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Five Miskolc schools join forces to fix public education in Hungary

“They cannot disregard our voices.  Let us tell the other cities not to fear and to join us, as education is a common matter concerning the entire country. Don’t be afraid to take up the problem as you are not alone.” 

“We would like for there to be at least one person from each school, and at least one school in each city that joins us.  We expect other cities and even the entire country to join our ranks”.

– Olivér Pliz, mathematics/physics/biology teacher, Herman Ottó Gimnazium

Five academic high schools in Miskolc have agreed to work together to fix Hungary’s creaking public education system.

In May last year each school sent a separate letter to the agency at the Ministry of Human Resources responsible for maintaining public schools, the so-called Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Center (KLIK), calling attention to serious problems arising from far-reaching reforms following the government takeover of public schools in 2013.

None of the five schools received an answer either from KLIK or the Ministry of Human Resources.

On Thursday representatives from the five schools met at the Hermann Ottó Gimnazium and signed the following “letter of intent and invitation”:

The undersigned members of the public workers council, all of whom are employees of the Klebelsberg Insitution Maintenance Center for the Miskolc academic district, declare their intention to form the Alliance of Miskolc Academic District Public Employee Councils, and to work out its operational framework.

The undersigned at the same time call on all the public workers’ councils to also create alliances, on the basis of which we together can bring to life the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Center Central Public Workers Council.

The purpose of the alliance and the call to action: the creation of a representative order of the pubic employees councils appropriate to the organization level of KLIK in order to exercise the rights of collective bargaining guaranteed by the law.

Teachers and students overburdened

Attending the signing ceremony were numerous Miskolc teachers and students.

One eleventh-grade student told index.hu before the signing ceremony that “we have to take our final exams next year, and it turned out this year that much of what we studied over the past two years won’t be on it.  Instead, completely other things will be on it.”

Another student said: “It would be good to start ninth grade knowing what we can expect but the books are so bad. There were books we received but those which the teacher requires to teach us never arrived.”

The problems mentioned by the two students were among those listed in an open letter dated November 27th, 2015.

Index.hu reports that alliance supporters already number some three thousand, including individuals, institutions, famous artists, public persons, university teachers and civil organizations.

All five Miskolc academic high schools as well as some 19 primary and middle schools have joined the initiative, meaning their teaching faculties have joined the struggle to fix Hungary’s broken educational system.

In the open letter to KLIK they write that the entire educational system is threatened not so much by low salaries but because students and teachers alike are overburdened.  They say the current educational system is overly bureaucratic, chaotic and unpredictable, and hope for the number of faculties joining the initiative to reach the critical point at which the decision makers will meet with them.

index.hu reports that the alliance is trying to persuade KLIK and the government on strictly professional grounds.  They believe organizing strikes or demonstrations is not their task, although one of the supporters, Budapest’s Teleki Blanka Gimnázium, is reportedly considering strike action.

Ill-conceived reforms

Teleki Blanka director István Pukli and foreign language teacher Csongor Bereczky appeared on ATV’s Egyenes Beszéd (Straight talk) Thursday evening.

Speaking figuratively, Bereczky told the show’s hostess, Olga Kálman: “The Teleki Blanka academic high school is a very good symbol of education.  We’re talking about a 114-year-old building.  The Hungarian instruction was world-class and worked very well.  But then we received orders from above to replace the windows and the doors, figuratively speaking, and then it turned out that back then they didn’t use plaster and the walls started to crack.  We were told to introduce European standards that had never been tested in Hungary into a very well-functioning, traditional educational system.  We know nothing of their origins or how they are to be introduced.  Even though we are the contractor, the client says ‘this is what you have to do’, and may only utilize (the materials) they tell us.  We can only choose from three or four textbooks.  And all the while there are the children over whose heads we are experimenting.”

Bereczky said the limited choice of textbooks is not suitable for teaching students what they need to pass their final examinations.  “There are expectations as to what we should accomplish but what we may use is not suitable for that.”

Pukli said that while it was easier now to procure essential teaching materials such as chalk and paper than even a few months ago, the process for requisitioning materials necessary to operate the school economically and lawfully remains cumbersome and unreliable.

He complained that the textbooks teachers are required to choose from are often outmoded and contain “incredible stupidity.”  He cited one Hungarian language grammar book for 9th graders that contained numerous errors.

When asked which reforms caused the biggest problem, Pukli said it was the new national curriculum that schools are required to teach.

“We aren’t teaching students what they need for their final exams, and which develops their competencies and prepares them for life.”  Instead, they were teaching what was prescribed by the obligatory national curriculum.

“There are problems from the rudiments on up, from start to finish.  Children are required to take 35 classes a week.  From grade 10 this increases to 36.  We do not have the necessary facilities for the obligatory physical fitness classes.  In winter the children jump up and down on the steps.  In summer they go out to the City Park.  We have a covered sports hall and a small sports room but we have to hold three gym classes simultaneously,” said the director. Neither do the children like the food prepared by the company contracted by the previous government the day before municipal elections, he added.

Pukli does not believe the reforms leave teachers sufficient time to prepare lessons.

Bereczky said: “Previously teachers were only required to teach 20 one-hour classes a week, giving them sufficient time to prepare for lessons and perform other tasks.  In 2013 this was increased by 30% to 26 obligatory hours, the assumption being that within a 40-hour work week that still left teachers with ample time to prepare.” He points out that even though teachers are required to spend 32 hours a week at school, there are numerous other tasks they must perform during this time, meaning most of the preparation for the following day’s lessons is done at home.

Towards a national public workers council

Tamás Szűcs, a teacher at Miskolc’s Földes Ferenc Gimnázium, sees the key to making progress in solving the country’s educational problems as the network of public employee councils, which he says are in a position to make a “substantive contribution to educational issues and reforms.”

“The Labor Code ensures broad rights to the public workers’ councils, but unfortunately we were not able to exercise them over the past three years,” Szűcs said.  “Presently there is no one to negotiate with KLIK because there are 120,000 employees and the councils operate in certain institutions.  Nobody represents the whole profession.  We would like to correct this situation by creating a national public workers council.

“For this reason the five Miskolc academic high schools formed their own alliance and called on schools in other districts to create their own alliances, so that the teachers may exercise their legal rights on an organization level suitable for KLIK.”

Neither KLIK nor the Ministry of Human Resources have reacted to the initiative.

References:

http://index.hu/belfold/2016/01/14/nem_lehet_figyelmen_kivul_hagyni_a_hangunkat/

www.atv.hu/videok/video-20160114-pukli-istvan-es-bereczky-congor-eb

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