Secular Hungary

Saturday, 19 June 2010

How to hand over state schools to churches easily

The Hungarian Teachers' Union wrote a letter to the constitutional court protesting against a new bill (No. LI of 2010) modifíng the law on public education. According to the bill, local authorities may hand over their schools to a church institution on the spot, without delay. According to the union, this step violates teachers' and pupils' religious freedom, as this would mean that anyone may suddenly find themselves in a religious institution, and in some places, there may not be any secular alternative.
Though schools are mainly state financed, they are maintained by the local government, and as the state subsidies are not enough, the schools budget is usually supplemented from the (also rather tight) local budget. Church schools, on the contrary, receive an avarage of the supplements provided by the local government in addition to the regular state subsidies. Therefore handing over a local school to a church is financially rewarding for local goverments,
as it means they don't have to use their own funds for topping up schools budgets.
As I mentioned earlier, the new governing party tends to mix religion into state affairs quite openly. The new person responsible for education, state secretary Mrs Rózsa Hoffmann, favours a "traditional" education with a very fixed curriculum (leaving just 10% of teaching time for the teacher to adjust classes to pupils needs and preferences), focusing on the strengthening of national identity, and is in favour of introducing compulsory religious education (it is not quite clear which of them - only half of Hungarians are catholic, even by the most church-biased countings). She also believes that socially deprived kids (mostly gypsies/roma) should get not the "best possible" education, but one that is "adequate as compared to their skills", which is on of the reasons why she was considered unchristian by an American Hungarian commentor (
The new state secretary for culture, Mr Géza Szőcs has some unusual ideas, too. He seems to think that decisions in the framework of state progammes to subsidise cultural events are made by desk officers (in fact, desk officers are only managing the programmes, but decisions on how to fund what are made by external committes composed of artists themselves...) In an interview last week, he told journalists he wanted to set up an experts group to research the genetic origin of Hungarians, in order to settle the (non-existing) question whether Hngarians are Finno-Ugric (I wrote earlier about this). The problem is, of course, that the relation is not a genetic but a linguistic one - our genes are not related to other Finno-Ugric people, but the structure of our language and around 1000 of our words are. Practically the Hungarian language has long ago changed its people.