Government considers introducing patriotic physical education classes in schools

August 3, 2017

Preparations to introduce a so-called “patriotic physical education class” must be made by the end of this year according to a recent government decree signed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, reports hvg.hu.

The decree dated July 25 calls for the compiling of a report by the end of this year about the practicability of “patriotic education” in physical education classes and the needed changes in the core curriculum in connection with defense preparations.

Hungary’s national core curriculum already contains elements that are meant to improve patriotism in students, namely learning the values and traditions of the national culture and studying the work of prominent Hungarian historical figures, scientists, inventors, artists, writers, poets and sportspeople. The core curriculum aims to help “inculcate a sense of belonging to a community and patriotism, and the realization that in a case of an emergency defending Hungary is every citizen’s duty”.

Although according to the Constitution adult Hungarian citizens can be ordered to perform civil defense duty, it is not clear what children have to do with the country’s defense readiness.

According to hvg.hu, the government already tried integrating patriotic and military education into the core curriculum once. Between 2013 and 2014 the digital education and training company SZÁMALK together with the National University of Public Service (NKA) worked on methodology and a digital curriculum required for patriotic and basic military education. Hvg.hu contacted several teachers, none of whom had ever heard of the methodology or the digital curriculum. Hvg.hu also contacted both SZÁMALK and the NKA but neither party responded whether or not the methodology extended to patriotic physical education. The Ministry of Human Resources overseeing education and the Ministry of Defense also failed to respond to hvg.hu’s questions.

“Ethics, literature and history education and also the countless national holidays or remembrance days provide plenty of opportunities for patriotic education,” argues president of the National Association of Head Teachers Júlia Szekszárdi. She notes that the government already decided to introduce obligatory military education in schools in 2012 but eventually nothing happened. According to Szekszárdi, the planned establishment of shooting ranges in schools might be a premonitory indication of the patriotic PE class.

Both Szekszárdi and president of the Democratic Union of Pedagogues László Mendrey affirmed that, when they first heard of the patriotic PE class, many of their colleagues thought of the “Levente (Old Hungarian: warrior) Associations” – the military pre-education of underage boys between the two world wars. Mendrey argues that “all forms of militant behavior must be kept far away from schools. Those who want to do target practice should go to an archery club or shooting sport”.

The leader of the Union of Teachers, Mrs. István Galló, also opposes the idea of military education in schools, and argues that with a little imagination one might think that the government perhaps wants to bring back conscription. “Children do not need this in the school,” Galló said. “Is it going to be like [children] throwing wooden grenades in class? The spirit of this is dangerous.”

Hvg.hu also contacted education policy expert Péter Radó who found the matter even more troubling. According to Radó, it is meaningless and without any reason to directly expose 6- to 12-year-old children to ideology. He said such training merely serves to instill obedience and strip them of their autonomy.

“The real problem is not that children are not patriotic enough but that they cannot comprehend texts properly, they do not properly learn how to count, they lack natural scientific knowledge, and the number of dropouts and early school-leavers are increasing,” Radó argues. “There should not be a place in schools for ideology-based political crazes at odds with reality like this.”

According to Radó, the government’s aim is not to militarize the society in order to strengthen Hungary’s military power, but to create masses of obedient servants for the prevailing elite that enjoys political hegemony.