Entries RSS Feed Share Send to Facebook Tweet This Accessible version

First day at school: education policy under fire

September 3rd, 2013

Liberal critics of different hues accuse the government of authoritarianism and incompetence, for its overhaul of public education

On the first day of the new school year PM Viktor Orbán said his government has taken over the public school system from local authorities in order to ensure the same educational standards throughout the country’s schools. These standards and the curricula are set by a new government agency which has become the employer of all teachers. The reform prescribes regular visits by school district overseers and specifies that all children should stay in school until 4 pm, even though principals can grant exemptions at the parent’s request. The new curriculum includes P.E. classes every day and a choice between mandatory religion or ethics classes. In a recent addition to the law, the government proposed to install ‘school police’, officially called crime prevention advisers in grade schools.

Under the new system, some elements of the long-promised teacher career path are also introduced, with a 38 per cent average raise in teachers’ salaries. In exchange, teachers are expected to spend more time in school. The new payment scheme will – or so critics argue – benefit younger teachers much more than experienced ones, especially those with a university (as opposed to college) degree.

In an angry commentary in Heti Világgazdaság, Péter Radó, opposition leader Gordon Bajnai’s education expert, and one of the most vocal critics of government education policies, laments the fate of first graders. He warns that due to lack of facilities, the new supplementary P.E. classes will be held in the afternoons, even though first graders must attend 5, instead of 4 classes each day. While P.E. became a priority, he complains, children are supposed to learn to read and write in 7 hours a week instead of 9 under the previous curriculum. Considering that literacy has been a serious challenge for underprivileged students, “some parents will make up for the lack of education by reading with their children while the rest could not reach grammar schools or universities anyway”. Children with special needs or with attention disorders will fall behind in a new regime based on learning-by-rote, and those who cannot keep up will end up in classes ‘leading nowhere’, or in trade schools.

László Szily of cink.hu, known for his blunt and satirical style, asks if his children “will become brainwashed Christian-Democrats, terrorized by school police”. He accuses the government of a “Stalinist centralising overdrive”. A few incompetent (Fidesz) party members, he says, have created a system worthy of the Kádár-era schools system permeated by “janitor-communism”, and – he continues with a jibe at the Prime Minister – if Viktor Orbán happened to prefer the flute to football, schoolchildren would surely have flute-classes instead of P.E. every day. He concludes his piece with an exhortation to parents to submit their experiences with the most vilified elements of the reform: centralised school book distribution, religion and ethics classes, mandatory afternoon school and the “school police”.

Tags: ,