Hungarian Teachers Stage Strike Over Centralization in Education

  • Teachers want to start talks with government on overhaul
  • Several hundred schools join nationwide demonstration

Hungarian teachers held a one-hour work stoppage, making good on a pledge to step up pressure against the government’s centralization of the education system.

Several hundred schools participated in the protest, with teachers -- joined in some places by parents and students -- filing out of buildings and organizing flash-mobs at the start of the school day on Wednesday, according to news website Index. Protest leaders called on the government to negotiate over changes it has driven through in the education system that has taken power away from local educators and left some schools without light bulbs and toilet paper.

“We want the government to talk to us, we teachers, who understand the system,” 64-year-old secondary-school teacher Eva Budai said in Budapest. “This is not an opposition protest. There are supporters of all the Hungarian parties among us.”

Teachers have held several nationwide demonstrations this year, with the most recent on March 15 drawing tens of thousands of people to force the government to backtrack on the centralization of the educational system. The protests have taken a toll on Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, whose support fell seven percentage points to 46 percent of decided voters in February, according to a Median poll.

The protesters have forced the government to backtrack, and it has pledged to ease its centralization push, removed its education chief and vowed to scrap Klik, the state authority it established to oversee public education, this summer. It has also said it will reduce the number of school hours for students. Still, many educators fear the about-face on Klik, which under Orban has taken control over schools that in many cases had been run by municipalities, won’t bring meaningful change.

“We all know that Klik will just be overhauled rather than abolished," said Budai. "Only its name will change. Unfortunately I don’t see meaningful decentralization.”

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