Homeschool families in Hungary are trying to find a way forward after the national parliament enacted a sweeping new education law in July.
The new law severely restricts homeschool freedom, reduces options for when children must begin school, and establishes tighter government control over curriculum and textbooks.
Education advocates in Hungary are especially upset by the way the measure was passed. Neglecting the wishes of professional organizations, the government devised an unthoughtful and incomplete piece of legislation during the last week of the school year and voted on it shortly after, during the vacation period.
Arbitrary and Confusing
The change has made it nearly impossible to homeschool in Hungary. To teach their children at home, parents must now apply for an exemption—a process that the government has offered no guidance on.
Presently, there are no exact facts or circumstances that would guarantee permission to homeschool; officials can decide as they wish. When we asked the established authorities about the process, they replied: We don’t have any regulations on what the requirements are—just write down everything you think is worth considering and our office will make a determination.
This situation was summarized this way by the homeschooling group Parental Voice:
The new law openly approaches children and parents in an authoritarian manner, as they are subjected to the arbitrariness of a centralized government agency. There is a refusal to consider pedagogical viewpoints and a shifting of decision-making responsibilities to a bureaucratic office which can’t be justified by professional reasons.
The law also affects the age of compulsory school attendance.
As of September 2019, parents are no longer eligible to request exemptions from the compulsory kindergarten age that starts at age 4. This means that there is no way to get permission to home educate even when a child has social or mental development needs.
When a child turns 6 years old by August 31, he or she is required to go to school. The possibility of an exemption until age 7 is now almost impossible.
Flexibility for private school students has also been affected. Students are now required to take two mandatory exams during each school year (only those studying abroad are granted an exception). Students who fail to take these exams, or who fail to achieve certain results, will be required to attend school.
Further, there is no freedom in choosing the curriculum. Schools can only select textbooks from the list provided by the state.
Many advocacy groups have criticized the new law and have called for immediate reform. Here is a sampling of what they have said about the situation:
- It forces 4-year-olds to attend kindergarten even if their parents object. This is happening despite the fact that a severe shortage of pre-school teachers is deteriorating the quality of childcare in kindergarten.
- Despite the professional opinion of teachers who know through personal experience whether a particular child is ready for formal education, children as young as age 6 may be forced into school by faceless bureaucrats.
- It does not create the financial or personal conditions for schools to deal with children with special educational needs, learning disabilities, behavioral disabilities or other disadvantages. So there is a risk that these children will continue to be removed from the institutional system without effective help.
- It prevents parents from setting up high-quality “wild” schools (learning circles) or educating their own children in their own homes, at their own discretion, thus escaping from the weak state education system. The parent’s right to choose the most appropriate form of education for his child is thus lost.
- Introducing a mandatory classification (marking system) interferes with the professional work of alternative educational institutions, to which parents consciously registered (entered) their children in order to avoid a traditional grading methodology.
- It requires special curricula for pupils with integration, learning and behavior difficulties, which cannot be achieved because of the existing shortage of professionals and teachers.
- It prevents teachers from using the books they consider to be the most appropriate.
- It allows the government to assign the publishing of curriculum as it wishes, mostly based on interests and political concerns.
- By the assignment of the heads of institutions, the right of teachers, parents, and student institutions to express their opinion is terminated, which leads to the fact that the current authority can place its own people in the chair of an institution without any proof or investigation of professional competence.
- It allows authorities to remove already-commissioned heads of institutions for the flimsiest of reasons.
- It threatens to further increase teachers’ burdens, when most teachers are already overwhelmed. The new law takes away the freedom of parents to decide how their children will be educated. Parents who do wish for an alternative to state schools may submit a request, but it will be judged not by a professional, but by a public official who has no teacher qualifications.
The shortage of educational professionals will worsen as the number of students increase in school—putting children at risk. This will be especially true for children who need special attention.
Since curriculum is now being chosen by the state and not the parent, Christian families are greatly distressed and concerned that their freedom to raise their children in accordance with their values and religious convictions will be taken away.
Finally, the hasty passage of this law has undermined democracy by giving more power to the government to regulate families.