The new amendment to Hungary’s national curriculum (NAT) has finally been accepted. The government is positive that the changes will grant “Hungarian youth to rise among the world’s best by 2030.” However, many critics of the amendment say there are serious problems with the new curriculum, especially with the humanities which they think are too ideologically driven.
The amendments to Hungary’s national curriculum have been finalized and will incorporate the most efficient international practices along with Hungarian values and traditions, Human Resources Minister Miklós Kásler announced in a press conference on Friday, MTI reports.
Kásler said the curriculum aims to provide the same opportunities to all children, regardless of where they live and of their social status.
The amended NC contains information on shaping a “harmonic family life,” Kásler noted.
The aim is for Hungarian youth to rise among the world’s best by 2030, as a result of a public education system incorporating European values and modern educational methods, Kásler said.
The development of the new curriculum was surrounded by serious debate. In 2017, László Palkovics, then state secretary for education asked psychologist and Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) member, Valéria Csépe to create the new NC. The draft was completed by August 2018, but the text did not get the government’s support. They thought a serious revision was needed in the subject of Hungarian, history (both considered not 'national enough' according to press information) and natural sciences. Gabriella Hajnal was then appointed as the Commissioner responsible for developing the necessary framework.
Regarding specific areas of education, Kásler said that the humanities have been reworked to include new content and structure as well as modern tools to shape national identity.
NC also aims to employ more effective methods in the teaching of foreign languages to improve results, he said.
Education will be integrated with modern digital culture and current trends in the labor market, Kásler added.
It was also revealed at the news conference that the curriculum will be implemented from the 2020/2021 academic year in the first, fifth, and ninth grades and proceed progressively to the others. Also, schools will have to revise their pedagogical program by April 30th, according to the new NC.
Most notable changes
The new curriculum sets the maximum number of lessons per week in each grade: in the first three years of elementary school students will have 24 lessons. The number of lessons increases to 25 in the fourth year, then to 28, 30, and finally, in grades 9-12, students will have a maximum of 34 classes per week in total.
Regarding the subjects, there are a moderate amount of changes.
In the case of mathematics, the use of digital devices will play a much greater role than before. A new goal is to be able to work with math programs in a digital environment by the end of high school.
I.T. will be replaced by “digital culture,” while elementary schools will be able to replace chemistry, physics, and biology with an integrated “natural sciences” subject.
Also, family education and patriotism will play a more prominent role than before, while a civic education class is also being introduced as a new subject in the eighth and twelfth grades.
The two most criticized subject changes are Hungarian and history.
Most of the governing rules of the Hungarian subject remain the same. The list of compulsory reading will change perhaps the most, compared to previous years.
Albert Wass, Magda Szabó, Ferenc Herczeg, and for the first time a Roma poet, József Choli Daróczi are among the new Hungarian authors included in the curriculum.
There are also new figures of world literature such as Bohumil Hrabal, García Márquez, Daniel Defoe, Tonke Dragt, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, George Orwell, and Agatha Christie. There are no popular contemporary authors, however, even though at some point the inclusion of Harry Potter books was suggested. It is also somewhat surprising that the work of Imre Kertész- who is the only Hungarian Nobel Prize winner in literature- is no longer part of the compulsory writers.
In history education, the curriculum incorporates faith in an interpretive, debate-based teaching method, but states that “debates can serve the learning of history if the student becomes aware of the difference between historical fact and interpretation, or if it strengthens the basic values of our society and the European, Jewish, and Christian-rooted civilization in them.”
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Hungarian minorities, Hungarians living outside of Hungary, and the situation of Hungarian Romas get stronger representation in the amended NC.
The new curriculum generates disapproval
Most experts agreed that the former outdated regulation should be changed, but the new NC provoked serious debates in professional circles. Many criticized the tight deadline for the implementation of the newly announced system, as it will come into effect as early as this September. In addition, fifteen elite high school leaders asked the government to postpone the curriculum’s introduction until at least 2021.
Others were not fond of the humanities, mostly for their extreme amount of study material, while some condemned (in their view), to be biased, ideologically driven subjects and interpretations.
While the 2018 draft of the National Curriculum didn’t show any sign of “ideological persuasion” at the time, the final version is “one-sided, nationalist-oriented, reflecting the values of an autocratic society,” education researcher István Nahalka said to leftist daily Népszava.
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According to the expert, the deadline for the implementation of the new national curriculum is also a huge problem since it should be implemented from September on, while the local curriculum is still being developed and nobody has seen the textbooks that are adapted to the new NC yet. He also pointed out that the new national curriculum does not significantly reduce the burden on teachers and students. Although the number of lessons will slightly decrease, the educational material will also grow immensely.
László Miklósi, president of the Association of Hungarian History Teachers (TTE), thinks the new regulation contains a certain kind of compulsory value system, and as a result, it tends to distort history in some cases.
For instance, only the battles of the Árpád era resulting in victory are mandatory to be taught, but not the defeats, Miklósi highlights.
The Hungarian soldiers of the war with the Ottomans are referred to as heroes in the text, thus it automatically labels them, without letting the student come to the right conclusion.
Mariann Schiller, a member of the Hungarian Teachers’ Association, also criticized the new regulation. The curriculum is terribly detailed, cluttered, with more literary works in it than the number of lessons.
The National Curriculum does not include Imre Kertész, the only Hungarian Nobel prize winner in literature, but it does include [controversial] Albert Wass and Ferenc Herczeg, with the latter writer put on the same level in the new NC as János Arany with his obligatory life’s work and novels, she added.
According to Mariann Schiller, it would be better if the curriculum didn’t name any specific authors and the teachers could make the choices.
However, not everyone was against the changes. The Professional Association of History Teachers, for example, welcomed the revised National Curriculum, emphasizing that they fully agree with its main goals and principles.
Featured photo by Attila Balázs/MTI