the membership of just two members: Azerbaijan and Turkey. Russia withdrew from the organization earlier this year when it, too, became the subject of a procedure along with Hungary.”

The Hungarian government which actively combats civic organizations and promotes corruption – as well as destroying the education system – is in good company. Orban votes Putyin!


for the other survey (TIMMS), which takes more time to go through, here my summary:
-for maths & science in both 4th and 8th grade Hungary is between midfield and top of EU (so scores better than in PISA)
-trends for Hungary: 1995-2015 overall negative, mainly caused by poorer 8th grades results / 2011-2015 overall no change
-surveys is done based on grade, what sticks out is that Hungarian students are the oldest in their grade (in EU), resp.10.7 and 14.7 years (this might be a small reason for difference in results between the 2 surveys, i.e.going later to school and so at same age having learned less than in other countries)
-comparing order of V4countries orders as follows: PISA gives Poland, Czech, Hungary, Slovak / TIMMS gives Poland, Hungary, Czech Slovak (note only 4th grade tested for all!)

TIMMS results can be found here http://timss2015.org/ (click mathematic and science tabs to see results), here’s summary by UK paper http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2016/11/29/revealed-world-pupil-rankings-science-maths-timss-results/
comparison PISA – TIMMS http://www.cie.org.uk/images/271193-international-surveys-pisa-timss-pirls.pdf

Overall I judge the PISA survey to be better, it’s less formal and more ‘real-world’, education situation in Hungary under both EU and V4 average and overall showing a negative trend, especially that is most worrisome


Generally, older students do better on such tests. That’s why many parents keep their children back for a year – it counts a lot.


I like surveys, lists, reports etc.
Since 2004 have always checked the Human Development reports from UNDP, especially interested in energy and sustainability. Since the (in)famous referendum campaign I try to get everything, which has surveys incl.Hungary.

Recently I have started to compare the V4 countries, and overall Hungary has lowest position from the four (only few exceptions, like education, for which Slovakia claims the ‘lanterne rouge or red lantern’).
Concerning the HDI index (human develoment index) which combines all sorts of development factors, like education, healthcare, gender (in)equality, income, sustainability, etc., I made a table comparing the V4 countries from 1990 till 2014.

Better than explaining my table, I put it into an infogram, which you can see here:
Curious for your comments……


No comments on the infogram, so will summarise here Human Development (HDI) for the V4 countries:
-only positive is that the human development (HDI index) never decreased for all 4 countries
-Hungary started last in 1990 and is still keeping strong to that position in 2014
-for some years (around 2000) Slovakia ‘grabbed’ last position, but seems they weren’t satisfied with it, so improved drastically and are currently sharing 2nd/3rd place with Poland
-since 2010 HD increase for Hungary is clearly lagging behind the other 3 countries

The thing which surprises me most now is, how is it possible that the Hungarian government, with such a poor HDI performance, is trying to be the leader of the group of V4 countries….

Reports and more info about HDI can be found here: http://hdr.undp.org/en/2014-report


OT: carbondioxide emissions USA
In the HD reports is a table about Environmental Sustainability with data for CO2 emissions, the most shocking here is consequently the data for USA
latest available from 2011: USA = 17.0 tons per person / almost all EU country are under 10, with EU highest by Czech Republic at 10.4
(in 2000 it produced per person 19.8 tons CO2, so hurrah in 11 years they reduced with some 16%, but still more than 1.7-times EU average!)
furthermore latest available (from 2000) total world share of 23% by USA only!!

Can somebody here justify why on earth each US citizen needs to produce so much more CO2?


For followers from elsewhere (all data from 2011):
-each Australian is ‘good’ for 16.5 tons CO2 (catching up USA!)
-each New-Zealander is ‘good’ for 7.1 tons CO2 (not too bad!)
-each Canadian is ‘good’ for 14.1 tons CO2 (downward trend)
-each Russian is ‘good’ for 12.6 tons CO2 (stable, but high)
-each Chinese is ‘good’ for 6.7 tons CO2 (rising strong…..)
-each Indian is ‘good’ for 1.7 tons CO2


Hungary scored better than Romania, so that is how the Orban government will sell it. Easy low hanging fruit.


If trends continue, may be Romania will catch up Hungary in next survey (2018)


The trends will continue because Orban is sticking to his suicidal education policy. Romania will overtake in 2018 the latest.


OT: case of Ahmed H – sentenced 10 years – international developments
US, 2016.Dec.06, quote: The United States is concerned by the prosecution and sentencing in Hungary of Ahmed Hamed, a Syrian native involved in clashes between police and asylum-seekers near the town of Roszke at the Hungary-Serbia border in September 2015, based on a broad interpretation of what constitutes “terrorism.”
HU, 2016.Dec.07, quote: It is shocking and unacceptable that the Department of State of the United States should comment on the judgements of Hungarian courts.


I love the leader in Pisa in all fields. Singapore, an illiberal democracy, shows the wa,y..


Yeah, sort of:
– by now Singapore is more democratic than Hung.
– there wasn’t/isn’t corruption there in comparison to
– Singapore was led by an elite team headed by Lee Quan Yu achieving historically unprecedented growth and development.
Hungary, exactly the opposite, has been dragged down by a semi educated deeply provincial criminal who is robbing the public domain blind. Forget progress, education and development.

Cant be more different these two “illiberal” whatever .