Home > Uncategorized > Hungary’s new school system: A built-in failure

Hungary’s new school system: A built-in failure

August 14, 2012

We’d better learn the name of another Hungarian historical figure: Kuno Klebelsberg, minister of education between 1922 and 1931. His odd given name, Kuno, is a nickname for Konrad. Klebelsberg, like the majority of Hungarian politicians between the two world wars, had a title–he was a count–but judging from his short biography money didn’t come with it. His father was a professional soldier who died early and he was brought up in the upper middle class milieu of his mother’s family.

Almost his entire adult life was spent in government service. In 1914 he became undersecretary in the Ministry of  Religion and Education. As an admirer of Prime Minister István Tisza he was certainly no friend of Mihály Károlyi, and in January 1919 together with István Bethlen he began organizing a Christian national opposition party. As a close political ally of Bethlen, he received an invitation to join the new prime minister’s cabinet in 1921. For a short while Klebelsberg was Minister of Interior, but then he moved on to head the Ministry of Religion and Education (Vallás- és Közoktatatásügyi Minisztérium).

Klebelsberg was a man of vision, but without the Bethlen government’s decision to spend a considerable amount of money on education Klebelsberg could have done nothing. His ministry received sufficient funds–funds that couldn’t be spent on defense–to expand and improve Hungarian education across the board, from elementary schools to universities.

Kuno Klebelsberg, first on the left, 1927
Historical Photo Collection of the Hungarian National Museum

I find it ironic that the Orbán government, which at the moment is busily restricting educational opportunities, decided to use the Klebelsberg name to set up a monster of a government office that is supposed oversee the running of the newly nationalized school system.

After 1990 schools, elementary as well as high schools, became the property and responsibility of localities. At the same time, especially during the liberal Bálint Magyar’s tenure as minister, teachers’ freedom to choose textbooks and methods of teaching was greatly expanded, and newer educational ideas were introduced to replace some of the nineteenth-century Prussian methods adopted by Hungary about 150 years ago.

To Viktor Orbán all that sounded like chaos. He found the whole concept alien and could envisage only a school system where there was such a thing as “a national minimum.” National minimum in this context means that there is a core curriculum that is compulsory for everyone. Same textbooks, same curriculum, same methods of teaching. And that can be achieved only by re-nationalizing public schools. First, Rózsa Hoffmann (KDNP), undersecretary in charge of education in the Ministry of Human Resources, laid out plans to nationalize schools that were until now under the jurisdiction of the counties. One of her first decisions was to force all current principals to resign. They had to reapply and they either got rehired or nor. Mostly not.

In the second stage of the operation 4,169 schools will be taken over by the state by January 1, 2013. The method of nationalization is peculiar because the real estate and the maintenance of the physical plants will remain with the localities. So, while they will have to bear a considerable financial burden, the management of the educational process within the schools, including decisions on hiring and firing, will be moved over to the state. The local governments will suffer all of the pain and reap none of the gain.

Critics of nationalization just couldn’t imagine how this new system will work. How can the minister in Budapest decide who would be the best choice for principal in a village school somewhere in the provinces?

At the end of June all became clear. As Rózsa Hoffmann announced at a press conference, the government is not nationalizing schools. This is an entirely unfair description of what’s happening. According to the undersecretary, the real aim is “the harmonization of the goals of the central authority that is responsible for education with the needs of the local authorities.” How will that harmonization be achieved? By setting up an office to serve as a liaison between the ministry and the school administrations.

The new office will be called Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ (Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Center, KIK), which may be the largest state-run organization in the history of Hungary. Over 4,000 schools, 1.2 million students, and 120,000 teachers. The Center will have 200 regional offices. Why 200? Because the Orbán government just restored a century-old administrative unit called járás (in German Bezirk) that was abolished in 1983. The restoration of this administrative unit was the idea of Lajos Bokros, one of the authors of the 2010 campaign program of MDF. Obviously, the idea appealed to the Fidesz politicians and the Orbán government created 200 járások. So, it seems, every járás will have a regional KIK office.

The Center will have 2,300 employees, but Rózsa Hoffmann assured everybody that it will not involve further government expansion, which is hard to imagine. KIK is supposed to open its doors on September 1, 2012.  So far the local governments are in the dark about their relationship with KIK’s regional offices. And most educational experts are skeptical about the viability of this whole highly centralized educational system.

Zoltán Pokorni, minister of education in the first Orbán government, is among the skeptics. He can’t quite imagine a huge enterprise whose management consists of several thousand people, with 160,000 employees, and a 700-800 billion forint budget. MÁV, the largest Hungarian company, has 35,000-38,000 employees, so KIK will be four times larger than MÁV. I might add that MÁV is perhaps the worst run company in the country. Pokorni, by the way, considers the fate of Hungarian public education to be extremely important from the point of view of the current government. According to him, the success or failure of the new system may decide the outcome of the 2014 elections.

Well, I think Pokorni is naive. The fate of the 2014 elections is in the hands of those who have been busily changing the electoral laws. The state of Hungarian education is irrelevant from the point of view of Fidesz. In fact, the more ignorant and the more lethargic the voters the better.

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  1. tappanch
    August 15, 2012 at 4:05 am | #1

    The government control over curriculum is worse now than under the late Communist Kadar regime.

    From 1976 on, government determined 70% of the material schools had to teach – leaving 30% to the wisdom of local schools and individual teachers.

    There was not centralized will between 1990 and 2011.

    According to the new Law on Public Education, from September 2012, the Orban government will determine 90% of the curriculum, leaving only 10% leeway to individual teachers.

  2. LwiiH
    August 15, 2012 at 4:08 am | #2

    To be honest, this school system need to be reformed. It is a patch work of inconsistency and incongruencies which doesn’t serve the needs of a significant portion of the population. This system as it stands, has no accountability, relies on these outside schools to offer specialty programs (a system filled with corruption) and by the looks of it is about to get less accountable, more bureaucratic and less responsive to needs. Meanwhile, workloads, class sizes and uncertainties are leaving teachers who are pretty close to living in poverty, de-moralized and feeling pretty burnt out….

    Meanwhile OV sending his kids to a very nice international school in Nagykovácsi at the princely sum of $25,000/year per child, (about 4x the average take home of a teacher in this area) so he doesn’t have to face any of the turmoil that’s being created. This week we’re off to a school as we’re being forced to buy a new round of books because for some unknown reason the books from last year are now out of date yet the teaching methods aren’t. Oh, I know the reason, if they used the same books as last year people would reuse them and the publishers wouldn’t be able to see as many of them. But if we change the book slightly, everyone will have to work from the newest edition.

  3. cherry17
    August 15, 2012 at 8:01 am | #3

    As with so many other things it will cost billions to restore the system back to normal should there be a change in government in 2014. What’s more, not much has been revealed about the destruction of the music education that made Hungary famous . Teachers, students came to Hungary to study music from countries as far as Japan. Now, the situation in music schools including the Music Academy is nightmare.
    By the way, Demján, Orbán’s friend said there is no need for artists, musicians and highly qualified people in Hungary as long as there are lots of electricians, plumbers etc.

  4. wolfi
    August 15, 2012 at 8:06 am | #4

    Maybe a bit OT:

    The Klebelsberg family is active in Hungary – most of the pages are in Hungarian, but from the few pages in German I find that they are not in agreement with Hungarian authorities …

    http://www.klebelsberg.eu/

  5. Kingfisher
    August 15, 2012 at 8:53 am | #5

    @cherry17, I don’t think he expressed it well but Demján has a very valid point. Hungarian society can’t have it both ways: if it wants great music teaching etc (and thank goodness there is a consensus that this is a good thing), it has to also create the wealth to pay for it. And yes, that means the education system needs to churn out a lot more people with proper skills, rather than philosophy degrees, or degrees in teaching philosophy. The sad truth is that the Hungarian labour force is deficient in practical skills compared to other countries it is competing against. I live in a rural, largely working-class street here in the UK and yet there are plumbers and electricians, running their own businesses and offering reliable services that I found incredibly hard to find when slap bang in the middle of Budapest. And while the English education system is desperately poor, people do at least get some sort of vocational training and it is surely only right that Hungary spends money on this, rather than on philosophy students, or yet more language teachers.

  6. August 15, 2012 at 9:10 am | #6

    wolfi :

    Maybe a bit OT:

    The Klebelsberg family is active in Hungary – most of the pages are in Hungarian, but from the few pages in German I find that they are not in agreement with Hungarian authorities …

    http://www.klebelsberg.eu/

    I took a very quick look at it but it seems to be that this Eva Klebelsberg is complaining about Fidesz using the Klebelsberg name because she thinks that Orbán and Co. is doing something wrong in the name of her ancestor but because she is convinced that all parties today, including Fidesz, are full of communists. The lady seems to send letters right and left forbidding the use of the name but it seems that no one takes her seriously.

    I will have to spend a little more time on site to have a better sense of what’s going on. Thank you for the link.

  7. cherry17
    August 15, 2012 at 9:29 am | #7

    @Kingfisher,still I will never be able to understand why they had to destroy a successfully functioning music education system which created really good reputation for Hungary. On the other hand I don’t think universities have churned out too many people with philosophy degrees.

  8. win-a-bet
    August 15, 2012 at 9:55 am | #8

    This is an explosive mix.
    The stubborn right is insisting on glorifying Klebelsberg, Horthy, and Christianity.
    The answers to two lost wars were the Kun Bela Tanacskoztarsasag and the Rakosi Socialism.
    The next counterrevolution is around the corner.
    A military coup is not impossible.
    The poor pay of the teachers, police and army will do its job.

  9. August 15, 2012 at 10:07 am | #9

    cherry17 :

    @Kingfisher,still I will never be able to understand why they had to destroy a successfully functioning music education system which created really good reputation for Hungary. On the other hand I don’t think universities have churned out too many people with philosophy degrees.

    This bunch is simply anti-intellectual. I just read Orbán’s latest interview with a university Internet paper. It turns out that in school he wasn’t good in literature or in history to pass the entrance exam of the faculty of arts. But he wasn’t any good in physics or math either. So, although he had no idea what it meant to be a lawyer he applied to law school “because this was my only chance to be accepted.” Then he continues: because there were only very few people who believed in his talent as a football player he came to the conclusion that he ought to get a degree. “But if I had a choice there is no question I would have chosen football.” That much about Orbán’s intellectual background.

  10. gdfxx
    August 15, 2012 at 10:24 am | #10

    Eva S. Balogh :

    cherry17 :
    @Kingfisher,still I will never be able to understand why they had to destroy a successfully functioning music education system which created really good reputation for Hungary. On the other hand I don’t think universities have churned out too many people with philosophy degrees.

    This bunch is simply anti-intellectual. I just read Orbán’s latest interview with a university Internet paper. … “But if I had a choice there is no question I would have chosen football.” That much about Orbán’s intellectual background.

    It’s a real shame he didn’t chose football. Had he done it, Hungary would probably be a much better place now…

  11. cherry17
    August 15, 2012 at 10:32 am | #11

    @win-a-bet, a military coup or counterrevolution would nicely play in their hands. They could declare a state of emergency cancelling the forthcoming elections.

  12. hongorma
    August 15, 2012 at 11:04 am | #12

    According to friends of mine who work in the educational sector, the school system is in utter chaos and no one is even really sure of what they are supposed to be doing come September 1. Other friends of mine with foreign-born spouses are simply pulling their kids out of the Hungarian system and moving back to the other European country where they have residency so their kids can get a normal secondary-school education: a brain drain of sorts that has already started. Other friends are saying, “Well, they’ll finish gynamsium here, after that we don’t know.”

    The extreme centralisational of the school system can only mean one thing: more power and control in the hands of the Orbanites. I cannot imagine, whatever they are cooking up, that it will bring any substantive benefit to the poorest level of society: for all the populalist rhetoric, nothing they’ve done has to date. (Only the price of metro tickets hasn’t gone up that much since the Viktator was elected, but then again, I think public transport has been beyond the reach of the very poorest for at least a decade now).

    OV+Co.’s hostility to intellectuals is more than abundantly clear. As to the notion that Hungary is somehow overbrimming with “philosophers”, to be honest, I find that to be laughable. Every small European nation needs to cultivate and groom its own national elite, and in fact, OV+Co. are currently attempting to “replace” stellar intellectual figures with their own shoddy right-leaning imitations (see this recent “takeover” of the Tokai Writer’s Camp: this year’s theme was ‘Silence and Enforced Silence During the Kadar Years.’ This educational “reform” is part of their strategy of completely redefining and rewriting the national literary canon.)

    Kingfisher, if you want to look to look at a school system that really teaches skills and academics to the entire population, try Finland. What OV is doing now will not make the Hungarian system closer to the Finnish one, but farther away.

    I am thoroughly convinced that what OV has in mind is nothing less than the creation of a permanent underclass, one so mired in deep poverty they will give up even trying. I am as well thoroughly convinced that his vision of Hungarian society is some macabre combination of the 1930s –”making genocide seem normal”, to paraphrase Imre Kertesz–and the Hungary of the 19th century, when a fair amount of the population languished in serf-like conditions.

  13. An
    August 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm | #13

    OT, from today’s news:

    “If Fidesz can gather more strength, and if Hungary is made a strong country in terms of the economy and in other respects, the question of revising the borders may be raised officially in eight years’ time, Fidesz MP Zoltán Kőszegi told the weekend youth camp in Borzont, Székely region at the weekend, Transylvanian daily Krónika reported.”

    http://www.politics.hu/20120815/fidesz-may-officially-raise-issue-of-border-revision-in-2020-says-mp/

  14. Some1
    August 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm | #14

    An :
    OT, from today’s news:
    “If Fidesz can gather more strength, and if Hungary is made a strong country in terms of the economy and in other respects, the question of revising the borders may be raised officially in eight years’ time, Fidesz MP Zoltán Kőszegi told the weekend youth camp in Borzont, Székely region at the weekend, Transylvanian daily Krónika reported.”
    http://www.politics.hu/20120815/fidesz-may-officially-raise-issue-of-border-revision-in-2020-says-mp/

    Officialy, I think Orban is out of his little mind he has.

    As far as

    hongorma :
    OV+Co.’s hostility to intellectuals is more than abundantly clear. As to the notion that Hungary is somehow overbrimming with “philosophers”, to be honest, I find that to be laughable.

    It is very true. I would really love to have a list of the “workers” these hypocrites keep friendships with. I only can see them hanging out in each others’ company and electing each other for any position that comes to light. It feels like a scene from Deliverance.

  15. August 15, 2012 at 2:32 pm | #15

    Based on what I read here, these tactics *ahem* reforms are just paving way to ensure Vicky & his clan top jobs in the future.

    Imagine Vicky as minister of sports, he’d be much more efficient!

  16. petofi
    August 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm | #16

    cherry17 :
    As with so many other things it will cost billions to restore the system back to normal should there be a change in government in 2014. What’s more, not much has been revealed about the destruction of the music education that made Hungary famous . Teachers, students came to Hungary to study music from countries as far as Japan. Now, the situation in music schools including the Music Academy is nightmare.
    By the way, Demján, Orbán’s friend said there is no need for artists, musicians and highly qualified people in Hungary as long as there are lots of electricians, plumbers etc.

    Musicians don’t build gas chambers.

  17. petofi
    August 15, 2012 at 3:05 pm | #17

    hongorma :
    According to friends of mine who work in the educational sector, the school system is in utter chaos and no one is even really sure of what they are supposed to be doing come September 1. Other friends of mine with foreign-born spouses are simply pulling their kids out of the Hungarian system and moving back to the other European country where they have residency so their kids can get a normal secondary-school education: a brain drain of sorts that has already started. Other friends are saying, “Well, they’ll finish gynamsium here, after that we don’t know.”
    The extreme centralisational of the school system can only mean one thing: more power and control in the hands of the Orbanites. I cannot imagine, whatever they are cooking up, that it will bring any substantive benefit to the poorest level of society: for all the populalist rhetoric, nothing they’ve done has to date. (Only the price of metro tickets hasn’t gone up that much since the Viktator was elected, but then again, I think public transport has been beyond the reach of the very poorest for at least a decade now).
    OV+Co.’s hostility to intellectuals is more than abundantly clear. As to the notion that Hungary is somehow overbrimming with “philosophers”, to be honest, I find that to be laughable. Every small European nation needs to cultivate and groom its own national elite, and in fact, OV+Co. are currently attempting to “replace” stellar intellectual figures with their own shoddy right-leaning imitations (see this recent “takeover” of the Tokai Writer’s Camp: this year’s theme was ‘Silence and Enforced Silence During the Kadar Years.’ This educational “reform” is part of their strategy of completely redefining and rewriting the national literary canon.)
    Kingfisher, if you want to look to look at a school system that really teaches skills and academics to the entire population, try Finland. What OV is doing now will not make the Hungarian system closer to the Finnish one, but farther away.
    I am thoroughly convinced that what OV has in mind is nothing less than the creation of a permanent underclass, one so mired in deep poverty they will give up even trying. I am as well thoroughly convinced that his vision of Hungarian society is some macabre combination of the 1930s –”making genocide seem normal”, to paraphrase Imre Kertesz–and the Hungary of the 19th century, when a fair amount of the population languished in serf-like conditions.

    What is incomprehensible is that supposedly intelligent and cultured people–and Fidesz and the right must have some–are going along with this.

    Could someone please explain THAT?

  18. Kingfisher
    August 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm | #18

    petofi :

    Musicians don’t build gas chambers.

    The only reason Medveczky Ádám doesn’t build gas chambers is because he never learned to mix cement at the Music Academy, not because he is a musician.

    Incidentally, the Music Academy is a real Jobbik hotbed, so one of the teachers I know tells me.

  19. LwiiH
    August 15, 2012 at 4:22 pm | #19

    hongorma :
    According to friends of mine who work in the educational sector, the school system is in utter chaos and no one is even really sure of what they are supposed to be doing come September 1. Other friends of mine with foreign-born spouses are simply pulling their kids out of the Hungarian system and moving back to the other European country where they have residency so their kids can get a normal secondary-school education: a brain drain of sorts that has already started. Other friends are saying, “Well, they’ll finish gynamsium here, after that we don’t know.”

    Yup, this is not sor far from our experiences and thinking.

  20. LwiiH
    August 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm | #20

    An :
    OT, from today’s news:
    “If Fidesz can gather more strength, and if Hungary is made a strong country in terms of the economy and in other respects, the question of revising the borders may be raised officially in eight years’ time

    And maybe Mexico can talk about getting California back…

    So are these guys out to start a war? ‘cos thats what this sounds like.

  21. August 15, 2012 at 4:28 pm | #21

    Dr Balogh: “she thinks that Orbán and Co. is doing something wrong in the name of her ancestor but because she is convinced that all parties today, including Fidesz, are full of communists.”

    I like this Eva Klebelsberg right away! :-)

  22. August 15, 2012 at 4:37 pm | #22

    win-a-bet: “A military coup is not impossible.
    The poor pay of the teachers, police and army will do its job.”

    Particularly, if they can get paid for revolting, otherwise they will just down another froccs.

    It appears that the left is hoping for some event that would spare them the embarrassment of the next election….

  23. An
    August 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm | #23

    @LwiiH: Just wishful thinking, I believe. By the way, Fidesz says that the MP just expressed his “private opinion”.

  24. Some1
    August 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm | #24

    Louis Kovach :
    Dr Balogh: “she thinks that Orbán and Co. is doing something wrong in the name of her ancestor but because she is convinced that all parties today, including Fidesz, are full of communists.”
    I like this Eva Klebelsberg right away!

    Maybe you should start posting on her blog then. You seem you have a lot of in common with the Countess as she likes to call herself.

  25. Some1
    August 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm | #25

    Louis Kovach :
    win-a-bet: “A military coup is not impossible.
    The poor pay of the teachers, police and army will do its job.”
    Particularly, if they can get paid for revolting, otherwise they will just down another froccs.
    It appears that the left is hoping for some event that would spare them the embarrassment of the next election….

    No wonder you are against anything left. Your thinking is right there with Orban. Did you play some sports too before becoming a scientist? I guess your math was better than his.

  26. August 15, 2012 at 6:05 pm | #26

    Some1 :

    Maybe you should start posting on her blog then. You seem you have a lot of in common with the Countess as she likes to call herself.

    Titles of nobility, Prince, Count, Baron, cannot be officially used in Hungary. Moreover, the use of such titles tells a lot about the person. Péter Esterházy doesn’t call himself prince, or Tibor Dessewffy doesn’t call himself count, or Ágnes Széchenyi is just simply Ágnes Széchenyi. But I guess they don’t need to point out their titles. Each of them did enough on their own.

  27. August 16, 2012 at 2:03 am | #27

    Reblogged this on hungarianvirus and commented:
    I like it…Éva!

  28. August 16, 2012 at 8:11 pm | #28

    I’ve watched a fair bit of Hungarian football over the years. It’s actually improved a lot in recent years, but in Orbán’s time it was dire. If he couldn’t get taken seriously as a footballer in those days, he must have been pretty awful.

  29. August 16, 2012 at 8:14 pm | #29

    “It appears that the left is hoping for some event that would spare them the embarrassment of the next election….”

    I suppose, applying the monkeys and typewriyers theory, even Kovach was going to get something right eventually…

  30. August 17, 2012 at 10:45 am | #30

    Some1: No wonder you are against anything left. Your thinking is right there with Orban. Did you play some sports too before becoming a scientist? I guess your math was better than his.”

    Yes, target shooting in 1956. Your point is???

  31. August 17, 2012 at 10:57 am | #31

    Louis Kovach :
    Some1: No wonder you are against anything left. Your thinking is right there with Orban. Did you play some sports too before becoming a scientist? I guess your math was better than his.”
    Yes, target shooting in 1956. Your point is???

    Who was the target?

  32. August 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm | #32

    Mutt: “Who was the target?”

    The folks inside Magyar Radio on Oct 23/24.

  33. August 18, 2012 at 11:46 am | #33

    Dr Balogh: “Titles of nobility, Prince, Count, Baron, cannot be officially used in Hungary. Moreover, the use of such titles tells a lot about the person. Péter Esterházy doesn’t call himself prince, or Tibor Dessewffy does call himself count, or Ágnes Széchenyi is just simply Ágnes Széchenyi. But I guess they don’t need to point out their titles. Each of them did enough on their own.”

    So now in Hungary it is only Sacha Noam Cohen?

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