Education in Hungary and Poland: The Classroom Crisis
As both countries prepare for the new school year in September, many in the public education system are asking, “Where are the teachers?”
In Hungary, deputy chairman of the teachers’ union, Tamas Totik, said about 17,000 teachers from the country’s education system were missing, or 15% of the needed teachers. The shortage of teachers in mathematics, physics, chemistry and IT is particularly acute even in wealthy areas.
Totyik, who has been teaching math and geography in rural Hungary for over 30 years, told BIRN:
In Poland, the shortage of staff, especially in the big cities, is a serious concern. For example, in Warsaw, according to the ZNP union, there are over 1,800 vacancies, and in Krakow about 1,000.
At a press conference in mid-August, Education Minister Čarnek dismissed concerns, saying the shortage was a “normal turnaround for staff at this time of year”, with national figures showing a shortage of schools with 50 staff. He argued that the situation was equal. one teacher.
But at least 20,000 teachers are needed across the country in July, according to a monitoring of job vacancies announced by local education authorities, edited by English teacher Robert Gorniak and published on Facebook’s Dheeraj Wiggy. and large cities are disproportionately affected.
“Last year’s shortage was equivalent to 15,000 missing staff in August, just in case, a 50% increase,” Gorniak commented.
We see a similar double-speak from Polish authorities regarding teacher salary increases, which have been demanded for years, including during the 2019 strike.
Czarnek claims that the trade union, the ZNP, has rejected an offer to raise teachers’ salaries by about 36% (a claim the ZNP vehemently denies), while at the same time, the PiS-controlled lower house of parliament, the Sejm claimed to have refused a salary increase. 20 percent.
In Hungary, experts argue that an immediate wage increase of at least 30-50% is needed to retain and attract new teachers to make up for the shortage.
After 10 years of neglect, Orban’s right-wing government at least admits that the public education system is in trouble and teachers are somewhat underpaid. He is now committed to raising salaries to his 80% of the national average wage by 2029. The funds to fund this (around €1 billion) will have to come from the EU Structural and Cohesion Fund, but the government will need to provide credible anti-corruption guarantees. , just as it is with frozen payments from the Coronavirus Recovery and Resilience Facility.
In any case, teacher Zsuzsa Berkesi believes that these are empty promises from the government and cannot solve the current problems. Many literally go hungry. I need an urgent solution. “
And many wonder if the Orban government is ideologically ready to change course and start investing in education. Union leader Totyik claims that they have systematically diverted resources from the education system: in 2008, 5.8% of Hungary’s GDP was spent on public education, compared with 2020. That figure has fallen to 3.8%.
“More money is spent on sports than in elementary school. You can’t help but see sports as a kind of ideology and prioritization,” he says.
Totyik believes the ruling party is following a conscious strategy of dismantling public education to prevent social mobility. “Our constitution promises equal access to education for all, which is clearly not happening,” he says. Meanwhile, the children of the ruling class mostly attend private or church-run schools.
The ZNP and other Polish teachers’ unions are now threatening to go on strike after the start of the new school year unless concessions are made regarding salary increases.
The Hungarian teachers’ union is wary of going on a national strike on September 2, but student groups have already organized mass protests in front of the parliament building.
Hungarian teachers’ right to strike has been greatly reduced over the years. Students cannot be left unattended or sent home and must maintain a minimum level of service. Strike days are deducted from teachers’ salaries, and many have to ponder whether they can afford to lose even a fraction of their income. “Teachers are divided and many fear their existence,” says Zuza Berkesi.
In another sign of Orban’s hardline tactics, the new Fides cabinet, which took office in May, transferred education to the control of the Ministry of the Interior and its Tekken leader, Sander Pinter. their union.
Especially in Poland, new academics come with the added challenge of integrating Ukrainian refugee children.
The education minister claims Polish schools are ready to host 200,000 to 300,000 Ukrainian students. But ZNP head Slawomir Broniarz warns that the government has done little to prepare for this influx.
“Even if we accept 100,000 new students, we still need to build 1,000 additional schools for 1,000 students,” Broniarz said in an interview with online portal Krytyka Polityczna. “After all, our classes are not made of gum. We should listen to and support the needs of Ukrainians, but who and where can implement this support?”
“Reaction to the arrogance of [education] Darius Chetkovsky, a Lodz teacher, wrote in a popular educational blog hosted by the weekly Politica: “We don’t know what form this rebellion will take after September 1. For example, general strikes, mass evacuations of faculty, staff leaving the system, anger and frustration leaving work. Directors and others who have to deal with faculty and staff members who are
“We can only empathize with our students,” Chetkowski added. They go to school sick and the minister refuses blood tests or treatment. “