"Hungary's educational system is in danger!"

January 17, 2016

15043-horvath-MTI

With every change to the educational system we are experimenting with our children.  We demand the immediate suspension of the current so-called reforms!  We cannot and will not undertake additional administrative burdens! 

We would like to prepare the next generation for the challenges of life and to ensure that they are able to meet the demands of the age.  Consider this a cry for help.  We ask for the support of superior bodies and society at large!

The following “open letter to the government” of Hungary dated 27 November 2015 was signed by scores of educators and submitted earlier this year.

OPEN LETTER TO THE GOVERNMENT!

“Why are the teachers complaining yet again” many ask, “They are always getting salary increases.  Moreover, they hardly work, and are home by noon every day!”  Unfortunately, a significant part of society believes this about teachers.

It is necessary to clarify a few things!  Let’s start with the “continuous salary increase” of interest to everyone.  In 2013 we received an increase to our basic salary in connection with the introduction of the teacher “career model”.  But only 60 percent of what was promised!  The remaining 40% is to take place over the next four years.  Of course before and after every increase the press reports it as though we were talking about yet another raise.  At the same time they have increased the obligatory number of classes we must teach and done away with most of the wage supplements.  The government—in violation of the agreement concluded with the trade union—separated the teachers’ wage schedule from the calculation of minimum wage, and from that time on it doesn’t even keep up with inflation.  The system of teachers wages by the way took place in a very selective manner:  many believe their pay packets became no thicker—especially those who teach many subjects and have technical degrees, and who previously received extra pay for teaching additional classes, as well as wages supplements for quality work, as all supplemental income was done away with.   But we are also given reason to smile (at least in our aguish), at the HUF 15,000 net difference between first and second degree teachers provided for by the career model.  (But we see that similar manipulations take place in other fields as well in the case of “wage settlements”).   With regard to the choice of master teachers, in many cases those of us in the immediate vicinity do not agree.  And then there is the career model . . .)

And this is not the main reason why we “are complaining” and writing this letter!

The entire educational system is in danger!  Everything has become chaotic!  Uncertainty, bitterness, and often apathy reigns in the teachers’ rooms.  That there are still well functioning schools, well conducted lessons, competition results (“naturally” without compensation or fees or reimbursement for travel expenses), successful high school examinations and college enrollments, can be entirely attributed to conscientious teachers, because it is certainly not due to the conditions in which we work or educational policy, that’s for sure!

Who are the ones operating our schools?  The local government, or one of its companies?  Or a ministry, the education authority, or the POK (Teachers Educational Centers) . . . ?  Amongst the many babies the child was lost! The CHILD, because the entire thing is supposed to be about them!!!  But that is not happening!

The changes that are taking place every year—in better cases every second year—are certainly not student or teacher friendly.  It happens that the National Curriculum changes (as a result of which the schools have no choice but to rewrite a series of documents, including the local curriculum), or the high school graduation exams, or the opportunities for continuing education, but minimally the teachers’ editions of textbooks (to which we teachers are not entitled to receive a free copy, and in this way every school year begins with us having to purchase our own work tools).  Is it any wonder that after such a reform dumping some Hungarian students do not perform well by international measures?  (And the government prefers technical training schools over academic high schools, even though the worst performing students are the product of the former—obviously those denied education will not be sufficiently qualified.  As a result of this the European system will go down the drain and our knowledge of foreign languages will be weak!).  There are such children who suffer from 6-8 innovation waves over the course of their studies, together with their teachers, of course.

Because it certainly takes the teachers a few years to figure out the best way to teach the new knowledge to the children.   Moreover, in the interest of trying out a new generation of experimental books, books of a technically high quality are being discarded unnecessarily . . . With every change to the educational system we are experimenting with our children!

The changes to graduation exams is the most outrageous: (for example, geography, chemistry, informatics), in which the exam’s expectations were modified after the fact as they had already completed their academic studies as their studies took place the first two years of secondary school.

One-two-three year reforms, on the other hand, do not exist!  Those can only be considered irresponsible attempts.  Real reforms are phased in, for example, over the period of time a child starts school and finishes school.  When was the last age group to have this happen in Hungary?  We demand the immediate suspension of the current so-called reforms until a broad social-expert consensus is achieved.  And in the future changes must not be introduced with such short deadlines as to make it impossible for the age groups to which they apply (and their teachers) to conscientiously prepare!  For example, changes to the graduation examine should not affect those students who have already enrolled in academic high school or technical middle school, or happen to be attending them!  The same applies to upper education, the reorganization of which that took place several years ago in a scandalous manner such that those who prepared four, five, six, eights years to study law, for example, were confronted at the last minute by the fact that the number of available places (at university) were only a fraction of what they had previously been, and that most of those places were no longer paid for by the state.  But similar rash, unthinking steps are those centrally prescribed by the NETFIT assessment with regard to physical education.

At the same time, we do not accept professional consultations or reconciliations by way of the National Teachers Faculty (Nemzeti Pedagógus Kar) created by the government!  In these cases the government merely discussed matters with itself and not with the ranks of credible professionals.

What is the point of that?   At best so that they can tick off (pseudo) attempts at democratic solutions!  Membership in the mentioned organization is obligatory for every teacher.  The possibility of voluntarily joining did not even arise!  Where are our democratic rights?  The product of the Teachers Faculty is the outrageous and ridiculous ethical codex which has no support and no legal basis.

The current quantity of material to learn greatly pushes the limits of even the most capable of teachers!  Our children are required to memorize mountains of facts, but most of them are incapable of formulating their own opinion, or they cannot formulate their own perspectives and argue them in a logical manner.  The weekly number of lessons has gone through the roof!  Physical education every day (without adequate sports halls), singing every day, soccer instruction . . . A typical secondary school student spends 35 hours a week at school, and has to prepare for these lessons.  Motivated students are being deprived of their childhoods, and many are developing psychological problems.  Where is the limit?  There are only 24 hours in a child’s day as well!   Apart from that, an educational system which strives for uniformity sets in stone differences arising from disparate social, health, and mental situations. It is not possible to educationally differentiate for so many disadvantages within a single class.  Our children and the future of our country are at stake!

There are only 24 hours to our days.  Our weekly work time is 40 hours!  We cannot and will not undertake additional administrative burdens!  Teach 26 lessons a week!  Prepare for them conscientiously (moreover according to whatever reform breeze happens to be blowing), write lesson plans, thematical plans, curriculums . . . prepare and correct papers on time.  Simultaneously deal with the talented and those left behind. Organize class trips, hold office hours, parent meetings, organize indispensable school celebrations, take the children to theaters, museums . . . and write the portfolio, the self-assessment!  No!  The conscientious teacher already devoted 50 hours a week to their work, we do not want to sacrifice our already non-existent free time to more pointless activities.

They want to continuously monitor every moment we are at work, as if our work did not involve continuously monitoring children (naturally along with the parents)!   Apart from that, even class visitations are necessary, writing 80-100 page long portfolios for the career path system and for the expert supervision inspections, bi-annual self evaluations (BECS, maiden name PÖCS).  Of course in the case of the latter we ourselves have to work out the procedures.  Documents, papers, electronic information . . . And when are we supposed to actually teach???  Or is the goal for the generation that is growing up not even to be able to ask anything?

Does the government’s educational policies have such little faith in its “national day laborers”?  Is it the case that we do not work well or enough, and for this reason require multi-level oversight?  Is this the central judgement?  The law makers should see that imposing an internal inspection system and the introduction of a faulty career promotion scheme has divided teaching society, and the damage to students arising from the uncertain school atmosphere is apparent. Important work responsibilities were even taken away from the directors:  They neither have the right to manage their schools independently, not exercise the rights of an employer.  Even the school building does not belong to them, nor do a number of the people working there.  Officially he cannot even order the porter to perform certain tasks.  There is not a single technical worker which could complete his work under the director’s instruction.  Why was it necessary to place the school directors under guardianship?  The school buildings are in worse condition than ever before.  There is no money for basic things.  The classrooms are painted by parents. Maintenance falters.  Even after three years KLIK and the local governments continue to point the finger at one another if, for example, in the interest of preventing an accident, they want to reinforce some library shelves at the cost of a few ten thousand forints.  For years we have not been able to buy a single teaching material, piece of sports equipment, or library book.   (KLIK) only provides part of the cost of holding sporting events, calling into the question the importance of fostering talent.  There are teachers who have not received their wages for months!  (But there are even lecturers from Germany whose apartments had their electricity and heating cut off because KLIK did not pay for them. What news will they convey to Europe?).  Does this maintenance-operator system work well?

Apart from the lessons themselves, does anything work well or rationally in Hungarian public education???

Does anyone seriously believe that the basic problems will be fixed by endlessly issuing more and more required documentation which has already become unbearable?

We would still like to TEACH!  We want to support the development of our students in a unified and not divided manner!  We want to go to work in a good mood—not nervous, exhausted, or sick from stress!  We want to voluntarily join those organizations of our choice, but not under duress!  We are not opposed to inspections if conducted by our superiors (department heads and directors), or those expert inspectors regarded as experts.

We are not opposed to the administration being in direct contact with our educational and child raising work, in other words, we will continue writing diaries and credentials!  We also demand a 40-hour work week, and that we receive differentiated wages for the quality of our work and the length of our careers in public education, and for them to stop telling us about a non-existent career model!  We would like for the director to again be our “boss”,  and for the school to manage its affairs independently and determine for itself how to prioritize spending.  We demand a relationship with the the entity responsible for maintaining the schools that is clear, transparent, and free of any money consuming centralized water head!   And most of all we want CALM that is free of politics and pseudo-reforms, so that we can use the same books at least for a few years!  We are teachers: we have learned what to teach and how to teach it—if they allow us to!

We would like to prepare the next generation for the challenges of life and to ensure that they are able to meet the demands of the age.

Consider this a cry for help.  We ask for the support of superior bodies and society!

Miskolc, 27 November 2015