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Preprimary & Primary Education

General Survey: Prior to 1990 Hungary had an extensive system of crèches and kindergartens that provided preschool care from the age of one up to the time children started primary school. This system was state-run and was an excellent preparation for school system entry. Mass privatization and the divesting of kindergarten facilities by the state and "new" private enterprises has led to a reduction in the number of preschool facilities. By the year 2000, crèches were still in use, but children could only enter kindergarten at age three and then move into the primary school at six. In 1999 to 2000 there were 4,643 kindergartens with 365,704 students and 31,409 teachers. The children are taught songs, games, and nursery rhymes in the first year and then language, basic mathematics skills, communication skills, and music in subsequent years.

In 1999 to 2000 there were 3,696 primary schools with 960,601 students being taught by 82,829 teachers, a ratio of 11:1 that ranks it amongst the best in the developed world. Enrollments in primary schools are in a state of decline as a result of the overall decline in birth rates. Primary enrollments are falling by about 4 percent per annum, and the decline in enrollments is exacerbated in rural areas as a result of migration into the cities as young people pursue employment opportunities.

One area that has received significant attention in the provision of education has been the attempt by the government to more fully integrate the Roma population into the educational system. Most often these efforts have been directed at the primary level of schooling for, as noted below, the dropout rate for Roma children is particularly high at this level. The official government policy that attempts to give the Roma population a more sedentary lifestyle has created a large number of predominantly Roma villages, and the educational result has been a series of special schools. There are 134 special schools in Hungary, but they are unevenly distributed in the country. In some parts of the country, particularly the northeast, this proportion is as high as 94 percent. The Hungarian Ombudsman for Ethnic and Minority Rights notes that such a disproportionate number of Roma pupils is a sign of institutional prejudice and discrimination and in particular the education of these pupils suffers because of this spatial concentration. Moreover the schools have great difficulty in finding teachers who will and can teach in such schools in part because of discrimination but also because of the need to speak Romany, the Roma language. The government responds that such a concentration helps disadvantaged Roma children but has appointed an Ombudsman for Educational Affairs to study the issue. The issue of Roma education remains a difficult issue. For example in 2000 the Hungarian courts found in favor of Roma students whose primary school had organized a separate graduation ceremony for Roma students, and the local government was required to pay compensation. The issue of Roma education will remain at the forefront of Hungarian educational policy as the EU views respect for minority rights as a major criterion for admittance.

Curriculum—Examinations: The curriculum for all students is set by the state, and teachers generally teach this curriculum though departures are possible. The most important subjects, not prioritized, are mathematics, history, Hungarian language and grammar, physical education, a foreign language of choice, physics, biology and chemistry (the latter 3 only ages 12-14), music, arts, geography, and environmental skills. Music and art lessons only take place in one or two classes per week. At the conclusion of each lesson period of some 45 minutes, the teacher is required to record in a centralized book what was taught to each student. The student will typically have 5 to 6 classes per day. Students are not usually examined in primary schools but are required to do essays and homework and interact during creative problem solving exercises. They are graded on their work on a scale of one (failure) to five (the best) and these cumulative assessments at the end of the school year determine whether they will be advanced to the next grade level.

Urban & Rural Schools: Data on the ratio of urban to rural schools is difficult to obtain. It is known that 25 percent of all primary schools are in the central region of Budapest and Pest County. If rural settlements are defined as those below 10,000 people, then 58.7 percent of schools are in rural areas and 41.3 percent in urban areas. Rural primary schools exhibit lower results in all performance measures than urban schools as enrollments are decreasing as a direct result of state support that is less than urban schools. This is because the amount of state subsidy is directly based on number of enrollments.

Teachers: Most teachers are women. They are usually trained at the regional teachers training institute and in rural areas usually teach in a former collective school building. In preprimary Hungarian schools, 100 percent of the teachers are women while in primary schools 92 percent are women. The average monthly salary in 2001 was approximately 50,000 Hungarian Forints or less than $200. In urban and suburban areas, teaching conditions are better than rural areas with greater access to equipment and supplies. Moreover local city governments are relatively more wealthy than rural governments and hence the buildings are in a better state of repair and thus more conducive to teaching. Overall, including secondary education, teacher numbers in the labor force per capita at 50 per 1,000 is amongst the highest in the world.

Repeaters & Dropouts: The number of repeaters in any one school year in Hungary was reported in 1990 at 3 percent (4 percent males and 2 percent females). Officials suggest that this has not changed significantly over the years. Total numbers of dropouts are not available but it is known that in 1999 the proportion of those reaching the age of 15 but not finishing primary school was 6.3 percent. This is up from 5 percent in 1997 and 5.1 percent in 1998. It is also known that a disproportionate number of these school dropouts are Roma children. In 2000 the EU indicated less than 46 percent of Roma youth completed their primary school education.

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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceHungary - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education