Teachers Protest Education Overhaul in Hungary

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Thousands of Hungarian teachers protested last week against the government’s centralization of the education system, and the budget cut-offs that have left some schools even without chalk.

The demonstrations started in Miskolc, 110 miles away from the capital of Budapest. The town is home to the first high school in the country to go public with its demands last year. 5,000 teachers, parents, labor union representatives, and students hit the streets of Miskolc to urge the government to give back the autonomy to teachers and municipalities on all levels, from budgeting to curriculum, write Zoltan Simon and Gabriella Lovas of Bloomberg.

30,000 Hungarians have signed a petition to support the protesters.

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban came into power in 2010, adopting a platform of education reform aimed at addressing discrepancies in student performance across the country. One of the first changes in the sector was the centralization, and the schools are now controlled by a central body instead of by local authorities.  The new central authority is in charge of all aspects of education, including supply deliveries in rural areas.

Fox News reports that Mr. Laszlo Mendrey, head of the Teachers Democratic Union, said that these reforms have turned the clock back on Hungarian education system by 100 years.

As a result of the centralization, teachers’ workload was doubled. The teachers received pay increases, but it was not enough to compensate for the longer working hours and the demands of more required classes. According to teachers, new textbooks contained some factual errors and promoted conservative views on some contemporary topics like homosexuality, notes Voice of America. Marta Baliko, a retired teacher and a protester, commented:

“The government does not want educated, creative people but dumb automatons who are easy to control.”

Piroska Galló, the chairwoman of PSZ, a teachers union, commented to Hungary Today that educators were running out of patience, not because of themselves but because of the students’ future. She also added that the government couldn’t and didn’t want to understand the issues in the education system.

The protests drew diverse reactions from Hungary’s political parties. István Hollik, who is a part of the allied ruling Christian Democrats, said that children and their interests come first.  He also posited that teachers were being used by parties “of the failed political left” for their political purposes.

Orban’s political opponents agreed that the current centralized system was dysfunctional and needed to be changed.

The government, which named the need to optimize budgets among its initial reasons for reforms of the educational system, confirmed it was starting a series of negotiations on fixing the problems.

Csaba Toth, the strategic director of the Hungarian Republikon Institute think-tank, said that the teachers’ protests may lead to more serious consequences. The next big demonstration will take place on February 13 outside the House of Parliament.