MSZP’s new strategy: Public education reform

I would like to talk a bit more about Attila Mesterházy’s article in yesterday’s Népszabadság where he outlined changes that in the party leadership’s opinion are vital in order to rectify Viktor Orbán’s mistakes.

There are so many problems with Viktor Orbán’s vision of the future that one doesn’t even know where to begin. But here let’s focus on education. It is a well established fact that in today’s society, especially in countries that are poor in natural resources or are not flush with ready capital, the best investment a government can make is in education. It is also becoming evident that old-fashioned teaching methods are ineffective in the twenty-first century.

Viktor Orbán has definite ideas about the role of education in Hungarian society. He envisages a small, highly educated elite, let’s say 12-15% of the adult population. The rest of the population ought to be satisfied with a high school education or even less. In Viktor Orbán’s view of the world, everybody has his place. “Mediocre” students, even if they could be admitted to university on the basis of entrance exams, shouldn’t even bother to apply because only the very best deserve a degree. That kind of thinking led the current administration to lower the compulsory school age from eighteen to sixteen.  I don’t think they ever asked what the sixteen-year-old “drop-outs” will do after they leave school. Surely, they will add to the unemployment rolls.

In Orbán’s Hungary less money is spent on education than during previous administrations, which is a real disaster because even in previous years only about 5.2% of GDP went to education. The number of students entering college this year dropped considerably because of the introduction of very high tuition fees. All in all, Orbán’s Hungary is marching in the wrong direction in education as in so many other areas.

Although some of Mesterházy’s 15 theses enumerated in the Népszabadság article are vague, the section dealing with education is quite explicit. The persons in charge of party policy on education are István Hiller, former MSZP minister of education, and Ágnes Kunhalmi, an energetic and self-possessed young woman. Hiller, a former university professor, is mostly interested in higher education. He is normally the spokesman of the party when the Orbán government’s policies affecting higher education are being discussed in the media. Kunhalmi specializes in the equivalent of K-12 education. When I say she is young, I don’t exaggerate. She graduated from high school in 2002. She’s a new face in MSZP and a bright one, as is clear from an interview with her a few months ago in 168 Óra. I assume that the ideas Mesterházy shared with his readers on questions of public education come at least in part from Ágnes Kunhalmi.

As I said, Mesterházy is quite specific about trying to equalize educational opportunities in Hungary and to improve the overall quality of teaching. Currently there are huge differences among schools. A few are excellent and produce students who year after year receive prizes in international competitions. Most schools are mediocre. But then there are those whose graduates can barely read and write. For the most part teaching in Hungary is uninspired and uninspiring. In order to overcome this, it seems that MSZP is ready to adopt an interactive approach to teaching. At least this seems to be the message of Mesterházy’s reference to the Hejőkeresztúr model.

The model is actually an adaptation of a method of teaching that was developed at Stanford University. Thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, the principal of the school had the opportunity to get acquainted with the method and was so impressed that she decided to try out it out in her own school. Hejőkeresztúr is a very poor village a few kilometers from Miskolc where 90% of the adult population is unemployed. A great number of the children attending the Hejőkeresztúr elementary school are Roma. While we often hear about serious behavioral problems elsewhere, in Hejőkeresztúr children love going to school and do very well. They all eventually attend high school and actually matriculate. There is an article about this by now famous school in Népszabadság. Several private firms and individual donors help the school financially.

The children playing interactive games in Hejőkeresztúr  elementary school

Children playing interactive games in the Hejőkeresztúr elementary school

The idea behind the Stanford method is to replace ineffective passive learning with engaged learning. Actively working on a problem, especially in teams, has all sorts of benefits.

In the past the majority of teachers resisted change. Now it seems that MSZP is ready to stand behind a thorough educational reform. Mesterházy is quite explicit: “We will break with old-fashioned retrograde methods of teaching and will move on to the modern, child-centered interactive teaching that has been successful in other developed countries.” That is a real commitment that I haven’t heard before from MSZP politicians. I do hope they mean it.

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39 comments

  1. I m delighted by these announcements. Mesterhazy has been an increasingly impressive figure since his speech outside parliament denouncing the bloodthirsty attempt to compile a list of Jews last year.

    The main reform needed in schools, though, is to stop ordering children what to think. Certain subjects obviously involve facts, grammar rules, historical documentation, heights of mountains, depths of oceans etc. But other subjects – the humanities – should be about encouraging creative but critical thinking and research: nothing is wrong if you can prove it, or at least argue it well and then back it up. This latter approach is currently frowned upon in Hungarian schools (where you’re marked down even for wearing the wrong formal clothing in the stifling heat, and then marked down further for not giving the examiner his chosen slant of answer), meaning that many able star students who go on to study abroad become either confused by the onus suddenly placed on their own individual conclusions, or delightfully enthused by the new academic freedoms suddenly granted them.

    This not thinking for oneself starts, I’m afraid, with the school ‘celebrations’. Patriotism is undermined, I would have thought, in a school and in a wider society where you are simply not allowed to choose not to stand for the flag and for the anthem. Enforced patriotism is simply not patriotism at all, and the situation now is akin to the May Day marches, false smiles and all. Start with freedom. Remove the fear. Bring out the individual child. And then teach them, collaboratively rather than by rote. I think.

  2. I wish I could be as optimistic. Making these kinds of changes is a long term project, far beyond the electoral term of one government. That’s one of the reasons for there being cross-party consensus on the goals and objectives of education and public health (among others) in most developed countries. Fidesz doesn’t believe in building consensus and I therefore truly believe that, for as long as Orbán is in politics, strucrural reform of the economy, health and education are not going to happen.

  3. Lutra, completely agree.

    Orban does not care about policy the slightest, he will kill any new government and his policies, just because that is his nature. To inflict damage. In a way he must be a kind of sadist, I think.

    You do any policy change and Fidesz will in five minutes revoke it after they get to power just to show how is in charge. When the left gets to power, however, they always leave almost everything in place. They are not agressive at all and in any case much slower so that when they finally decide to do something it’s too late politically (too close to the next elections) so nothing changes fundamentally, but you get the resistance to the already diluted change (which resistance Fidesz can hype up easily, but not the left). So you end up with Fidesz-concieved policies everywhere.

    But his sick aggressiveness has worked excellently so far, after all he is still there after 25 years in politics, stronger than ever and is poised to continue to exercise the real power for another twenty (even from opposition) years.

    (For some foreign readers: Fidesz is Orban’s personal property, just because Orban might lose an election, absolutely does not mean that he would retire. He would continue to remain the most important politician in Hungary and plot his comeback.)

    One can only hope and pray that he will not last in politics as long as Silvio Berlusconi (80) or Robert Mugabe (90) or Josip Tito (87).

  4. @Lutra lutra

    “as long as Orbán is in politics, strucrural reform of the economy, health and education are not going to happen”

    Au contraire, there have been big, “structural” changes in all three fields. Orban has taken out huge sums of money from education and health care and nepotism has become much stronger in the economy.

  5. tappanch :
    @Lutra lutra
    “as long as Orbán is in politics, strucrural reform of the economy, health and education are not going to happen”
    Au contraire, there have been big, “structural” changes in all three fields. Orban has taken out huge sums of money from education and health care and nepotism has become much stronger in the economy.

    And not only money.

    He added an extra layer on top of the Okmany Iroda structure.
    All school books per school need to be purchased from one publishing company. Surprising government publishing companies are beneficiaries of this structure.
    Teachers need to be a member of a special teachers trade union.
    Limitation of the number of students at the universities.
    Doctors and nurses (young ones (the future)) are going abroad.
    etc.,etc.

  6. A bit OT (not too much I hope):

    Today’s Fidesz approach to education reminds me of the German school system 60/70 years ago!

    We had segregated schools – for Catholics and Protestants …

    I remember very well how eager I was to start school with my friends – only to hear that they would be going to another school – because they were Catholics. The crazy thing was:

    Both schools were in the same building – the old schoolhouse of that small town where I grew up – but separated by a wall and of course during breaks we had to stay in our part of the school …

    Later at the gymnasium we tried to discuss this with our headmaster (ho also was our Latin teacher and a member of the town council) – and he defended that vehemently! Since the twown was small, the Cathoilc school had five classes (for 8 years) and the Protestant only three – so 4 years of pupils had one teacher, because many left after the first year for the gymnasium. But he said that teaching Christian (or rather Catholic vs Protestant) values was more important than having smaller groups of pupils in one class – Can you imagine that ?

    We (a group of pupils who still today meet about once or twice a year, all became academics …) gave this Catholic loonie the classification “Clerical Fascist” and stopped being interested in discussion at school …

    I really hated these teachers (most were similar or just adapted to the boss) – just was lucky that I was the best in my class so they wouldn’t touch me …

    I could tell more stories, like we were obliged to go to “school church” once a week, which we just ignored – they tried to force us, but in the end they gave up, having a group of unruly young men in church was too much for the priest …

    So all in all:

    Is Hungary, compared to the rest of Europe, really 50 years behind the times – and falling back ?

    If Fidesz continues to rule – YES!

  7. Sorry, a correction:

    Of course some pupils left after 4 years of “Grundschule” for the gymnasium.

    Btw our Catholic Fascist headmaster tried everything to keep the number of pupils at “his” gymnasium as small as possible – another similarity to Fidesz.

    I remember very well when he told one of my classmates:

    Du bist zu dumm zum Scheißen – geh doch zu Pfannkuch als Verkäufer!

    Loosely translated:

    Your as thick as a brick – should go to work at a CBA!

    PS:

    This guy later became a high ranking officer in the German Navy – headmaster of the Navy Officer’s Academy …

    He often told this “joke” which obviously motivated him a lot – show this bastard of a teacher that he was wrong.

  8. @Lutra lutra, you are quite right that without some consensus there will once again be a yet another flip flop in policy. It is these huge swings in policy that make long term planning in this country almost impossible.

    I’m now looking at kids that have had decisions made several years ago for their futures now have those futures ripped out from underneath them because of the ignorance and arrogance of a few people. Shame on them!!!

  9. tappanch :
    @Lutra lutra
    “as long as Orbán is in politics, strucrural reform of the economy, health and education are not going to happen”
    Au contraire, there have been big, “structural” changes in all three fields. Orban has taken out huge sums of money from education and health care and nepotism has become much stronger in the economy.

    We’re hearing about more and more people having surgery postponed because they hospitals have run out of money for that month.

  10. Lazar, who is Orban’s chief of staff called Csanyi, who is the chairman of the biggest bank in Hungary a usurer [a shark] today.

    [audio src="http://www.klubradio.hu/data/files/lazar_janos_visszaszol_csanyinak.mp3" /]

  11. Our neighbour’s wife which urgently needed two artificial knee joints just returned from the hospital and told my wife she was so lucky that her son in law offered to pay for them – so she went to some hospital in Budapest.

    The local hospitals in Hévíz, Keszthely and Zalegerszég have long waiting lists …

  12. Wolfi: the problem was thus solved so she can vote for Fidesz again. What you describe is the norm if you get close to the state health system, but people are used to that. They will solve the problem some smart way – as they did. It’s not a priority. Defending the country against foreigners, banks and the EU are.

  13. @Clubber:

    No, she is one of the few people I know outside my wife’s family who would never vote for “the Fidesz mafia” as her late husband was wont to say – he used so many swear words on Orbán, Pinter etc I was really astonished!

    She is not so interested in politics but they could talk about the Orbán family and its sudden riches and also others from the same ilk – so at least some people know what’s going on …

    But the vast majority of Hungarians seems to be just interested in getting enough money for a new flat screen tv or a new (second hand) car or they just worry how to make ends meet. That these people still vote for Fidesz makes me wonder …

  14. It seems that the Romanians have had enough of Orbán and Fidesz. Basescu announced that most likely this was the last year that Hungarian politicians will be able to hold their yearly gatherings in Tusnádfürdő. He thought that they can behave but it seems that they cannot. He specifically mentioned László Tőkés’s speech about a possible Hungarian protectorate over Transylvania.

    http://hvg.hu/vilag/20130812_Basescu_beszolt_Magyarorszagnak_az_instab#utm_source=hirkereso&utm_medium=listing&utm_campaign=hirkereso_2013_8_12

  15. OT: No media outlet is small for Fidesz. Századvég, one of the main partizan Fidesz “think thanks” just bought Napi Gazdaság (Daily Economics). Mind you, from the owners of Index.hu, who are also Fidesz leaning, but until now CEMP at least tried to operate Napi as a market-oriented outlet, but obviously given the size of the market (the paper is perhaps sold in 6,000 copies), it was impossible.

    It will be another Fidesz propaganda tool, since they don’t have to care about profitability – only reach.

    Fidesz and co. will purchase each and every media outlet, especially as the print media is suffering from the shrinking of the already small market and the dearth of advertizers so literally eveyrthing is up for sale.

    Lack of advertizers is also an issue for internet sites, so prepare for Fidesz investments in internet sites.

    They are preparing for decades, with a detailed strategy. And they execute.

  16. OT: “Ding dong the witch is dead…”

    “Laszlo Csatary, a former police officer indicted in June by Hungarian authorities for abusing Jews and contributing to their deportation to Nazi death camps during World War II, has died.
    “With his actions, the accused wilfully assisted in the illegal killings and torture carried out against the Jews deported from Kosice to the concentration camps in areas occupied by the Germans,” the indictment said.”
    (http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/ex-canadian-charged-with-nazi-era-war-crimes-dead-at-98-1.1407234#ixzz2blMbcM6j)

    Unfortunately justice was not served before his death, thanks to the Fidesz supporting judaical system of current Hungary. It is certainly not he interest of the current Hungarian government to punish a killer, a murderer or war criminals if it comes to gain financial benefits (Azeri axe-murderer released by Orban) or it would cost some votes at the polls (pleasing Jobbik members who hate Jews and gypsies is one of the priorities of Fidesz).
    THis man served no time in jail, and spent his last few months in great comfort in Hungary protected by Jobbik members, and by the police. Shame!

  17. Ron :
    Eva: It seems that the Romanians have had enough of Orbán and Fidesz.
    I believe they they had enough of Hungarian politicians in general, and specifically of a right signature.
    http://www.politics.hu/20130811/jobbik-calls-romanian-foreign-ministry-statement-provocation/
    http://www.nineoclock.ro/leader-of-hungary%E2%80%99s-extremist-party-jobbik-makes-bellicose-statements/

    Well, maybe Orban’s plan to give voting rights to Hungarians across the border will backfire. At this point the interest of people in Transylvania would be to vote for Jobiik that would fight for the autonomy.

  18. The only hope regarding the Transylvanians is that – hopefully – not all of them living in a dreamland, and sooner or later they will recognise, that each and every “liberation” attempt only make their life harder. I don’t think, that they really wish to go into open confrontation, none any sober person in her/his right mind will.

    While beating the nettle with someone else’s organ you shouldn’t expect honest cooperation from the owner, do you?

  19. Some1 :
    OT: “Ding dong the witch is dead…”
    “Laszlo Csatary, a former police officer indicted in June by Hungarian authorities for abusing Jews and contributing to their deportation to Nazi death camps during World War II, has died.
    THis man served no time in jail, and spent his last few months in great comfort in Hungary protected by Jobbik members, and by the police. Shame!

    Yet another shame.. and not just OV’s he’s been in Hungary for quite some time which means previous governments had plenty of opportunities to do the right thing and they didn’t.

  20. If you met corruption, would you report it? Yes %

    Germany 94%
    UK 91%
    Slovenia 80%
    EU average 71%
    Romania 59%
    Slovakia 50%

    Hungary 30%

    If you did not report the corruption, what is the reason?

    It would not change anything 41%
    I am afraid of reporting 21%
    I do not know where to report it 7%

    http://www.transparency.hu/GCB2013

  21. wolfi :
    Rwe corruption:
    That might be one reason why the EU is withholding money from Hungary
    http://www.bbj.hu/economy/suspended-eu-funds-hungary-could-lose-eur2-billion_67678

    I am reading this article. These guys VO and Lazar are really something.

    First VO stated that the system needs to change http://www.bbj.hu/business/govt-to-establish-new-system-for-eu-funding_63684 (date July 20).
    Second Lazar is stating that EU suspended the money, but they are not correct to do this. Hungary is violating one of the main the EU rules about Competition Rules (Engineers need to be part of the Hungarian Engineer Chambers).http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/12/us-hungary-eufunds-idUSBRE97B0EH20130812
    Third He is calling Csanyi names, and now he want Csanyi to get the chestnuts out of the fire.
    Fourth Other Ministries are losing budget if they are sloppy or incompetent. I did not explicit read this, but not his Ministry (see first point.)

  22. here’s more info:
    http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/hungary_could_lose_huf_500-600_bn_eu_funding_lazar.26477.html
    We just saw Lázár on the news – he looked very, very nervous …
    Maybe Orbán will “kill” him, especially after Lázár called Csanyi the “No1 usurer in the country” …
    So will the EU fight against Fidesz the roundabout way by taking away their most important asset i e their money ?
    On pol.hu I compared this with the way the US got Al Capone via unpaid taxes …

  23. Mutt :

    tappanch :
    If you did not report the corruption, what is the reason?
    It would not change anything 41%
    I am afraid of reporting 21%
    I do not know where to report it 7%
    http://www.transparency.hu/GCB2013

    I’m involved 90%

    Then it isn’t corruption, you see!
    It is only when you’re left out of it 😉
    Otherwise business as usual – that’s the way to looking at, in Hungary, anyway.

  24. LwiiH :

    Some1 :
    OT: “Ding dong the witch is dead…”
    “Laszlo Csatary, a former police officer indicted in June by Hungarian authorities for abusing Jews and contributing to their deportation to Nazi death camps during World War II, has died.
    THis man served no time in jail, and spent his last few months in great comfort in Hungary protected by Jobbik members, and by the police. Shame!

    Yet another shame.. and not just OV’s he’s been in Hungary for quite some time which means previous governments had plenty of opportunities to do the right thing and they didn’t.

    Actually Csatary has been there since June 2012. I think you are referring to the other dirt Sandor Kepiro. The scum moved back to Hungary in 2006, but he is also let go by the Fidesz court in 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2016047/Sandor-Kepiro-97-cleared-war-crimes-Hungary-court.html

  25. wolfi :
    here’s more info:
    http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/hungary_could_lose_huf_500-600_bn_eu_funding_lazar.26477.html
    We just saw Lázár on the news – he looked very, very nervous …
    Maybe Orbán will “kill” him, especially after Lázár called Csanyi the “No1 usurer in the country” …
    So will the EU fight against Fidesz the roundabout way by taking away their most important asset i e their money ?
    On pol.hu I compared this with the way the US got Al Capone via unpaid taxes …

    Didn’t you know that Hungary does not need the EU? Let’s wait for the Peace March with Bayer and the other clowns going to protest for the Fidesz and the independence from the EU. Orban and his clown brigades must be careful what they wish for I guess!
    My favourite part is this:
    “Lázár has urged the prime minister to call a meeting of government officials on Wednesday and has reportedly also requested Sándor Csányi’s presence to discuss the matter – on that same day Hungarian media ran his line dubbing the OTP CEO “Hungary’s biggest usurer.”

  26. Clubber :
    Wolfi: the problem was thus solved so she can vote for Fidesz again.

    Hilarious. (I read that the lady will not do such a thing, so apologies to her, but otherwise very funny.)

  27. Some1 :

    LwiiH :

    Some1 :
    OT: “Ding dong the witch is dead…”
    “Laszlo Csatary, a former police officer indicted in June by Hungarian authorities for abusing Jews and contributing to their deportation to Nazi death camps during World War II, has died.
    THis man served no time in jail, and spent his last few months in great comfort in Hungary protected by Jobbik members, and by the police. Shame!

    Yet another shame.. and not just OV’s he’s been in Hungary for quite some time which means previous governments had plenty of opportunities to do the right thing and they didn’t.

    Actually Csatary has been there since June 2012. I think you are referring to the other dirt Sandor Kepiro. The scum moved back to Hungary in 2006, but he is also let go by the Fidesz court in 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2016047/Sandor-Kepiro-97-cleared-war-crimes-Hungary-court.html

    Csatary was turfed from Canada in the 90s so where has he been since then?

  28. Some1 :Actually Csatary has been there since June 2012.

    He had been living in Hungary since he left Canada in 1996. If I’m not mistaken, the Canadian did not reach out to Budapest at the time, so nobody was publicly looking for him until the end of 2011, when the Wiesenthal Center informed the Hungarian authorities. Who dragged their feet, hence the inscription in the ‘most wanted list’ in April 2012 – again, no reaction – then the outing via the Sun in July. Then after the arrest they dragged their feet again in a turf match with Slovakia, and that’s that.

  29. Csatary was probably getting Canadian social security in Hungary. Did he also get Hungarian social security when he moved to Hungary?

  30. tappanch :Csatary was probably getting Canadian social security in Hungary. Did he also get Hungarian social security when he moved to Hungary?

    Though bureaucracies public or private never cease to amaze, I doubt he was getting Canadian social security after he left Canada (his Canadian citizenship was eventually revoked on Aug. 27., 1997).

    But then, when I wrote above that Ottawa hadn’t informed Budapest at the time, I’m not so sure now. First because the case was in the news (there was a Radio Canada French TV news item dated Oct. 31, 1996, plus it was referenced in every report about war crimes prosecution after that). Second, because the Hungarian ambassador was Károly Gedai, who resigned shortly afterwards for a peculiar motive…

    http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1997/Hungarian-Ambassador-Resigns/id-fbbc468a81fbb752d7ece0fe256f0f9c

  31. Some1 :
    OT: “Ding dong the witch is dead…”
    Unfortunately justice was not served before his death, thanks to the Fidesz supporting judaical system of current Hungary.

    You probably meant to say “judicial system” and not “judaical system”

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