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Despite concessions, teachers’ strike likely

The government has promised to close its unpopular centralized authority running schools in Hungary by September, but teachers’ unions says they are still not satisfied.

At the teachers’ unions press conference in Budapest on March 23 are, from left: Gabriella Hajnal, president of the Trade Union for Leaders of Education; József Tóth, president of the Trade Union for Hungarian Public Education and Specialized Training; and Mrs. István Galló, president of teachers’ union PSZ. (Photo: MTI/Zoltán Máthé)

With its March 22 promise to dismantle the centralized school authority and give more autonomy to teachers, the government was apparently acquiescing to the main demands of the tens of thousands of demonstrators who filled the streets on March 15, but teachers say they are not yet satisfied – and at the time of writing some were still planning a March 30 strike. 

László Palkovics, state secretary of the Ministry of Human Capacities (EMMI) responsible for education, announced on March 22 that new legislation on governance of the school system would be written this spring and put in place by September. One goal of the legislation would be to eliminate the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Center (KLIK), which was a source of tension between teachers and the government.

Teachers have complained that KLIK officials forced them to teach a politicized and unwieldy curriculum, with unnecessary classes and a focus on memorization over analytical thinking. Educators, and textbook publishers, resented the way KLIK would only allow use of a small list of approved textbooks. KLIK, which was created by the current government in 2013, was also apparently out of money, and schools were going without supplies.

Several weeks of demonstrations and complaints about KLIK culminated in a mass protest of tens of thousands of demonstrators outside the Parliament building on March 15.

On March 23, the day after the state secretary announced that KLIK would be dissolved and that principals would have more autonomy over running schools, members of the teachers’ union (PSZ) called a press conference in Budapest to say that this was not enough. They said that Palkovics’s surprise announcement addressed only one of the 25 points they have raised with the government. Furthermore, PSZ head Mrs. István Galló maintained that, under the current plan, KLIK would simply be replaced by several smaller government bodies, state control over education would not end, and the amount of autonomy that would actually be granted to schools is still unclear.

She said that as long as central authorities are determining the curriculum, there is still a problem. “It is of vital importance that we decrease the burden on students and that the national curriculum is revised,” Galló warned. “There is a need for legal guarantees that the government will keep its promises.”

Strike likely

At the March 23 press conference, Mrs. Galló said that, although there has been talk of a strike, her union is currently neither encouraging nor discouraging such action, which would technically be illegal.

While striking may be against the law, a group of educators say that opting for civil disobedience is their best means of action. That group is lead by István Pukli, principal of the Teleki Blanka secondary school. During the March 15 demonstration, Pukli called for teachers to hold a one-hour strike on March 30, and many teachers have expressed support for the plan. Roughly 1,400 people said on Facebook that they would join or support a Tanítanék strike on March 30, from 8-9 a.m.

If teachers do go on that one-hour strike, PSZ union chief Galló said it was important that no students were left unattended during that time.

She added that, while the PSZ has not officially endorsed this strike, it does not rule out the idea of a future strike if the government does not meet its demands.