Hungary: Civil society movement demands change in the education system

published 4 November 2022 updated 8 November 2022

Education International is in full solidarity with its Hungarian member organisations engaged in a long-standing industrial action with strong public support, urging authorities to meet their ongoing demands to improve educators’ working and living conditions.

Large public support backing up the teacher strike

For the third nationwide autumn strike for teachers, organised on October 23rd, at least thirty school districts were involved. Demanding a change in the education system, students and teachers formed a living chain that was more than ten kilometres long. The protest was punctuated with many chants, such as “Free country, free education” and “No teachers, no future.” Motorists on the streets joined in by honking in response to “He who blows his horn is with us.”

students forming a living chain during the protest

The last strikes in particular have seen an increase of students and parents joining teachers. This growth of support started after a law was adopted in March which threatens teachers using their own students. Referring to compulsory school attendance, the law argues that if teachers go on strike, they put the students’ right to learn at risk. In response, students made it clear that the current educational system and lack of support damages them as much as their teachers.

Students that joined the strike held signs saying, “Strike is a basic right” and “education=future” and “6 years undivided and for what?”

Union demands

The two Hungarian Education International’s member organisations involved in the protest, the Teachers' Democratic Union of Hungary (PDSZ) and the Syndicat des Enseignants de Hongrie (SEH), presented the government with several demands, which included:

  • The guaranteed salary of those classified under the teachers' promotion system (including teachers on all levels), should be increased by an additional 45% on top of the 10% recommended by the government.
  • The guaranteed salary of non-teaching staff in the education sector from September 1st, 2021, should be increased to the following: A1 category to the minimum wage, for B1 category to the guaranteed minimum wage, for F1 category to 130% of the guaranteed minimum wage.
  • The fixed working hours of teachers, limited to strictly educational activities, should be of a maximum of 22 hours per week.
  • Teaching assistants and remedial teachers should be available on call for childcare performed on their own for a maximum of 35 hours per week.

“I would teach” campaign

Upon contacting PDSZ, Education International received a clear insight on what their campaign slogan, which translates to “I would teach,” entails

“Although it is an incomplete conditional sentence, the slogan has several messages,” explained PDSZ's Anna Emese Kerti, ”firstly, it emphasises that this is conditional: we would want it to become reality, we would like to teach, but this is not in our reality at the moment: we cannot teach as we would like to or cannot teach at all.”

For her, the incomplete slogan which usually would continue with “if” allows for imagining all the fulfilled conditions if the demands of the unions are met, such as “I would teach, if I would be respected as a teacher,” or “I would teach, if I would get an acceptable salary.”

Continuous union struggle

The education unions have been fighting to reach an agreement on these issues for over a year.

They condemned the fact that, in return, the government (which is the teachers’ indirect employer) has deprived teachers of their right to strike, as it requires them to maintain 70% of their lessons while striking and 100% of the lessons for the last year, which had already triggered a wave of civil disobedience in the previous year.

They also stressed that, over the last few weeks, many teachers participating in the civil disobedience movement received threatening letters about being fired. This threat is perceived as real, as five teachers from one of the most prestigious schools in Budapest already got fired. Parents started joining the protests in support of the dismissed teachers in Budapest as they clearly understood that no one will stand beside the teachers, no one will be able to defend them, if the parents do not.

The unions are currently doing their utmost to pay back the wages lost by teachers involved in the strike or civil disobedience movement, while calling for another protest on November 18th.