Cuts leave local councils powerless
The Hungarians like to talk, and the Hungarian government keeps talking about education reform. But in reality it is money, or the lack of it, that is doing the real talking. Schools will have to close, class numbers will rise and teaching jobs will be lost.
Decentralisation remains a buzzword in Hungarian education politics, but in practice the move to per capita funding is cutting out the role of local government in the running of schools - a trend educationists say will continue.
"The government wants to close down smaller schools and reduce staffing levels," says Tamas Kozma, director of the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research. "But rather than do it as part of a planned restructuring, it's happening by default. Local councils are getting less money, and they are forced into making rationalisations on behalf of the central government. "
The work on a new national curriculum, begun in 1988, is finally reaching its conclusion with the government agreeing to its principles. It outlines the main fields of studies and objectives of learning but leaves the course detail, timetable structure, and textbook selection to teaching staff. The education ministry also plans to set up an online databank of study material that will allow headteachers to create their own purpose-built curriculum by searching and downloading from a personal computer.
A new two-level exam for high school leavers will be introduced alongside the curriculum. One test is being created for those aiming for higher education, with a second focusing on the needs of those leaving the system or going into vocational training. Nine regional examination centres are being set up.
While teachers' real salaries will continue to decline in the next 12 months, Dr Kozma sees some increases in the education budget. "The salary scale will be expanded to allow those at the top end of the profession to earn more, which will change the culture of teaching. But cash will be pushed into teacher training as we head for the new curriculum system."
One group doing more than talking is Hungary's famously rebellious students. They took to shouting in front of parliament and promised more banner-waving if the introduction of a higher education tuition fee was not halted.
The main student union, HOKOSZ, struck a deal with the government over the issue. Opponents of the compromise formed a rival, radical union. One of the leaders of the group was Gyula Thurmer Jnr, son of the leader of the hardline communist Munkaspart.
The rebels' demonstration outside parliament turned into a farce as students, including many of the organisers, stayed away after elderly right-wing opposition groups hijacked the protest.