Why Teachers Protest: A Tale of Hungarian Education Policy

SARAH-JL via flickr || Creative Commons

The Hungarian educational scene has been the subject of several fundamental changes since Fidesz’s rise to power with its historic win in the elections of 2010. It has started with serious reforms in higher education, with the introduction of fee-paying trainings, diminishing of the financial independence of universities and even the closure of several faculties – all this in order to create regional educational powerhouses.

Changes were made in public education as well. The first and most echoed change by the government was the introduction of the “pedagogical career path” which guaranteed continuously increasing salaries for teachers. With the new public education law, the system of public education management is becoming strictly centralized.

Since 1993, the great majority of public institutions have been managed by local governments. The introduction of KLIK (Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Centre) led to a myriad of changes in the everyday life of every teacher and student.

Firstly, now school directors are chosen by KLIK, regardless of the opinion of teachers and parents – although they can hold votes, but the final word is the Centre’s. This can lead to cases where the teaching staff votes for a director candidate who they know and has years of experience against an unknown nominee with a rate of 40-0, but the candidate with 0 votes is chosen for the position by KLIK.

As part of a new national core curriculum, new subjects became compulsory in every public school such as moral philosophy, divinity, and the introduction of P.E. classes every day. To support this, schools were provided with new textbooks, with the approval of KLIK, which were mandatory to use. This led to independent textbook publishers going bankrupt, and also narrowed down the selection of books and freedom in teaching methodology for teachers.

Financial centralizationhas transformed previously easy everyday tasks (such as providing chalk and paper) into heavily bureaucratic and difficult, because of the permissions required by KLIK. Expenditures are also paid via KLIK – operation of which can be hardly called flawless – resulting in some schools being closed for several days due to the lack of electricity or gas supply; some schools did not receive the state provided textbooks until November. The outcome of these changes by 2016 is a growing number of dissatisfied teachers and school workers, and heavily stressed children.

In January 2016, anopen letter of complaint was written by teachers at a Miskolc high school what led to a nationwide movement, with the support of 737 schools. As a response, a roundtable discussion convened by the Ministry of Human Capacities was called together, but several government-friendly, non-educational organizations were included. One of the most influential teachers’ unions boycotted the event, another one left after calling it “futile”.

Zoltán Balog (head of the Ministry of Human Resources) and the since then dismissed Mrs. Czunyi (the Undersecretary of Education) promised the present representatives of the unions to lessen the administrative duties of teachers. Although the principal of the Miskolc high school stated that the outcome of negotiations were positive, and the ministry had promised to listen to all complaints and try to find solutions, it was not enough to calm down the teachers. In fact, hostile communication coming from the government, which declared that “it is futile for teachers to demonstrate” and claimed that “ Pedagogues are always saying they are overburdened, they should ask other people how much they have to work at other work places, without summer holidays” resulted in other unions (such as medical workers, bus drivers and railroad workers) joining the movement, and holding a demonstration in front of the Parliament of Hungary on February 13.

As the story develops, opposition parties are looking to gain advantage of the situation by organising separate consultations with teachers, and fuelling anger in the society. Meanwhile, the government promises to reorganise KLIK, Mrs. Czunyi was hastily dismissed from her position and some high ranked party members started criticising the running of KLIK, while agreeing that the current wave of dissatisfaction is fuelled by opposition leaders and even foreign powers, like George Soros.

Find out more about the Hungarian educational reforms and their effects here and here.

Gabor Lukacs
Free Market Foundation