Hungary, Network 4 Debate

Who Will Teach Hungarian Children in the Near Future?

Hungarian educational personnel is aging rapidly. This schoolyear marks a rapid decline in the average age of elementary and middle school teachers years (46.6 - 46.9), almost a ten year difference in the average of teachers during 1989-2001 - which was 37.2 years.

The educational policy of the last 7 years in Hungary has been an utter disaster. During its time in power, Fidesz has corroded the education system to such an extent that, in the long run, it will be very difficult to rebuild. Especially if there are no teachers.

Being a teacher is not simply a job, but also a noble calling. The future of entire generations depend upon their teachers, who are tasked with the cultivation of young minds, and helping young people reach their full potential. It sounds majestic.

Of course, this is an idealized and romanticized image. Today, the word “teacher” reminds us of their humiliating salaries, and of their degrading dependence on the central authority of the government. Being a teacher today is not a calling; it is slave labor. This present-era image did not get imprinted in our minds only during the Orbán-period – the profession was no more respected by the previous cabinet, either.

A recent article projected an even darker shadow over the subject: Hungarian educational personnel is aging rapidly. This schoolyear, the average age of elementary school teachers is 46.6 years, while middle school teachers’ average age is marked around 46.9 years. To put these numbers into perspective, all one has to do is look at the average age of elementary school teachers during 1989-2001 – which was 37.2 years.

Being a teacher today is not a calling; it is slave labor.

The gender ratio in education professions is also troubling, especially when taking the occupation’s low wages and prestige into consideration. In 2013, 75.7% of the entire profession was female. In pre-schools, practically all educators are women (99.7%); in elementary schools the ratio is 95.6%; and in middle school it is only 69.2%. On the other hand, universities (where salaries are much higher) are male-dominated: only 38.8% of the professors are women.

Paralleling the rise of average teacher age is more cases of teachers retiring. Already at this point in 2017, 565 elementary school teachers and 840 middle school teachers retired permanently. And this figure does not include the thousands who leave the profession before retirement age.

So what is there to find at the other end? This current schoolyear, the number of new teachers is at 353 in elementary schools, and 482 in middle schools. Thus, only half of the retirees have been replaced by new educators.

These numbers clearly indicate that the profession is not attracting young people; rather, young people seem to be scaring away from pursuing teaching as a career. The Educational Office – the institution that released these – has tried (obviously) to place blame on previous governments, claiming that they did not concentrate enough on recruitment. There is no doubt that there is truth to this claim, but the fact that the national curriculum is being arbitrarily changed every year, and that new subjects are being introduced without anybody knowing what they are about, crushes any attempts for a functioning recruitment system.

National curriculum is being arbitrarily changed every year, which crushes any attempts for a functioning recruitment system.

According to official estimates, over the next decade approximately 50,000 teachers will reach retirement age, meaning every year around 2,500 new teachers will be needed in the education system. It is obvious that Hungary is far behind these numbers.

The consequences are tragic. Not just for those who refuse this profession, not just for those who still chose and choose it, but also for those who are broken by the system in just a couple of years: the pupils who will enter Hungarian schools in the near future.

If the education system continues this course, those future pupils will not receive a proper education, and will not be properly prepared for the challenges of life. And these pupils will have no choice: they have to find their ways in this system, among crumbling walls, bad manuals, useless curricula, and overworked, desperate teachers.

The irresponsible government is stripping them of their future, of their lives. And this is unforgivable.

This article was created as part of the Network 4 Debate project, supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

Bio

Nóra Diószegi-Horváth

Nóra Diószegi-Horváth is an editor of the Budapest-based independent media platform Kettős Mérce.