Hungarian educators demand rollback of ill-conceived and poorly executed reforms

January 30, 2016

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“We urge a rethinking of the (national curriculum) with a focus on reducing the amount of required subjects . . .  and we urge a more modern perspective be taken into account when preparing a new one. The number of hours spent in class by students needs to be reduced because currently they are working more than adults who are employed full time. We believe it is important to raise the age requirement for education back to 18 years, and the immediate reintegration of those who have been wound up outside the system.”

The teachers of Miskolc’s Herman Ottó Gimnázium and Budapest 14th district’s Teleki Blanka Academic High School published the following “open-letter about conditions prevailing in public education” on January 26th, 2016 “I would teach” website (tanitanek.hu).  The first open letter can be read here.  At last count over 220 teacher faculties across Hungary had joined the call for a rollback of ill-conceived and poorly executed reforms implemented under the second and third Orbán governments.

Dear Prime Minister (Viktor Orbán)

Dear Minister (for Human Resources, Zoltan Balog)

Dear madam undersecretary (of education)

We were pleased with the Ministry of Human Resources’ press conference of January 23rd, 2016 during which the ministry made clear its intention to carry out changes with regards to certain issues affecting education. We, the teachers of Miskolc’s Herman Ottó Gimnázium, having seen the national support of our open letter published on January 6th, 2016, feel that our concerns are justified and, in keeping with our promise, we will again draw your attention to systemic problems affecting the educational system. We respectfully ask you to investigate and resolve this unfortunate situation by supporting Hungarian educators. We ask that you deal with each of the following issues with the soon to be convened education roundtable because partial solutions will not suffice.

1. Over-centralization

We feel that nationally managed and supervised schools are only justifiable in the case of small settlements where local municipalities are unable to meet this task. However, in other places – and we are basing this on local experience – over-centralization is noxious and obstructs day-to-day operations. Bureaucracy caused by centralization has resulted in shortages and has erected barriers which prevent us from meeting the day-to-day material and financial requirements required to teach.

Schools should have the right to have their economic independence restored because the problems faced by individual schools can only be managed locally. End the dual management of elementary schools and academic high schools (KLIK as the financing body and the municipality as the operator). Principals should have their earlier powers restored to provide direction to the school, from both a professional and supervisory perspective as well!

2. Changes that are noncoherent with one another

Very big changes took place in Hungarian public education over a very short period of time. But this wave of changes – as we now see – has overburdened the system, and the reforms did not bring with them the expected changes.

Our professional expectation is that any future reforms to the education system be adequately planned, prepared and tested, and be done with the assistance of practicing educators and experts. The conditions must be created in order for new changes to be introduced, e.g., daily physical education.

The newest changes to high school graduation must immediately be withdrawn. The changes must not adversely affect students and must not affect the subjects whose requirements were already met two years ago — everyone should have the right to take their graduation exams based on what they have actually studied.

3. Impossible development of competence, knowledge

The national curriculum (NAT) includes a great deal of new material on top of the earlier material. Competence-based education requires time so that the material is absorbed and applied in practice. Currently, the national curriculum is overburdening and actually inimical to achieving the desired goals. Teachers and students alike are overwhelmed with the subject requirements and high number of classes, while none of them actually help lead to the goal of helping to develop the skills of each student by helping them personalize their newly acquired competencies.

In the spirit of keeping with the aforementioned concerns, we urge a rethinking of the national curriculum with a focus on reducing the amount of required subjects (primarily concerning the lexical subjects which are not suitable for the targeted age groups), and we urge a more modern perspective be taken into account in preparing a new one.  The number of hours spent in class by students needs to be reduced because currently they are working more than adults who are employed full-time. We believe it is important to raise the age requirement for education back to 18 years, and the immediate reintegration of those who have been wound up outside the system.

The future health and spiritual development of our children and future generations depends on these steps!

We ask that we be restored the right to choose which textbooks to use so that we can return to high-quality textbooks and demand that the new professionally inadequate textbooks be withdrawn.

4. Administrating versus educating

A teacher’s job is to educate and to spend time helping children develop. This is what we vowed to do when we receive our diplomas. A good teacher sees this occupation as a calling.

As with learning, teaching is also a creative process which cannot be evaluated with bureaucratic indicators. The teacher is not an administrator. The increase in bureaucracy and introduction of the faulty teacher evaluation system (portfolio creation, evaluation, teacher supervision, etc.), based on the experiences we now have, has not resulted in higher quality education. It has, however, created professional and wage conflict, and has drawn the energy and attention of teachers away from educating (and from their families as well). It has not prevented teachers from becoming burned out, but rather is causing them to burn out. Rather than increased administrative burdens, there need to be modern and sustainable opportunities for continued occupational education.

The new career model for teachers is unjust in many ways! For example, it is unfair because those who have been teaching successfully for decades and who are respected in the field are put into the Teacher 1 category in the system, while the process which raises some teachers’ title to “master teacher” has shaken the trust of teachers toward the teacher evaluation system. It was a poor decision to create the “master teacher” title and to bundle that together with the teacher evaluation system. “Master teachers” should be concerned with spending time with students in order to fulfill their calling. We consider it is a basic condition that teacher faculties be defined by a environment of common respective and support instead of “instilling fear” in teachers.

5. The educational system’s biggest problem is not the wages of teachers

As indicated in our press conference, the state provides much for the wages of teachers. This is not about newer and newer raises, but about keeping promises related to the incremental increase in stages. Furthermore, as the Minister indicated, the burden on teachers has grown. (Unfortunately, those teachers who worked the most received the least wage increase).

Schools also have employees who are not teachers. We ask that the employees who help the teachers also have their wages resolved immediately! We recommend that those with the NOKS status (free-time organizers, child and youth protection specialists, and business administrators) be reinstated!

Wage problems throughout the educational system must be resolved! The uncertainty of the “mandatory time spent in-house” and the uncompensated overtime must be eliminated! We want the expected number of lessons to be restored to its earlier level of 20-22 hours a week. We ask that quality work be recognized and rewarded.

6. On future consultations

We ask that you support the creation of an education roundtable, which, in short time and on a strictly professional basis which takes into account local relations, can provide solutions for these systemic problems.

We ask that you assist professional organizations, teachers unions and decision-makers enter into a real dialogue. The educational roundtable should welcome the initiatives brought to the national level from the bottom up.

An open letter is only an indicator of the problems but it cannot deal with them in depth. Therefore, this list is incomplete but it could continue on for pages. The real work begins after this. We ask you to support us by ensuring that work will start immediately so that we can all effectively reach our goal which is in the interest of the country. Time is of the essence! The future of the children is at stake!

In the name of “I would teach” which has been endorsed by more than 20,000 people, and in the name of the educational institutions, we hope you will support this,

With sincere thanks,

Miskolc’s Herman Ottó Gimnázium and

Budapest XIV. Kerületi Teleki Blanka Gimnázium teachers faculty