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Teachers, ministry at odds over administration

Teachers insist that KLIK, the centralized body in charge of schools, must be dismantled, but the government appears adamant about maintaining the current administrative structure. 

Nationwide demonstrations were expected on February 13, as the teachers’ association demanded an end to the centralized education system and the ruling Fidesz party, which created the system, refused to scrap it.

Although talks between the teachers’ association and the minister for human capacities were set for February 12, neither side was expected to budge from their main demands.

“The teachers’ strike committee had three professional negotiations with the representatives of the Ministry of Human Capacities in January, and had an informal discussion with Minister of Human Capacities Zoltán Balog,” a spokesperson for the Union of Teachers (PSZ) told the Budapest Business Journal. “It has become clear that the government is not willing to make changes to the education system. Therefore, the strike committee called for a demonstration on February 13.”

For its part, the government has said that it is willing to negotiate many issues with teachers, but not the centralized structure of education. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on February 5 that the education system had been a failure in both financial and professional terms before the government began its reforms in 2010. He said the new system was designed to reverse a trend of lower student test scores and improve their academic results.

Populist fervor

The populist fervor behind the teachers’ frustration with what they say is unneeded political interference in their work is threatening to grow into the kind of antiFidesz sentiment not seen since the party first floated the idea of an internet tax – and then backed away – in 2014. The difference here is that the organization responsible for the centralized education system, KLIK, is already in place, and officials seem loathe to completely abolish the body.

The system built around KLIK was initiated by the government in 2010, at a time when the ruling Fidesz party was using its two-thirds majority in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and pass a host of new laws that strengthened the power of the central government. As the party had done in other areas of administration, Fidesz sought to establish a top-down structure for the education system, giving more direct control over schools to the prime minister and his cabinet.

A big part of teachers’ complaints about KLIK is that the body forces students to learn subjects that many educators consider unimportant. The increased number of required classes are said to put a huge burden on teachers and students alike, and academics say that more emphasis is put on memorization instead of analytical thinking.

The new body has also limited the number of textbooks that students can use – a move that many frustrated textbook publishers said was designed to ensure that a select group of government-friendly publishers got all the contracts. That criticism intensified when the new textbooks came out, replete with spelling errors and sections containing what seemed to be politically inspired interpretations of history and modern society.

A study published in early February by the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Development, which works for the Ministry of Human Resources, found that, in the long run, KLIK is an obstacle for the education system. The study said that KLIK unnecessarily prevents institutions from making decisions for themselves, that the level of education centralization in Hungary is unprecedented in Europe, and that the system seems to have no advantages, according to the report. There is a great deal of secrecy inside KLIK, its operations are chaotic and the growing amount of required documentation from teachers takes their time away from students, the study said.

Centralization is not the only problem. Lack of funding is also a big concern: Along with opposing centralization, teachers have also criticized the lack of necessary school supplies, according to reports.

According to the “Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators” report on Hungary published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in November, Hungary spends considerably less on education than most other OECD countries and expenditure levels have in fact declined since 2012. “Annual expenditure per student by education institution in Hungary from primary to tertiary level is one of the lowest of all OECD counties: $5,564 compared to an average $10,220,” the report noted, adding that spending on education dropped from 13% to 11% from the 2008-10 period to the 2010-12 period.

While they are mostly upset about KLIK, the teachers are also looking for pay raises, an area where the government seems ready to give some ground. But according to the PSZ spokesperson, the demonstration is about a host of problems and a simple pay raise alone would not be enough.

“If the demonstration we are planning to use as a tool of pressure does not have any result, then it is possible that we will go on strike,” she said.