Budapest, March 1 (MTI) – Several agencies should share the task of running public schools as opposed to the current system whereby the state schools agency (Klik) is in sole charge, the human resources minister said on Tuesday.
Speaking in a parliamentary debate on public education, Zoltán Balog said that the evaluation system of teachers was much too bureaucratic and should be changed, though “without giving up its essence”. He added that the evaluation could no longer be mandatory after 2018. He also said that those in their final years before retirement would be exempt from the evaluation procedure.
Hungary’s locally run schools were transferred to Klik in November 2012.
Concerning that move, Balog said that in 2010, when the Fidesz government took over, the education system had “no master”. He insisted that there were no “reliable” data indicating the number of teachers in the country or the cost of running the schools. As a result, he argued, there were no base data to determine what the new Klik’s operations would cost.
Balog insisted that ailing local governments were no longer able to manage their schools and centralisation had been inevitable. He admitted, however, that “once a system has fallen apart, the resulting centralisation could go further than necessary”. He said that a “strict, centralised system” had been needed at the start but “easing” might be necessary afterwards.
Concerning complaints suggesting that both students and teachers were overburdened, Balog said that a Hungarian schoolchild typically spent an annual 5,553 hours at school, while the OECD is average 7,571 hours. He noted that currently 90 percent of the curriculum was centrally prescribed for all schools and the schools themselves could define the remaining 10 percent, and said that that ratio could change in future.
On February 25, the government decided to replace the head of Klik, which had amassed a deficit of 17 billion forints (EUR 55m) since its foundation.
The human resources ministry said at the time that in future decisions impacting schools would be made locally, “ensuring optimum utilisation of the system’s potential and reducing discrepancies”. In its statement, the ministry also pledged a stable budget to ensure smooth operations.
Addressing the debate, former education minister and a lawmaker for the Socialists, Istvan Hiller, said that public education was not just a place for job creation; its goal was to pass on knowledge, in which it was failing. Jozsef Tobias, the party’s leader, said in the debate that the government was ignoring the fact that schools in Hungary were not narrowing social disparity but cementing it. The cuts in secondary school and higher education places have contributed to Hungarians moving abroad in great numbers, Tobias said, adding that the vocational training system was underdeveloped and language teaching ineffective.
Bence Rétvári, a spokesman for the co-ruling Christian Democrats, said Socialist governments in the past had scrapped 13th month bonus pay for teachers, taking 17 billion forints out of teachers’ pockets and 100 billion forints from the sector.
Gábor Vona, leader of the radical nationalist Jobbik party, told lawmakers that Hungary’s education spending had dropped from above 6 percent of GDP in the 1990s to 5 percent in 2003 and 3.9 percent in 2013, putting the country among the lowest spenders. Dora Duro, a spokesperson for the party, said Klik should be dissolved, adding that the state should not interfere in education “without discretion”, only where it was necessary.
LMP’s István Ikotity said education had been ignored by Socialist and Liberal governments in the past, too. And since 2003, funding worth 30 percent of GDP had disappeared from the sector. The reason why Klik was bankrupted was to do with “chronic underfinancing”, he said.
The civil public education platform, which represents protesting teachers and calls itself an alternative to the government-teacher roundtable on school reform, made public its 12 points of demands on Tuesday. These include reducing academic burdens on pupils, such as cutting the number of physical education classes and eliminating mandatory moral and religious education classes, a statement sent to MTI said. They also called for the government to postpone planned changes to the secondary school-leaving exams and to stop all changes planned at the secondary level. Services for special needs students need immediate attention, as do Roma integration goals in schools, the statement said. A free choice of textbooks and the immediate suspension of the teacher evaluation system, as well as the legal possibility of employing teachers beyond the retirement age, was also among their demands.