Kunhalmi: How dare this government speak of ethics!

August 10, 2015

Ágnes Kunhalmi
Ágnes Kunhalmi

A draft “national ethical codex” for Hungary’s 120,000 educators and 30,000 kindergarten teachers was adopted on August 3 by the Presidium of the National Faculty of Pedagogues (NPK).  Teachers have until October 4 to review and submit their comments.

The 26-page document requires that educators and child-care professionals be clean, neat and attentive at all times, that they conduct themselves in a professional manner and that they refrain from expressing radical opinions, dressing provocatively, or using language that is easy to misconstrue.  As is already the case with current law, the draft ethical codex expressly prohibits teaching under the influence of alcohol or banned substances.

The document has come under fire by teacher trade union leaders and opposition politicians alike.

Furthermore, at least one parent organization finds the draft codex lacking in that it does not expressly prohibit teachers from  soliciting money from students.

Democratic Teachers Trade Union leader László Mendrey questions not only the need for such a codex but for the NPK itself, an organization he claims does not enjoy the support of the vast majority of Hungary’s 150,000 teachers.  Calling it the “outreached hand” of the Ministry of Human Resources, Mendrey says the fact that all teachers and educators are automatically enrolled in the organization should not be interpreted to mean that they supported its creation last year, or acknowledge its right to speak on their behalf.

László Mendrey
László Mendrey

“There are more pressing problems that need to be addressed in public education” than how teachers dress and conduct themselves in the classroom, says Mendrey, who believes the codex’s real purpose is to divert attention from serious problems arising from comprehensive reforms introduced by the second and third Orbán governments (2010-), including the nationalization of Hungary’s public school system and its textbook industry.   He says the draft codex is “discriminatory” in that it only applies to educators working in public schools.  Although recommended for those teaching in private or religious schools, they are not required to adhere to it.

Mendrey says the codex is not only demoralizing but completely unnecessary, and that existing standards and procedures are adequate.  He does not like the fact that the codex requires him to report to his superior any teacher failing to moderate his or her behavior after being confronted.  In such cases an ethics committee is to be convoked to determine whether the codex was violated, and these findings are then reported to either the Klebelsberg School Center (KLIK) at the Ministry of Human Resources or the local government.

Mendrey calls attention to the fact that determining whether a teacher exhibits professional decorum is highly subjective. “Which is more decorous for a male teacher in a 40-degree classroom:  shorts and a T-shirt, or long trousers and a dress shirt buttoned all the way up through which he is perspiring?” he asks.

Socialist politician Ágnes Kunhalmi told ATV hostess Olga Kálmán that NPK is not a real organization representing the interests of teachers but rather “the extended, retributive, punishing hand of the government” created as part of Hungary’s “overly centralized and nationalized” educational system–a  system she sad is about “state power and ideology”.

She told ATV the real purpose of NPK is to “take the ground out from underneath the feet” of Hungary’s two main teachers’ unions in an attempt to replace legitimate leaders with pliable ones amenable to the government’s wishes.

Although the government rarely followed the law, it required that the government consult teachers’ representatives when drafting legislation affecting education.  “From now on, the government can check that off the list by simply consulting NPK,” Kunhalmi said.

The Socialist politician, who is president of the Budapest chapter of the Socialist Party, calls NPK’s first, serious decision “disingenuous”.

She says that if NPK truly represented the interests of teachers, it would not be necessary to compel them to belong to it.  “If teachers see a point in joining, then they will join of their own accord.” According to Kunhalmi, NPK has no right to prescribe anything because no such organization formally exists under Hungarian law.  “It was created by government decree” she points out.

She is concerned that the ethical codex will be used to force certain teachers out of public education altogether.

“Every codex . . . has to be interpreted within the context of the system in which it exists.  There is a centralized, state, one-school system.  Everyone understands that there are no longer individual schools, although they keep their names if they haven’t already been changed by [junior ruling coalition partner] KDNP.”  If someone was not considered “loyal”, then this could be used to force them out of education altogether.  Kunhalmi points out that “KLIK is Hungary’s largest employer” and warns that after “collecting so many black marks” teachers could be forced to leave public education for good.

In her opinion, most, if not all, teachers perform their job in a commendable fashion under difficult circumstances.

According to Kunhalmi, a professional debate has taken place over the past 25 years, during which time many other professions adopt professional codexes without fear of government abuse.  “Remember that when those were written, democracy still existed in Hungary.  Checks and balances had yet to be been dismantled.”   She said that, as a result of government “reforms”, in education today “everyone is afraid of everyone else” and teachers are kept in a state of constant fear.

“What is the basis for prescribing an ethical codex to teachers where there is so much corruption. How dare the government speak of ethics!”