Budapest, February 13 (MTI) – Participants in a huge demonstration organised by the strike committee of teachers demanded system-level changes in Hungary’s education, in front of Parliament on Saturday.
In her address to the crowd, which filled Kossuth Square, trade union PSZ leader Piroska Galló accused the government of ruining the education through its reforms, which had yielded a system which is “bad for children, teachers, parents, and the whole country”. She insisted that the education currently provided is insufficient whereas “the key to a country’s development is in the classroom”. She also said that the government’s “quasi-solutions” or “sugar rush measures” are unacceptable.
László Mendrey, head of PDSZ, the other large teachers’ trade union, said that the direction of public education was “ill considered” and the situation of the sector was “worrying”. He told the crowd, which he estimated at tens of thousands, that teachers would go on strike unless their demands are met.
Viktoria Szűcs, head of the trade union of creche employees, said that “whatever the ruling parties touch will get stolen or destroyed”. In her address, she complained about a lack of positions and demanded a 30 percent pay rise for the whole of the social services sector.
Mária Sándor, a civil activist nurse, said in her speech that nursing assistants’ wages had not been raised since 2007. “What country will turn a deaf ear to the cries of doctors, nurses, teachers or social workers?” she asked.
The speeches were often interrupted by the crowd chanting “We won’t allow them!”, “Orban, out!” or “Traitors!”.
The strike committee earlier compiled a list of 25 demands including radical cuts in the curriculum and number of classes for children, restoration of the earlier employer and financial management rights of headmasters, lifting mandatory working hours for teachers, reducing their administrative burden and raising the schooling age to the earlier 18 years.
Education state secretary László Palkovics told a press conference that the demonstration was “aimless” and insisted that all issues had been raised at the recent public education roundtable or at separate talks.
“It is a matter of taste whether one is ready to negotiate or stages a protest”, he said, and called for “professional talks” rather than “taking politics to the schools”.
The opposition Socialist Party expressed support for the protesters in an open letter, and said that Saturday’s demonstration was “about Hungary’s future”.
Jobbik also voiced support for the teachers’ demands. Jobbik’s deputy group leader and head of parliament’s cultural committee Dóra Dúró attended the demonstration and told a press conference afterwards that the prime minister should “get off his high horse” and hear the voice of people that “want to see 21st century level education, health, and social sector” in Hungary.
Ferenc Gyurcsány, the leader of the leftist Democratic Coalition (DK), said the demonstration could give hope to many, because the government could not “divide or bribe” participants; “for a moment those teachers were teachers for the whole nation”. Gyurcsány said that all demands of the protesters were aimed at reversing changes introduced after 2010, by the Fidesz government, and suggested that his administration before that period could no longer be blamed for current problems. Tens of thousands of teachers, and 1.5 million children and parents think that education is heading in the wrong direction, he insisted. He added that the core of the problem was not the contested central school manager Klik. “The whole system is the problem, that the government treats nobody as equal partners”.