Theoretical knowledge is important in Hungary and the education system is organised accordingly. Facts are highly valued, history is more popular than in most other European countries and so is literature. What else is there to know about the time Hungarians spend preparing for professional life?
Hungarian children usually start attending regular school in the year they turn 6. They may attend primary school for four years, or opt for the 8 years variant. In both cases, the duration of secondary school will be adapted accordingly. School is compulsory until the age of 16, and most parents will encourage their children to complete at least the Matura which entitles them to a leaving certificate and also qualifies them for further studies.
..thinks some events in history are too painful to be properly addressed in school
Anna (20) has almost only positive memories of secondary school: `It was a French-oriented secondary school, so I took many subjects in French instead of Hungarian. I particularly remember how we ran the streets of Budapest in pyjama`s on the first day of every new school year. It didn`t serve any particular purpose, but it was great fun. I missed the option of learning Italian though, I would have liked to take courses in that. At the time, it was not possible, but I believe that they do offer it now.`
Marton (19) is less positive about the education system, `which only feeds you theoretical stuff. I would have liked to learn how to fill out tax forms. That would have been quite helpful. In Hungary, pupils don`t learn practical stuff that you can actually use when you start working. There are many old teachers. Because of their pensions, they can not afford to retire so they stick around. Many English teachers for example, are actually upgraded teachers of Russian from back in the days when Russian was a compulsory subject. You can imagine that their English may be somewhat effected by their Russian accent at times..`
Marton thinks that Hungarian school kids are quite polite compared to their European counterparts. `But times are changing. There has been some coverage during the last few weeks about a school kid hitting his 70-year old teacher who had called him a rat. One of the kids in class recorded the event with a mobile phone and it was quite a big scandal.` Marton himself used to behave well. `Teachers reduce your marks when you behave bad. They don`t send you out of the classroom, they won`t make you write a thousand lines and they won`t let you clean the school yard. Instead, they take it on your notes and in the worst case, they leave a remark in your school report. Such a remark first of all gets to your parents which is not nice. But it may also result in bad marks during the final exam, thus reducing your chance of being admitted into the college or university of your choice.`
One time, we almost had a school excursion canceled because somebody had written on the walls of the toilets. The head master threatened that if the person who did that would not make himself known, all school excursions for the entire year, for the entire school, would be cancelled. Which would have been a shame, because the school excursions are usually very nice. Many schools take their pupils to Vienna at one point during their school career. Then, there`s the school camps which are particularly nice when you get older and secretly drink alcohol. Sometimes secretly with classmates, sometimes openly with a couple of teachers.`
Gergely (31) misbehaved at times, but hardly ever got caught: `We broke chairs and shot aluminium clots at our teachers using empty pens as launching bases. Or we hid under the school banks and took the teacher`s class book with us, so we couldn`t be reported as absent. We got to choose a seat in the class at the beginning of each school year, but it usually didn`t take very long before teachers would start relocating pupils who were too noisy or obnoxious.`
Gergely tells me that the subjects offered by each school could vary quite widely: `Some schools specialize in music, others in crafts, another few in languages. We also had creative classes, like drawing. Those always started off with learning how to draw cubes and perspectives in the first grade, to be followed by plants and humans in subsequent years. We were not given to much freedom in what to draw. After all, it was a school, not some kind of creative laboratory.
Adam (26, photo) was not too amused by the amount of grammar he had to learn for his Hungarian language classes. He tells me that history and literature were his favourite subjects ? a combination that would well suit the average Hungarian. `We did not learn much about the 1956 revolution, as it is still quite a painful memory to most Hungarians. And for the 1989 revolution, which is not really a revolution but just a change of system, it is still quite recent. On top of that, many of the people who are now leading the country are still the same as the ones who were in charge before 1989. If not through politics, then at least in business.`
Adam also cares to explain me that cheating is quite common in Hungary: `Almost everybody uses little notes to support their memory, even in university. I remember getting caught once. Nothing spectacular happened. I just got a `1`, which is the minimum you can get on our 1-to-5 scale.`
Adam`s general opinion about the Hungarian school system is that it focuses too much on theoretical knowledge. `I didn`t mind having to learn poems by heart, but it would have been nice to have better foreign language classes. Many subjects were too distant from real life, although I do credit my secondary school for the enjoyable optional subjects I took. I learnt dancing, playing chess and playing the flute ? all of those offered by my secondary school. But when I went to Germany for an exchange program with Karlsruhe University, I found out how much value there is in learning practical skills that apply to your field of studies. Generally speaking, I had the impression that the German school system is much more adapted to future professional life. I think the Hungarian system would be a lot better if it managed to integrate the real-life aspect too.`
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