“Our long-term goal is a proportional increase in the numbers taking part in technical high school and technical school education and a limit on the numbers attending college preparatory schools.” – Sándor Czomba, state secretary, National Economy Ministry
“The government that wishes to do so at the expense of college preparation schools and universities is fighting against youth and its future interests.” – Former education minister István Hiller (MSZP)
Experts question the sincerity of government plans to emphasize “technical training” over higher education in light of plans to defund public education by some HUF 100 billion (USD 400 million) in 2015. If technical schools are the key to endowing students with practical work skills, then why are they being decreased from 4 to 3 years in length? And why are the number of courses taught being decreased by a third? Critics worry about the impact of such educational reforms on students’ long-term employment prospects. They also point out that decreasing the mandatory school age to 16 means far more students are likely to drop out.
Teachers unions not consulted
In early October, just two days before local and county elections were held, the head of the Teachers Union (PSZ), Mrs. István Gallos, called for the government to open discussions with the teachers unions about plans to reform and fund public education in the future. Gallos warned that the union strongly opposed further “ill-informed changes” in the absence of “prior discussion and agreement”, and that it “rejected” the new emphasis on three-year technical education at the expense of higher education.
At the time Gallos called on the government to increase the wages of administrative and technical public education workers whose pay had not been increased since 2008, saying some 40-50,000 public education employees were living on just HUF 70-80,000 (USD 330) a month.
The draft 2015 budget submitted shortly after municipal elections in October provides for public education to be defunded by some HUF 100 billion (USD 400 million) in 2015. In response, PSZ announced that in its present form the draft budget “creates a catastrophic situation for the entire public educational system, from kindergartens to schools, colleges and institutions providing technical services.”
“We don’t see the supporting calculations and we don’t see the professional justification for the drastic changes to public education envisioned by the government,” said Gallos, who called on the government to explain the basis for the numbers appearing in the 2015 budget with regard to education.
Furthermore, Gallos pointed out that the budget does not contain sufficient funds to cover the HUF 150-200 billion worth of public educators’ wage increases scheduled to take place in 2015. It was the promise of wage increases that induced PSZ not to call a strike at the beginning of 2014 in the run up to April’s general election.
“Orbán is misleading society”
Gallos said that with his avowed emphasis on technical studies over university education, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “is misleading society”. She says cost savings are the real reason the government wants to force students to attend 3-year technical schools instead of technical high schools or college preparatory schools. Gallos warned that in the future only college preparatory high school (gymnasium) graduates will be able to go on to university, and that the numbers of students attending 3-year technical schools will “drastically increase” to about 40% of all secondary school students. She also warned against plans to decrease the total number of courses by one third and to limit the teaching of general subjects such as mathematics, foreign language and history to one lesson a week. She is concerned such plans will produce students incapable of learning a new trade or changing professions in the future.
“Why is it a problem for the educational system to produce children with broad perspectives and open minds? Why do they want to obstruct expanding the horizons of 14- and 15-year-olds when they are most receptive?”
Fewer students means fewer teachers
Her comments were echoed by her counterpart at the Democratic Teachers Union (PDSZ), László Mendrey, who warned that a number of gymnasium and technical high schools would close as a result of the new government emphasis on 3-year technical schools and the scale of proposed spending cuts in public education.
Mendrey told ATV that it seems to him the government was doing everything in its powers to force teachers to strike. He said it was clear from the budget that in the future the emphasis in intermediate education was to be placed on technical schools at the expense of higher education, something he strongly disagrees with. He called the 24.5% decrease in education funding “a very bad message to the parents of intermediate school students”.
Mendrey said whether there would be a strike depended on steps the government takes, the ability of the various teachers’ unions to work together, and the willingness of union members to strike.
“A brutal attack on public education”
Calling the budget a “brutal attack on public education”, educational expert Péter Rádo believes the government plans to convert technical high schools into technical schools and close a number of state college preparatory schools. He said such moves would result in a significant decrease in the number of teachers and a radical increase in the number of students studying at church-run and -funded college prep schools.