Orbán said that when coming into power in 2010, the government was faced with a financially bankrupt education system and declining trends in student performance. Asked who or what was responsible for the poor state of the education system, he said neither the teachers nor the students were to blame, nor were parents any less effective in fulfilling their duties.

The government believed in transparency and was ready to listen to everyone. He had high hopes for the National Teachers’ Chamber, which was established to ensure non-partisan professional discussions about education. And he understood teachers’ proposals for changes. Their proposals would be discussed.

Orbán said the government put teachers first when it came to pay raises and establishing career models. The education budget had

recently been increased by 450 billion forints in the form of upgrades and developments and 230 billion forints in the form of wage increases.
Only a day after his statements it was announced that László Palkovics, state secretary for higher education, will also take charge of public education. The sacked Judit Bertalan Czunyi – whose work was apparently not criticized by Orbán – was moved into the position of government commissioner for digital content.
According to Minister for Human Resources Zoltán Balog, the central body overseeing public education (KLIK) will not be scrapped but changes will be made to its operation. Schools would continue to be under central control but he and Palkovics would have full powers “to determine what should be corrected”. Balog said a contested system of evaluating teachers would be retained but he admitted that the administrative burden on teachers was too great.

Parties of the opposition said Czunyi’s removal from the helm of public education will not in itself resolve the sector’s problems. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) said that while Czunyi’s removal was necessary, it was the minister who was responsible for the situation’s escalation. “Balog is the real obstacle” and he should step down, the MSZP said. István Hiller, Socialist deputy speaker of Parliament and former education minister, called for systemic changes.

The new state secretary promised teachers calm, stable and predictable conditions so that they can focus on their work. Palkovics welcomed the re-integration of public and higher education under his state secretariat and pledged increased efficiency in the short term.
He said he expected Tuesday’s public education roundtable to be a “constructive” conference with teachers’ demands and the government’s expectations on its agenda. “I expect efficient and calm work discussing options rather than sentiments” in the interest of changing the education system to benefit students, he added.
At the roundtable teachers received a number of promises from Balog, who pledged fast action to settle salary arrears and resolve a dispute over the employment of teachers about to retire. Adhering to a key demand, he confirmed that the process of evaluating the performance of teachers would be simplified.
Balog said the roundtable had been convened to make it clear that the government is keen to resolve problems in public education, together with teachers and parents as well as students and experts.

The talks were attended by the national teachers’ corps, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as the association of large families. Of the two largest teacher trade unions, PSZ and PDSZ, PSZ declined to attend. László Mendrey, the head of PDSZ, and Péter Madarász, the director of a secondary school in Miskolc, whose teachers recently staged a demonstration to demand better conditions, voiced satisfaction with the talks, saying they had been free to raise all issues and that it appeared there may be a positive outcome.

Csaba Molnár, deputy head of the leftist Democratic Coalition, called the consultations a “sham”. Molnár said KLIK should be scrapped altogether. He insisted that “the government has shown no intention of pursuing meaningful talks with teachers and is reluctant to improve education”.
MSZP said public education is still in a state of crisis, unchanged from the time when the talks started. Party and group leader József Tóbiás said the curriculum needs to be radically reduced, school directors should regain their powers, teachers must be given autonomy and the freedom to select textbooks, and their salaries should be raised.
The green opposition LMP party accused the government of merely consulting with its “friends”, and it demanded that funds drawn away from public education be restored.
Radical nationalist Jobbik said no significant progress could be expected as long as the government fails to agree that basic reforms are necessary in public education. Schools and professional organisations have indicated that excessive burdens have been placed on children and teachers, Jobbik lawmaker and head of the cultural committee Dóra Dúró said.
The opposition Együtt said the roundtable was a “pitiful pretence”. Students, parents and teachers who want change should “fully join the protests”. Szabolcs Szabó, who sits in parliament as an independent, said the roundtable was “making every effort to protect the existing bad system”.
The opposition PM party demanded expansion of the roundtable. Co-leader Tímea Szabó said the discussions were a “joke” that did not include “real representatives” of teachers and pupils.
Anett Bősz of the Liberals said the roundtable was “empty” and the government was only paying lip service to the serious problems that exist in education.

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