Domestic Politics

Hungary’s Education Unrest Turns Political As Frustrated Teachers Hold Nationwide Demo

In spite of recently announced reforms, including the dissolution of infamous state school manager KLIK, hundreds of frustrated teachers held a nationwide demonstration across Hungary on Wednesday.

The dissatisfied Hungarian teachers walked out of class for one hour in the morning, demanding changes to official policies, including cutting bureaucratic tasks, greater choice in textbooks, more funds for education and reducing students’ mandatory school time. Demonstrators outside Budapest’s Blanka Teleki High School formed a human chain around the block, which protest leader and school principal Istvan Pukli said was to “show that we won’t allow this public education system to take our schools apart.”

Commenting on the one-hour protest held around the country by teachers, the Education State Secretary said that civil disobedience was “not right” but the demonstrators would not face any legal consequences. László Palkovics said teachers would have to make up for the hour in lost lessons due to the protest organised by the  Tanítanék (I would teach) movement.

Zalaegerszeg, 2016. március 30. Nyelvtanóra a 9. osztályban az „Én tényleg tanítanék…” címet viselõ felhíváshoz csatlakozó Zalaegerszegi Kölcsey Ferenc Gimnáziumban 2016. március 30-án. A közoktatás átalakításáért a Tanítanék mozgalom nevében Pukli István, a fõvárosi Teleki Blanka Gimnázium igazgatója március 24-én hirdetett meg polgári engedetlenséget erre a napra, egyórás idõtartamra. Kilenc iskolaigazgató idõt kért a hivatalos tárgyalások lefolytatására és türelemre szólított fel az oktatás átalakításáról szólva abban a felhívásban, amelynek az "Én tényleg tanítanék..." címet adták és nem csatlakoztak a Tanítanék mozgalom akciójához. MTI Fotó: Varga György
MTI photo: György Varga


Party reactions

Radical nationalist Jobbik said it supported the teachers’ demands but urged a professional debate. It called the government’s education policy a failure and the decision to abolish state school manager Klik a mere “PR trick.”

Green opposition party LMP said the government was fully responsible for the teachers’ action of civil disobedience because “employees have been robbed of their right to strike” and civil disobedience remains the only means of expressing their protest.

The opposition Socialists (MSZP) have tabled a bill to ensure a legal way for trade unions to support civil disobedience actions through holding a solidarity strike. In a statement, the party said the goal was to protect employees from any retaliation should they participate in actions like the nationwide school protest held on Wednesday morning. According to the statement, holding legal strikes is “nearly impossible” under ruling Fidesz’s “oppressive” laws, while the proposed amendment, drafted in cooperation with the federation of trade unions, would ensure an opportunity for unions to support such civil initiatives in an organised way.

Seeking a solution

Meanwhile the Hungarian Federation of Municipalities (MOSZ) has initiated holding an open and inclusive forum on the state of Hungary’s public education. MOSZ chairman György Gémesi told news agency MTI that the federation had invited the human resources minister, the state secretary in charge of public education, the two largest teachers’ trade unions, PSZ and PDSZ, the National Teachers Chamber, former education ministers, local municipality federations and civil organisations active in the field of education to the forum.

Gémesi said MOSZ decided to call the forum because after “admitting that [state school manager] Klik had failed, the government has not made any proposals” that would bring about meaningful change in the education system. Last week the government announced that Klik in its current form would be scrapped in the summer and replaced by a new, far less centralised system. Gémesi said that MOSZ and the two large teachers’ trade unions warned the government in 2011 of the problems a centralised school system would cause, adding that, in their view, their predictions had come true.

In January, the government, the National Teachers Chamber and various professional organisations agreed to set up a public education round-table to improve the state of public education. PSZ stayed away from the start, while PDSZ pulled out after the first meeting in February. Later in February, some 45 civil organisations and trade unions set up a civil public education platform, calling itself an alternative to the government-initiated roundtable, to discuss ways to improve public education.

AP, and MTI cover photo: Noémi Bruzák – MTI