Remote Learning in Hungary: Late Step toward Digitalization

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João Pombeiro "Global Summit" // CC 2.0

The new COVID-19 pandemic has turned the whole world’s routine upside down at the beginning of 2020. Many have been forced to the online world to continue their everyday businesses, especially working and studying. Children and teenagers also participate in education online. However, this new form has its own issues.

Whilst universities have always been in an advantageous situation because of digital tools and lessons available online, amd thanks to the fact that university students are used to digitalization, primary and secondary schools in Hungary are still in their infancy regarding digital education.

Many developed EU countries were also struggling to switch to remote learning, but in Hungary digitization, especially in education, has just started.

The Hungarian education system has its own conflicts, which have been emerging since 2010, when the current government came into power.

Before the pandemic, teachers had to adapt to the new National Basic Education Plan (Nemzeti Alaptanterv, NAT), which they have been criticizing because of its content.

Now, the pandemic is just an additional problem and, unlike in universities, teachers in primary and secondary education were told to continue working in schools since, according to the government, closing schools would have meant the end of the school year.

Therefore, universities had more time to plan and could switch to remote learning sooner than primary and secondary schools.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in one of his regular Friday radio interviews that closing schools has no any advantages, because the whole school year would have to be repeated, while teachers would not get paid for the time off.

On the same evening, PM Orban announced in a Facebook live video that every primary and secondary school would be closed since March 13. Hence, teachers had to quickly prepare themselves for remote teaching.

Viktor Orban mentioned that a switch to remote learning would be bumpy, because the Hungarian government is not prepared completely to digital education, according to the plan it should have started next year, but the pandemic changed the situation.

In Hungary, the digitization of education started around 2014-15, with a launch of the Kréta system, with the financial support of the EU. The aim of the system was to introduce new educational methodologies, an easier access to students’ grades, and give more information to  parents. But the beginning was not smooth at all, and there still exist some issues.

Unfortunately, the development of the Hungarian education system might have been corrupt, which may be the reason why Hungary has not reached its goals yet.

A well-known opposition MP, Ákos Hadházy, who’s main objective is to monitor corruption, has revealed many corruption cases, some of them in connection with digital education, where the state funds were not used correctly.

He wrote about the overpriced Kréta system and the fact that despite it being heavily subsidized, it has not become a well-functioning programme. Other such examples listed by Mr Hadházy include useless computer programmes, issues with inconsistent online webpages, overpriced courses and workshops, all which were implemented thanks to the financial support from the European Union.

Because of the irresponsibly managed system, Hungarian students and teachers have to face a barely functioning digital education system in the time of the pandemic, and try to figure out how to solve these problems on their own.

Moreover, some Hungarian teachers aged over 60 are digitally illiterate, thus they have to get acquainted with various online communication platforms which they could then use to conduct lessons. Luckily, most of them quickly adapted to the new situation and now easily use such solutions.

Another main problem is the infrastructure. In Hungary’s less developed regions, many students might not be able to enjoy remote learning, because of lacking infrastructure, including wi-fi or other digital tools.

Many NGOs, civil activists, and even political parties are trying to help remedy this situation, but many students still could not benefit from their assistance. This could easily lead to them failing a class or even a semester, thus having to repeat a whole school year. As a consequence, social inequality may deepen even further.

As of today, no suggestion has yet been made on the state level as to how to avoid these risks. there is also lack of help to improve remote learning and to get infrastructure and tools to the students and teachers who are living in those regions of Hungary.

According to Nóra L. Ritók1, the leader of the Igazgyöngy Foundation, not only the missing tools are a part of the problem, but also a major part of the students and teachers do not know how to use computers and info-communication tools. Clearly, they should be taught how to utilize them as well.

Especially minorities, like Roma, are under the threat of not getting proper education during the time of the pandemic. As a consequence, they could easily fall out of the educational system.

Even the leader of the Klebesberg Központ, which is responsible for the education in Hungary, admitted that thousands of students could drop out from schools, because of the missing infrastructure and tools. Gabriella Hajnal said2 that in those cases the resolution is paper-based, with teachers conducting lessons and assigning homework via post.

Finally, there is the question of the final exams in secondary school. Typically, students graduate in May. However, whether remote learning is effective is questionable, and its results will become clear no sooner than by the end of this summer.

Due to these circumstances, remote learning poses several challenges, and many students could drop out. If such a situation is to be avoided, the state must be more involved.

On the bright side, teachers and students have had a chance to get acquainted with new tools, platforms, and opportunities provided by digital education and utilize them in the future. Nowadays, being digitally informed is an advantage that slowly become a necessity.

At the moment, Hungary needs to take further steps toward digital development in order to catch up with other EU member states.

Let’s hope for the bests.

Dora Pakai
Republikon Institute