Several thousand Hungarian teachers converged on Budapest on Saturday to demonstrate against the government’s education policy. Braving rain and sleet, they gave Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister János Lázár, and Minister for Human Resources Zoltán Balog “F”s and cheered as organizers called on them to employ increasingly radical methods of pressing their demands for free schools, less dry educational materials, and less state involvement in education.
The Tanítanék (I would teach) movement held a demonstration Saturday afternoon to mark the end of the school year. “The time has come for grades and to hand out report cards” they wrote on their Facebook page. At 2 pm several thousand protestors assembled at March 15th square, many of them wearing plaid shirts that have come to symbolize their movement. Led by the leaders of the Tanítanék movement and Teleki Blank Gimnázium director István Pukli, they crossed the Elisabeth bridge to the so-callled market garden bazar (Várkert Bazár), chanting “Orbán gets an ‘F’”. Upon arriving to the bazar, Pukli, in a short-sleeved red plaid shirt, announced that their struggle had not been successful, and that for this reason they were switching into a more radical mode of operation.
Among the sympathizers was a group of public health-care workers dressed in black (they are mourning the pitiful state of the Hungarian public health-care system-ed.), led by Mária Sándor, the “black nurse” (seen here to the right of Pukli). They carried a banner proclaiming “Hungary, do not let your nurses go abroad!”.
The flags of the various teachers’ unions could also be seen, as well as those of several student organizations. “Free schools!” proclaimed one banner. A secondary school student said that education today is too dry, and that it would be better if the schools would strengthen competency.
Referring to the anti-EU settlement quota referendum campaign (on which the government is spending billions of forints) one banner proclaimed “Let’s send a message to the government so that they also understand that we would like to teach!”
“Our ranks continue to grow, and we are increasingly angry when we see how the government is moving in the direction of complete nationalization (of public education), the destruction of technical education, and how it is generally stumbling in education,” said Pukli. “We must not allow the effects of bad government decisions to adversely affect our children.”
“You are the prick, János!”
Among the various posts appearing on the movement’s Facebook page was one pointing the finger of blame at Minister Overseeing the Prime Minister’s Office, János Lázár, who has used the occasion of his Thursday afternoon “government info” press conferences to lambast teachers’ representatives for refusing to participate in the government roundtable on education.
“We have not accomplished anything,” proclaimed Mrs. István Galló, the head of the Teachers Trade Union (PSZ) despite meeting with Minister for Human Resources Zoltán Balog and other ministry officials on twelve separate occasions and with the Ministry for National Economy on five different occasions. Although some concessions were achieved on 19 out of 25 demands, Galló told the crowd they had not succeeded in achieving “systemic change.” The government is not willing to make concessions with regard to its monopoly on textbooks, the decrease in the number of lessons teachers must teach, or in restoring the minimum school leaving age to 18 years.
In her speech Tanítanék movement leader Katalin Törley called the movement successful, because they were able to keep the problems on the government’s agenda, but said that their battle against the government had failed. From this she concluded that it was necessary to be more radical. Together with István Pukli she announced that they would hold local forums as part of their summer organizing work.
Pukli then asked the crowd what grades to give various politicians. According to the crowd Minister Zoltán Balog and undersecretary for education László Palkovics deserve “F”s, and Chancellor János Lázár was proclaimed one of the worse students. “You are the prick, János!” chanted the crowd, referring to Lázár’s previous declaration in which he called on teachers to accept that the deeply unpopular Klebelsberg Institutional Maintenance Center (Klik) was here to stay, and that “the tail cannot wag the dog.”
(For our readers who are not familiar with the nuances of the Hungarian language, tail (farok) is slang for “prick”-ed.)
Viktor Orbán also received an “F”. Moreover, Katalin Törley added that the Prime Minister does not want anything other than for every second Hungarian child to be an ignorant machine.
EMMI calls the demonstration “outrageous”
The majority of teachers believe in dialogue, not street action and political grandstanding, announced the undersecretariat for education in reaction to Saturday’s demonstration. In a statement given to the state news service (MTI), the undersecretariat said that those people who always want to take the teachers to the streets are those who systematically reject the government’s invitation to join the education roundtable and thus the opportunity for dialogue.
“In public education today is taking place the largest teachers’ wage increases and the largest free children feeding and textbook program since the system change,” the statement said. “Next year HUF 130 billion more will be spend on education than this year, and HUF 455 billion more will be spent than provided for by the budget submitted by the leftwing in 2010.”
According to the statement, the government has spent HUF 234 billion on wage increases for teachers and their salaries will continue to increase this year and next autumn by an average of 50 percent. It cites as one of the results of the roundtable the fact that non-teacher school employees will also receive wage increases, and that Klik is being reorganized to take the decision-making process closer to the schools. The right of school directors to make economical decisions is to be expanded, and schools are to be incentivized to generate their own revenue, as much of this can go towards improving the school.