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OK, when I have a bit of time, I'm going to do some reading up on the exact history of what happened and when in the Hungarian educational system. The elements that for me are most notable, seem to be pretty old.

I think one of the most damaging aspects is the way top grammar schools spoon off a certain crop of students at around 11 years old. I know this was going on in the late 1980s, and probably much earlier too.

One of the things foreigners note about Hungarian society is the way that bonds developed in school are kept and nurtured in a very intense manner. Many people make friends for life at school, but this seems to be far more rigid bonding... not just friends for life, but perhaps work colleagues for life! So these patterns formed at school seem to determine many social realities.

Among my acquaintances there are mainly ex-grammar school people, but I have also come across people who were consigned to the technical specialist schools, and these were bright people who for whatever reason, didn't match the teachers' expectations, or even had family members who embarrassed the powers-that-were at one point or another. Despite being intelligent, these graduates of the 'loser schools' - for that is what they were - have no expectation of degree level studies, whether in technical or non-technical subjects, and indeed operate on the assumption that they would be summararily rejected by Hungarian universities or even further education.

Many people therefore fail to be provided with basic study skills, but perhaps more importantly, they are conditioned to believe they are not capable of learning. I understand adult learning levels in Hungary are the lowest in Europe, and for this I blame the sink schools, and I also blame the premature funnelling of able students. The brutally selective and underfunded Hungarian education system dishes out ignorance and ineffective knowledge in equal measures. The fact that some people do OK eventually is something to marvel at, and may reflect parental intervention more than anything else.

It's amazing that Hungary has had three 'social-liberal' governments since 1990, that have done nothing to reduce selection, and the social inequalities resulting from this.

by car05 on Sun Mar 18th, 2012 at 11:28:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A question: which schools do you equate with "grammar schools"? Gimnázium?

One of the things foreigners note about Hungarian society is the way that bonds developed in school are kept and nurtured in a very intense manner.

Hm? As intense as the bonds of Old Etonites? Do you have specific kinds of professions in mind? I would think that there is a more broader phenomenon of people relying on "connections", with an emphasis on connections based on family relations.

that have done nothing to reduce selection

As I indicated, they (in particular the liberals who controlled the education ministry) have actually done a lot to increase selection, even if higher education was expanded greatly (at least for first years, but then selection came during the first year). Add to this the spread of private schools, which was pursued mainly by right-wing governments.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Mar 18th, 2012 at 04:00:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the level of elementary school education, I can't much comment on the situation in the last two decades as I don't have any experience, but on the mid-eighties situation I can: in 7th-8th grade I went to school in West Germany, and they were behind compared to the curriculum in Hungary in maths, physics, geography, biology and history; and I think only geography was taught on a higher quality.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Mar 18th, 2012 at 04:59:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I've heard apparently contradictory things regarding this. Some people have said that the maths at 16 years in the UK is like the maths at 14 years in Hungary. I've also heard of people starting school in Hungary, transferring to the UK, and then going back into the system in Hungary. I'm sure this a wrenching experience, and in this particular case, they complained bitterly at the rigidity and monotony of the Hungarian teaching methodology, by comparison to the project-based, student-centred approach of much primary education in the UK (which has incidentally incorporated certain aspects of the Wardorf-Steiner approach).

What we do know in terms of comparison is from the OECD's PISA ratings at 14 and 16 years, crude as they are. These show Hungary as generally average or below-average on all subjects, with no great advantage in either maths or science. I had a memorable conversation with someone once who was adamant that this was due to the inclusion of Roma children... there goes Greater Hungary...

I can well believe that Hungarian education starts off as excellent at kindergarten, is actually quite good at primary level up to 10, and then rapidly tails off for many (most?) students afterwards, in a sea of repetition, lack of depth, autodidact teaching and absence of genuine rigour. By the time they are 15 or 16 many students are disillusioned and unchallenged. As an ex-teacher I would have to concede that the introduction of school inspectors by the Hoffmann-Orban act is not something I find intrinsically offensive, as long as it is used to help the teacher develop. Oh, and fraud is absolutely endemic, with a thriving black market in false exams and third-party essays.

by car05 on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 10:40:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe we can agree that education is universally crap across borders?

Daily Mail [UK]: Maths 'too hard for students and dons': Universities drop subject from science courses

Universities are dropping maths from degree courses because students - and their lecturers -  cannot cope with it, a report warns today.

...

Universities are being forced to dumb down degree courses requiring the use of maths, including sciences, economics, psychology and social sciences.

Students are unable to tackle complex problems and their lecturers struggle to teach them anyway, it is claimed.

Unfortunately google searches for this stuff turn um the Mail and the Telegraph, and only the Daily Mail includes the bit about the university teachers not being able to cope either.

Here is the same story on EducationNews.org.

In any case, how can it be that every country is below average in the quality of its education?

There are three stories about the euro crisis: the Republican story, the German story, and the truth. -- Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 10:54:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is a recent article about Finland, which is supposed to be above average. Of course, they'd have to be way about average for everybody else to be below....
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 11:32:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, I missed this article. Pasi Sahlberg has been busy with his missionary work.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 12:38:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It shows the need for ReformTM?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 11:39:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I've heard apparently contradictory things regarding this.

I emphasize again that I was speaking about the situation 25 years ago, and don't know much about the present one first-hand. All I know that the curriculum did change, if only because politicians wanted all the communist-era school books replaced. (I was aware of the rankings in PISA studies, but I can't compare that to anything 25 years ago.) Teachers also count, and even if the old Prussian model of strict teachers doing instruction (that rigidity you describe) was not good and there were attempts to change that, I know at least that much that teacher quality decreased, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 11:23:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW when I came back from West Germany, to start my highschool education, my main experience was that of being behind in some fields, in particular maths and physics, in spite of my parents' extra-school effort. On the other hand, I was ahead on languages, not to mention stuff not taught at all at home like civic life. I may have been lucky that I had some teachers at my highschool in Hungary, too, who encouraged discussions where students were encouraged to make analysis and express opinion like in some classes back in Germany.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 11:36:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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