Wakeup call: The PISA results reveal deep problems

The outcry over the PISA results is not subsiding. On the contrary. As more details surface, the magnitude of the problem is dawning on commentators. If almost 30% of Hungarian students at the age of 15 are functionally illiterate, it is difficult to imagine how the rosy future of the Orbán propaganda can ever be achieved.

The chief villain, of course, is silent. HVG asked the prime minister’s office for a response but was told to get in touch with Zoltán Balog’s ministry of human resources. Balog seemed to be in hiding. His undersecretary, László Palkovics, complained that this heartless OECD measures the performance of countries without taking into consideration local conditions, like his great efforts at a second wave of “reforms.” As Árpád W. Tóta, the witty political commentator, said, this problem can easily be remedied. Hungary should turn its back on the OECD just as it did today on the Open Government Partnership because it didn’t like the organization’s report on systemic corruption in Hungary over the last six years. Officials try to say as little as possible, but it seems that the party line is to whitewash the system they introduced and to blame the one-size-fits-all approach of PISA. Hungarian students have to take the same test as Japanese and German students, without any regard for the “Hungarian soul” and idiosyncratic “Hungarian thinking.” At least Viktor Orbán believes that Hungarian thinking is unique.

The consensus that has emerged in the last two days is that the cause of this drastic drop in performance is the reorganization of the educational system. The government set out to introduce a uniform system where all teachers teach the same material and thus all children end up with the same body of knowledge. Prior to the reform teachers could choose from a long list of textbooks. After the reform the choice was restricted to only two textbooks for each subject. If there had not been widespread protests, the government would have opted for only one. The old, favored textbooks were withdrawn and in record speed new texts appeared. In addition, the government decided that children need to work more and to acquire more factual knowledge. Even first-graders are required to stay in school until 4:00 p.m. Teachers, although they received raises, have to teach more classes and are forbidden to leave the building before 4:00 p.m. whether they have teaching duties or not. The result: overworked teachers, overworked students, and underperformance.

Some commentators are certain that the poor results are the consequence of too much teaching. A fair number of the many hours spent in school are frittered away on non-essentials. To appease the churches the government introduced religious instruction (or, alternatively, ethics classes). At least one hour a day is spent in physical education, which because of a lack of facilities often takes place in the corridors or consists of running up and down staircases. Since one of the undersecretaries in Balog’s ministry is a conductor and an expert on sacred music, even the crazy idea of daily singing came up at one point. Zoltán Balog was most enthusiastic. Wouldn’t it be splendid if these good Hungarian children would learn as many folk songs as possible? I don’t know what happened to this brilliant idea, but I hope it was dropped. Meanwhile, schools either don’t have any computers or, if they do, they are ancient and pretty useless. So it’s no wonder that students had difficulty answering the PISA test questions digitally.

Now let’s take a look at some of the details, which give us a fuller picture of the dreadful state of Hungarian education. In three years the number of students who haven’t reached even minimal reading competence has grown dramatically. These are the people whom we call functional illiterates. It is hard to believe, but 27.5% of 15-year-olds can’t figure out the meaning of quite simple texts. Six years ago only 17% of Hungarian students fell into this category. Hungary’s functional illiteracy rate is double that of Poland’s. That makes Hungary one of the poorest performers in the OECD countries, along with Mexico, Turkey, Greece, and Chile. Unfortunately, the situation is no better in the sciences, where 26% of the students performed under the minimum standards. Three years ago this was 18%. The situation is about the same in math as well. In brief, 18% of all Hungarian fifteen-year-olds underperformed not just in one subject but in all three.

You will write one hundred times: “Next time I will cram better for the PISA test” / Népszava , Gábor Pápai

According to Péter Radó, the foremost authority on education in Hungary today, if everything remains the same “Hungarian public education will produce 25,000 new functional illiterates yearly, in addition to about the same number who are deficient in math and science skills.” If one concentrates only on males, every third 15-year-old boy is functionally illiterate (31.9%).

Compare the 18% of Hungarian underperformers in all three areas with the Polish results, where only 8.3% fall into this category. Poland’s well thought-out educational reform has produced spectacular results. Long discussions among teachers, educational experts, students, and parents preceded the introduction of the Polish reform plan. In Hungary government officials talked to no one who would object to their retrograde plan and discussed it with only a small group of people with no expertise in education.

Let me add that the European Union as a whole is not doing as well as one would expect in the field of education, especially since it has a plan according to which by 2020 the proportion of students who perform under the minimum requirements must be reduced to 15%. As you can see on the following graph, the European Union’s results leave a great deal to be desired. It is unlikely that by 2020 it will achieve the desired result, especially if Hungary keeps adding to the already dismal figures.

Proportion of underachievers in Europe and Hungary in all three subjects

Among his many sins in the field of education Viktor Orbán set out to reduce the number of university graduates in Hungary. During the Kádár period only about 10% of the population had a higher degree. After 1990 successive Hungarian governments opened the doors of universities just like in other developed countries. As a result, enrollment soared, at least until Viktor Orbán decided that Hungary didn’t need so many university graduates. By exacting high tuition fees and decreasing the number of free places he managed to substantially reduce the number of students enrolled in Hungary’s colleges and universities.

Moreover, Orbán decided that among the high school population were some whose presence until the age of 18 was undesirable. The government therefore decreed that education was compulsory only to the age of 16. As a result, children of very poor families drop out of school as soon as possible in order to join the public workforce and help the family economically.  In the last couple of years Orbán also set out to decrease the number of academic high schools (gymnasiums) and to favor trade schools.

These moves, not without reason, raise the suspicion that Viktor Orbán wants to lower the educational attainment of Hungarians. The less educated can be more easily influenced and led. As Tóta said in his opinion piece today, Orbán managed to create a school system for sheep.

And he will undoubtedly continue along the same path unless someone stops him. For example, if the results of these tests rekindle teacher dissatisfaction. Lately, there have been signs that high school students, being perhaps foolishly brave, are standing up and even arguing with Zoltán Balog on matters of education. After all, their futures–and the future of the country–are at stake.

December 7, 2016
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Please read especially #7 about the educational system. Thank you. ========================================= Chomsky Tízparancsolat. Érdekes ma olvasni, miképp látta a következő időszak vezetőinek ideológiai irányvonalát. 1.) Az emberek agyát és figyelmét le kell foglalni másod- és harmadrangú problémákkal. Ennek érdekében figyelmüket el kell vonni a valós és súlyos szociális gondokról, mégpedig olyan hírekkel, amelyek társadalmi jelentősége kicsi ugyan, de érzelmileg erősen megérintik őket. Támaszkodjunk a bulvársajtóra, amely hű szolgánk lesz. 2.) A nép úgy kell tekintsen politikai vezetőire, mint a nemzet megmentőire. Ennek érdekében (elsősorban a média segítségével) hamis riasztások és nemlétező fenyegetések tömkelegét kell rájuk zúdítani, amelyek miatt aggódni, később szorongani kezd. Ha a szorongás elérte a kritikus szintet, lépj közbe és oldd meg a (máskülönben nemlétező, illetve általad gerjesztett) problémákat. Hálásak lesznek, s önmaguk fogják kérni szabadságjogaik csorbítását. 3.) A nemzetnek mindig készen kell lennie arra, hogy valami rosszabb következik. Ennek sulykolása érdekében használd fel a „fehér” propagandát (vagyis nyíltan a kormány irányítása alatt álló médiumokat), a „szürkét” (azokat a sajtótermékeket, amelyek csak részben állnak kormánybefolyás alatt), s a „feketét” (amelyekről senki sem gondolná, hogy valójában a hatalom szolgálatában állnak). Ezek karöltve azon kell munkálkodjanak, hogy egy olyan kormány képét vetítsék a lakosság szeme elé, amely minden erejével azon… Read more »
András B. Göllner
Guest

Orbán, like all autocrats, is fearful of a public that is critical, literate and well informed. It is this fear that fuels his education policy. Fifteen years ago he talked of the necessity and usefulness of addressing Hungarians with messages that are designed for people with the intelligence of a 12 year old. If he and his minister of education continue on their current trajectory, they will be able to have their cake and eat it too. By the time his countrymen wake up, and realize what has befallen them, the pocket-rocket will be sipping his martini on some secluded tropical island with his friend, Arthur Finkelstein (Finkie), Andy Vajna and Árpád Habony.
Hajrá Magyarok !!!

Map about
Guest

map about the The ratio of Gypsy students in primary schools of Hungary

comment image

Guest

What areyou trying to tell us?

That you hate Gypsies – like many Hungarians who hate almost everybody else?

webber
Guest

Next will you give us a map of the ration of Black or Hispanic students in primary schools in the US?

Istvan
Guest

I know that Webber was joking or making a point about the map issue, but here in the US state of Illinois there are actual racial graphics of every school district and each school within those districts. So here is one for the Public Schools in my home City of Chicago http://www.illinoisreportcard.com/District.aspx?source=studentcharacteristics&source2=studentdemographics&Districtid=15016299025 A parent can also get similar data on the percentages of poor children in any school.

The truth is this data is most often used by white middle class parents in search for a school when relocating within the USA. Parents of low income status and minority parents know pretty well the composition of the school their child goes to and often cannot do much about it due to the locations they can afford to live in. It’s part of the quiet reality of racial and social segregation here in the USA. Hiding the data would achieve nothing either, because there are private educational consultants who would get this data via freedom of records rule and make it availed for a fee.

Observer
Guest

Webber

Map’s eventually ulterior motives aside, I concur with Istvan’s or rather the Anglo approach to data collection – ethnic, racial stats are indispensable for the study and solution design process.
Shouldn’t kill/blame the messenger, overdose PC blinds

Observer
Guest

Webber

Further to stats and re.
Migrant Integration here’s a pretty honest and interesting new study from the UK:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-casey-review-a-review-into-opportunity-and-integration

Bowen
Guest

Please can you supply a map of where all the racist, xenophobic idiots who voted for Fidesz live? Because that’s where the real problem is.

i-2016
Guest

It is even more important to identify their handlers from Moscow.

Why everybody scratches the surface only?

It is up to all to dig deep into the matters.

petofi
Guest
@ i-2016 You and I seem to be largely alone on this blog appreciating the depth to which the ‘basement brigade’ (my term for the KGB/FSB) have infected the world. They have succeeded in destroying the capacity of western people to distinguish between Right and Wrong. Worse still, they have convinced people that the age old virtues no longer apply in the modern world. Efficacy is the ruling factor now. If it is useful to lie and shower a campaign with disinformation, so be it. Trump is the most visible recipient of this long campaign of the Russians; but Erdogan and Orban were previous adherents. I’m quite certain that nefarious hacking and interference in votes by the Russians took place. It’s now obvious that Americans under Obama no longer have the gumption to keep the attack ants off their culture and way of life. The net result will be the implosion of the US government and institutions. You cannot put billionaires and generals in charge of running a a democracy. Neither of those two factions are given to surrendering power that they’ve once won to themselves… And all this will have been done without firing a shot–by feints and threats… Read more »
Ferenc
Guest

You ask, we try to provide, but can we really, YES, WE CAN:

Data about 2014 elections for Hungarian parliamentcomment image
Individual electoral-district winners outside Budapest: orange=Fidesz candidates; red=Change of Government candidatescomment image
Individual electoral-district winners in Budapest: orange=Fidesz candidates; red=Change of Government candidates

Very good summary of elections (in English): https://theorangefiles.hu/2014-national-assembly-elections/
Further details (in Hungarian) at Hungary’s National Election Office: http://valasztas.hu/hu/ogyv2014/861/861_0_index.html

Guest

Reading about the state of education in the country today presents an astounding and terrible picture. In my opinion it is absolutely pathetic to see how such a critical variable to the success of Magyar society and its people is getting the country nowhere. That menu it comprises is one of starvation.

This educational locomotive is gravely stalled and will never leave the station under the current leadership. I’m afraid they do not understand the spectacular link between the practice of education, the psychology of learning, educational attainment and freedom. Their determination to set education right is misplaced and completely on the wrong tracks.

Observer
Guest

“Their determination to set education right is misplaced and completely on the wrong tracks…”

They are on their own, right track since their determination was/is to bring education under total control and use the system as a political tool – for indoctrinating, suppressing free thought and control.
Not an education, but a drill (nevelèsi) system it is called officially. As it is expected to be in such a regime, fits right in.

Guest

You are correct in the ‘nevelesi’ profile and it is truly unfortunate that that is the reality. Doing things by rote for control snuffs out any forward progress for the development of literacy and critical thinking skills of the population.

What is galling about this abject situation is that it should never be occurring. Education run by the kind of ‘determinism’ we see has to be seen as a failure yet it’s still full speed ahead. The foolishness in that view is killing the future of Magyar intellectual life. Magyarorszag 2050…a land bereft of intellectual stimulation.

Guest

Similar to the education system in “Socialist” times?

However I have the feeling that education was better in those days – if you were willing to follow the party line, which my wife didn’t, so she couldn’t go to university …

bimbi
Guest

Orban creates a school system for sheep.

As one reads this summary on the present position of education in Hungary, one feels disgust. Disgust at the incompetence of the “leaders” primarily responsible for underfunding the system, for over-loading it with their dismal dogma and for ruining any esprit de corps of the teaching staff. This is, quite simply, more criminal fraud against the Hungarian people, foisted off with third best by the thieves and incompetents in government. Disgust, yes.

Talpra Magyar! Your children are being screwed by your grasping government!

Observer
Guest

The Hungarians are being screwed, the rude joke goes, but they are so assisted in moving forward (progressing).

bimbi
Guest

I was a little sorry to read of the adverse comments by Prof. Balogh on the virtues of singing and physical education at school. At least I (finally) learned to swim through such a programme.

As to the singing, I was brought up to be a good Christian (that’s the purpose of “education”, right, Janos?) and can still reel off “Onward Christain soldiers, Marching as to war” at the drop of a hat – but somehow in today’s climate the message is not so applicable as it used to be. Maybe I should have stuck to “Caller Herring”?

Guest

Bimbi, you are very correct in your valuation of physical education/movement education in school–kids can’t learn very well if they are not allowed to move in whole body gestures. There is a whole realm of writing on this. But apparently there is no appropriate space allotted for these activities (running up and down stairs!). And 60 minutes a day? The problem is that while they are running stairs, they are not getting education in math, history, science, etc.
And as to “Onward Christian Soldiers”–I too can sing that any time I wish, having learned it in Sunday School–not in my public school.

zsuka
Guest

There is nothing wrong with spending more time in school with physical education and music. Children need to move and they should learn about a healthy lifestyle which certainly comprises some sort of daily exercise. Music is one of the joys of life – so why not teach that in school too. BUT that should be part of a curriculum which encourages critical thinking and supports the children’s desire to learn. And I don’t see that in Hungarian schools.

Observer
Guest

Again, as in all other areas, the phys ed was not really about health and not even sports, but part of the nationalistic “vigor” image development, ref. Italian, Nazi and Soviet ones.
Proven by the absence of plans, practical measures, human resources or funds towards the alleged goals. As all Orban things it’s another bout of propaganda, ie. bunch of lies.

Observer
Guest

Ferenc

You are a valuable contribution to this blog, ref to your comments in the previous PISA results post. Tnx for the links and comparative chart.

Ferenc
Guest

Heard about the push for more gymnastics/sports (“tesi – testnevelés” – body training) at schools, which by itself is not bad. But when appears that, because of not enough gymspace, students have to run up and down stairs in the school buildings, it becomes pretty pathetic.

But you never know, might as well be that the Hungarian government is thinking about a new sport association they would like to start up and chair: Stairs Training UP i Down, and try to get it as a new sport on the Olympics program.

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