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Hungary education reform: nationalize textbooks, monitor bad kids

Hungary education reform is not going smoothly as its main architect, Education State Secretary Rozsa Hoffman, had hoped.  Several weeks into the new school year many students have yet to receive some or even all of their textbooks.  The centralized procurement of textbooks introduced this year as part of far reaching structural reforms to public education has resulted in chronic delays in textbooks and other teaching materials.

In June the government surprised parents and students alike by announcing that those wishing to receive textbooks at the start of the new school year should pay for them by the middle of July.

Unlike many western countries where schools provide students with the use of textbooks free of charge, Hungarian students are required to purchase their textbooks.  For many families this represents a financial hardship, especially for those with several school age children.  Purchasing used textbooks is rarely an option as textbooks are frequently updated or replaced altogether.

An estimated 4.2 million Hungarians (or 43% percent of the population) now lives in poverty.  Of that an estimated 1.5 million live in dire poverty, meaning that they barely have money for food, clothing, and shelter let alone school books.  For many families living on tight budgets, being told at the end of June to pay for textbooks a month early meant abandoning vacation plans or foregoing the purchase of other essentials.

The government has declared its intention to create a state monopoly on the publication of textbooks.  The idea has merit because from September of this year all schools are required to teach the same curriculum using the same textbooks.  In theory, the nationalization of the textbook industry should result in significant cost savings.  However, as state companies tend to operate less efficiently than private ones, particularly in Hungary, it remains to be seen whether nationalization would translate into lower school textbook costs for families.

Many are concerned that textbooks published by a state monopoly under Viktor Orban would tend to reflect the conservative, nationalist ideology espoused by the current Fidesz-KDNP government—the same ideology that requires that “morally exemplary” individuals teach courses in ethics, tolerates institutional segregation, defunds schools for children with special needs, replaces hallway monitors with policemen, and is now advocating assigning case workers to problematic children in the interest of “combating school violence and underage crime”.

Education researcher Peter Rado calls such measures “outrageous” and “inconceivable” yet consistent with the current trend whereby responsibility for raising children is transferred from parents and local teachers to government agencies and law enforcement officials.

Referenced for this article:

“Megelőző pártfogás”, ATV Start, 11 October 2013

Éva Nagy :