By now it should be perfectly clear to everyone that the new government created by a "revolution" in the voting booths takes the word "revolution" literally. Eveything but everything must be changed. The latest is that ambulances will be painted yellow! I wonder when the Budapest streetcars will become red. Oh, pardon me, not red, orange.
The first Orbán government paid MIÉP handsomely because István Csurka and his fellow MPs were willing to play the role of "silent partners," which the Fidesz-Smallholders coalition badly needed, especially in the second half of its four-year term. MIÉP desperately wanted to shape the media in its own image, and Viktor Orbán let them have the public radio and television stations that became mouthpieces of right-wing propaganda. Now, although the Fidesz-KDNP government has a two-thirds majority, this two-thirds majority can be maintained only as long as the Christian Democrats are ready to support the government. The opportunities for "blackmail" are numerous: abortion, discriminative legislation concerning gays and lesbians, closing stores on Sundays, preferential treatment of churches, especially the Hungarian Catholic Church, and yes, education. That's why a small-minded high school teacher whose religious conversion was quite spectacular received the coveted job of undersecretary in charge of education. For the sake of the Christian Democratic partners Orbán was ready to drop his old friend, Zoltán Pokorni, whom everybody expected to be the next minister of education. After all, he held the position in the first Orbán government.
Although recently Viktor Orbán allegedly tore Rózsa Hoffman, the woman in charge of education, into shreds, my feeling is that by and large her ideas are not all that different from Orbán's when it comes to educational philosophy. The goal is to go against the international trend of higher educational attainment of the population. It reverts back to an elitist system where there are relatively few university graduates and workers don't have more education than, let's say, they had fifty years ago. Why should a factory worker learn history or literature? A good example of this Fidesz-Christian Democratic educational philosophy is lowering the age of compulsory school attendance from 18 to 16. I can already see hundreds if not thousands of sixteen-year-olds who will decide that they have had enough of school: all those useless subjects can be left behind. But then what? What can one do at the age of sixteen with at most ten grades? Flip burgers.
So, on the one hand, the government is making sure that "the lower classes" remain where they are: their sons and daughters who don't particularly like school can quit at the age of sixteen, and those who do finish high school will have to compete for fewer slots at the universities and colleges. There seems to be a tendency to move toward a system that characterized Hungarian education for a very long time: a relatively small educated elite versus a large barely educated mass. This is the worst possible direction anyone can take today. In the European Union there is a stated goal of 40% of university graduates in the population as a whole. The last Hungarian data I found was that about 30% of the age group between 18 and 22 are attending college or university.
I am not terribly surprised that Orbán and his cohorts would like to return to the good old days when there were relatively few university graduates. In the 1980s when Orbán graduated from law school only about 6% of people between the ages of 18 and 22 attended university. Just between 1990 and 1999 the number of students attending university doubled, and by now has quadrupled. This doesn't sit well with with many professors and alums. I talk to a lot of people who bitterly complain about the drop in standards. I'm sure that this is the case but, let's face it, not all history majors must teach history in high school or university. I just heard that people working as prison guards in California must have a college degree. This is a new world and Orbán is wrong if he thinks that the world will imitate not only Hungary's new constitution but also his old-fashioned ideas about education.
There is another frightening prospect for elementary and high schools. Since the change of regime schools have been under the jurisdication of the municipalities. The "founding fathers" were mindful of the importance of local self-government. Viktor Orbán hates all this freedom on the local level. In his mind that leads to chaos. For example, he points to the incredible indebtedness of the cities and towns because the mayors and the city councils were free to borrow even for daily expenses. That is true, but the municipalities have almost no other sources of income than the money the central government allots to them. And that is not quite enough. A big chunk of the money goes to the upkeep of schools and one municipality after the other tries to get rid of them by handing them over to the churches. Rózsa Hoffmann made that move very easy. Before she assumed her position, if a municipality wanted to hand over the school to the church, it had to share expenses with the new owner for three years. Hoffmann changed that. As soon as the contract between the municipality and the church is signed, the church has full ownership minus the real estate. By now there are municipalities where there are non-parochial schools whatsoever. Whether the parents want to send their children to parochial school or not, they have no choice. Thus, Hungarian education sooner or later will again be in large part in the hands of the Catholic Church. And that Catholic church is extremely conservative if not reactionary. Soon we may see a rerun of the situation in the city of Pécs before 1950 (then population of 70,000): there was not one non-parochial high school in town. You weren't a Catholic: tough luck. You suffered discrimination against "the children of other religions." The Christian Democratic control over education is pointing in this direction.
The future is rather gloomy: "workers" will not have the opportunity for a college education, the number of college and university students will drop, a large number of the municipal schools will be in the hands of the Catholic Church. Or perhaps, and this is also a possibility, the local schools will be nationalized. The ministry will appoint the principals and will most likely approve the one textbook that will have to be used in all state schools. Hoffmann already announced that using different textbooks is nonsense. Everybody should study the same subjects from the same books.
All in all, a brave new world is emerging but one that will set Hungary back even more in the global economy.