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High school students play hooky Friday and protest

Photo: MTI/Zsolt Szigetváry

Two thousand primarily high school students attended a demonstration Friday afternoon in support of modernizing Hungary’s education system. Organizers of the event had earlier called on students to play hooky on Friday as part of the protest.

The demonstration was organized by three students – Viktor Gyetvai, Géza Kocsis and András Bognár – and was supported by the Independent Parliament of Students, a self-organizing group that refers to itself as “independent civilians that have adopted as their guiding principles the values enshrined in political theorist István Bibó’s “The Political Ten Commandments for Freedom-loving People.”

“Let’s stand up for a more just, modern, student-oriented education system in which students are not overworked zombies” the event’s Facebook page read. “Let’s march on parliament and demonstrate that Hungarian students represent a large community that is willing to work for a better education system and willing to stand up for a better future for everyone.”

(125 representatives from around the country are elected to the Independent Parliament of Students – by means of an internet vote – at the start of every academic term. Together, these students make policy proposals for Hungarian decision-makers.)

According to organizers, the purpose of Friday’s demonstration was:

  • To summarize the concerns of Hungarian students,
  • To raise awareness about modern education systems,
  • To raise awareness about problems faced by Hungarian students and propose solutions,
  • To push for a more student-oriented education system,
  • To make it known that students want a say in the education system,
  • “To show that if others are unwilling to make changes to the old, out of date education, then it will be up to the students to do that for themselves.”

Those addressing the attendees touched on a range of issues: from being needlessly overworked to the loss of free speech on high school campuses. Students held up EU and Hungarian flags, as well as pictures of the angry face emoji.

Opposition politicians were spotted in the crowd, including Péter Juhász (Együtt) and Péter Niedermüller (Democratic Coalition). Gergely Varga, the activist who was arrested and subject to a show trial with Márton Gulyás last year after throwing paint at the Presidential Palace (in protest of Lex CEU), was also seen at the event.

The first speaker, Attila Bognár, said the education system is raising nervous, indecisive adults and it is time to elevate these problems to the level of those decision-makers responsible for the education system, 24.hu reports.

Another speaker, college student Daniella Tóth, said problems in the education system are also evident in higher education. According to her, free speech is being stifled at universities as rectors and chancellors decide who gets to say what at the colleges. She added that the cost of tuition has forced her to take out student loans, which in turn bind her to stay in Hungary.

Students should not stay in Hungary because of laws, Tóth said, they should stay in Hungary for the opportunities.

“They call us citizens but we are serfs. We have to let [landed nobility] know if we want to leave and then we have to put that money down,” she said.

Organizers passed out the following list of demands, which read: “What do Hungarian students want? The foundation of education should be development of skills required in the 21st century! A just, democratic and modern education system for every student!”

The list of 12 demands included points that schools provide “theoretical and practical education for critically-thinking and responsible citizens,” a maximum of 30 hours of classroom work per week for high schoolers (25 for elementary school students), increased access to colleges, a demand that the practice of suppressing of freedom of speech (for students and teachers) be ended, and a restoration of the practice for teachers to use whatever textbooks they choose.

At the end of the event, students read aloud each point to thunderous applause and cheering.

Benjamin Novak :