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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Hungary: Teachers at the End of their (very tight) Tether - Winning Support of Students and Parents

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

Education is in crisis in Hungary – Teachers, students and their parents will demonstrate for more than just wages at the Technical University on Sunday.

Speaking up for her teachers: High school student Anna Strbka, at a demonstration in Budapest on October 14th, says the education crisis is "a problem of national importance" Photo: Gabriella Csoszó

It was a demonstration that began at the same Technical University on October 23rd, 1956 which sparked the Uprising against Communist rule. Not, of course, that the protestors today want or anticipate violence. But underpaid, understaffed, overworked

and effectively banned, legally, from 'proper' strike action, they certainly want changes.

And with inflation currently at 20% (and more like 60% for staples like bread and dairy products), they want it quickly.

A report by the European Commission, published in May, found more than half of Hungarians who have teaching degrees choose a different job because of the heavy workload and low salaries. It found that there is a considerable shortage of qualified teachers in institutions teaching highly disadvantaged children, and said that the number of teaching hours is higher in Hungary than anywhere else in Europe.

Hungarian teachers’ salaries are the lowest among the EU’s OECD member states, at 58-66% of the average salaries of college and university graduates, compared to 75% in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, the report stated.

In the past week, students and teachers spoke to the Hungarian International Press Association about their concerns. Here are some excerpts of their statements and answers to journalists questions.

Anna Strbka (pictured above), high school student at Eötvös József Gimnázium, Budapest, activist with Egyesült Diákfront (EDF - the United Student Front) an umbrella student organisation.

I wouldn't say there are teachers' problems or students' problems, I would say that there are problems with the [entire] education system that directly affect everyone in the system, teachers and students.

But what we are trying to convey is that it doesn't only affect the people who are in it, but that it really is a problem of national importance, and it affects every single person in this country and who potentially has any connections, and who cares about how we will progress into the future as a nation, as a society, because we really see that we need a wider societal support for anything to happen. Because if we stop at students, or a part of students who care enough to do something about this, and teachers, that doesn't really seem to be enough. And then what we are trying to do is widen the people that we can reach with this, and try to put it into peoples' heads that this is something that everyone should care about, and something that really helps us grasp very core problems with any systems and that we want to change moving forward.

Left: Ákos Bozai, high school student at Nagy Lajos Gimnázium, Szombathely, and activist with ADOM Diákmozgalom (Alternatív Diákközpontú Oktatásért Mozgalom - Movement for an Alternative, Student-oriented Education System).

We are working because we think that teachers' problems are [also] straight student problems. If teachers are demotivated and underpaid, then we won't have the chance to learn. If they take this chance from us, this is illegal, because we have the right to learn. We stand behind the teachers to be more motivated, better paid, to have more teachers, and so we will be able to learn in the future too.

Qn: Alex Faludy: Have any of you have been threatened with expulsion or negative comments on your school record [because of your activism]?

Ákos Bozai: Luckily, we are not at the point where the school districts or the government are threatening the students [directly], but they are threatening our teachers all the time, and I feel a little bit like [this way] they are threatening us, because if they fire our teachers, we won't have the chance to study.

The threats are these letters. If teachers do illegal strikes, or civil disobedience, then they get letters very, very quickly, the next day maybe, and these letters state they will be fired if they continue this activity.

Right: Katalin Tarnai, visual arts teacher at Gödöllő Török Ignác Gimnázium, and board member of PDSz, the Union of Democratic Teachers.

Qn: Kester Eddy: What drives you personally to campaign for change in the education system?

Katalin Tarnai: First, I want an independent ministry of education. We haven't had a ministry for 12 years. This is a sign that it [education] is not important for the government – but it's very important.

This education system is stupid, I'm sorry, but there are some stupid themes in the curriculum – and our salaries are very bad.

I can say three things [motivate me]: an independent Education Ministry, better salary and student lessons The students have to learn too much, they have six and seven lessons a day, and it's too much.

Our students need time for practice, for thinking and learning different skills, not only pushing them [to learn facts], and [read] big books.

There is another big problem: Hungarian teachers, most of them are very close to retirement age. We made a survey in May - June. I have only six colleagues under 40 years of age in a school of 54 teachers. Others are between 40 – 50, and most are older than 50. This is a tragedy [for the future].

Szabolcs Kincse, is communications officer for PDSz. (Sorry, no photo).

Qn: Florence la Bruyère: We hear that students complaining about lack of teachers in public schools and colleges. Do you have any figures for these missing teachers?

Szabolcs Kincse: We don't know, because they won't tell us. We can only make guess work. The government does not communicate these numbers, only after lengthy court trials [using the Freedom of Information Act].

In this country, the government doesn't communicate them. What we actually think, we heard about 40,000 missing employees. We actually think about 16,000 qualified teachers. But we don't know.

We also need to consider that we also miss teaching support. We miss gardeners, janitors, technicians.

Qn: Kester Eddy: So if you want to do a chemistry lesson, an experiment, there are no assistants to prepare the apparatus?

<Laughter breaks out in the room. Shouts of “Luxury!">

Szabolcs Kincse: We have never had assistants in this system! This is the Hungarian public school system we are talking about. Let's keep our feet on the ground!

So we don't know exact numbers. Oh yes, the newest technique is to advertise missing positions for three months, and after that they take down the advertisement, and after that they disappear from the statistics.

So, there is no lack of chemistry teachers, all of a sudden, because nobody is teaching chemistry!

Well, there is, because the PE teacher will teach chemistry. But I have been to schools where the say they have not had a [qualified] chemistry teacher for the past four years.

Right: Lili Mihalics, high school student at the Szent István Gimnázium, Budapest XIV, and activist with Egyesült Diákfront (EDF - the United Student Front).

What we've heard from teachers is that we give hope and courage to them, because how the legal system [governing strike action] is today, in Hungary, their rights to go on strike is very restricted – and that's why we'd like to encourage them to still go on with strikes and and with civil disobedience, because we need them to act in order to [achieve] some changes.

The education system here is too factual, too fact based. It's like the Prussian system.

The Student-Teacher-Parents demonstration tomorrow (Sunday, 23rd October) will begin at Kálvin Square at 4 PM, and from there the people will march along Vámház körút, across Szabadság bridge to the Műegyetem rakpart.

See also posts of April 6th: One in five teaching positions in schools is unfilled - and it's set to get worse &

April 13th: Teachers are sorely underpaid - but the real problem is the education system itself

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