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September 1: School-Year In Hungary Kicks Off Today As Opinions On Education Remain Divided

By Tamás Székely // 2016.09.01.

About 750 thousand elementary school pupils and 500 thousand high and vocational school students have started the 2015/2015 school-year today in Hungary. Addressing a school-year opening in Csurgó, in south-western Hungary, the Human Resources Ministry’s state secretary noted that teachers’ wages will be increased on September 1 for the fourth consecutive year, and there will be another pay rise in 2017. Schooling expenses burdening families have further dropped due to the government’s decisions to grant free textbooks to pupils in another grade and provide free school meals to a broader circle of children, Bence Rétvári said. Central funding for the school system on the whole increased by 107 billion forints (EUR 345m) this year, he said.

Meanwhile the head of the PSZ teachers’ trade union has warned that the new school year “will not be smooth”. Piroska Galló said government communications suggesting all the right conditions were in place for schools to start the year successfully were misleading. Regarding reforms to education, she said the cabinet had declared over the summer the outcome of the public education roundtable successful. As early as December 2015, the PSZ union and the strike committee identified in writing various problems and had proposed solutions, she said, adding, however, that these proposals had been ignored in roundtable negotiations. Galló complained that the government had failed to provide the proper legal background for the reduction in burdens on students and the changes were superficial. Further, no progress has been made regarding the number of mandatory teaching hours or the monopoly the government enjoys when it comes to publishing and distributing textbooks. Among other objections, the union chief also faulted the government for not delivering fully on a promise to abolish the central schools manager.

István Hiller, the opposition Socialist Party’s spokesman, said government measures were “driving the standards of public education into a vortex”. He said the only reason why schools were able to operate was because teachers were making big sacrifices. He argued that the establishment of special vocational high-schools had been a mistake since they reduced a student’s chances of carrying on into higher education. (The government has said that the new vocational system would actually help the chances of vocational students who want to carry on into higher education because many will now be able to take standard matriculation exams.) The opposition Együtt (Together) party said the constant changes introduced in the education system suggested that the government was “experimenting” with schoolchildren. Zsuzsanna Szelényi, who sits in parliament as an independent, said that introducing new measures every summer was problematic since this kept teachers “under stress”.

via and MTI photo: Zsolt Czeglédi – MTI