The beginnings of a state regulated education system, is linked to the rule and the name of empress Maria Theresa, who in 1777 promulgated the so-called Ratio Educationis. This legislative act outlined a programme of the establishment of the network of four-year elementary schools, where the language of teaching was Hungarian.
The first comprehensive legislative act on education was followed in 1806 by the second Ratio Educationis. This made a substantial step toward the introduction of compulsory education.
The early 19th century the Hungarian language became dominant at all level of education following the decision in 1840 by the National Diet declaring Hungarian the official language of the State. This was also the period when the first vocational schools were established.
During the revolution and the 1848-1849 War of Independence a legislative act on education was adopted by the government. This act states the overall contol of the state over the content and organisation of the whole education system.
In the 1850’s in the cities four-year, in villages three-year compulsory education was introduced. In secondary education the Austrian model was introduced, which established the uniform eight-year grammar school and the so-called real secondary schools devoted primarily to mathematics and sciences.
The establishment of a modern education system is associated with József Eötvös who was the minister of education and culture of the first Hungarian Government in 1867. The Education Act of 1868 introduced six years of compulsory education.
Despite this substantial progress, the Hungarian education system continued to be highly selective and discriminative. The institution of the four-year so-called ‘polgári iskola’ almost exclusively enlisted children of modest origin.
After the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy at the early 20’s, the neo-nationalism ideology has produced an ambitious education policy. This policy is associated with Kunó Klebelsberg who was the Education Minister. In these years a very high proportion (over 10%) of the State budget was dedicated to education and culture. Hundreds of school and 5000 classrooms were built. Academic activities and scientific research were encouraged. Young talented were supported by a foreign scholarship programme.
After the Second World War the new political forces introduced the eight years compulsory free education. Secondary level education also underwent a radical reorganisation process and the diverse secondary level institutions were merged into a single four-year secondary school.
In the early 50’s the communist supremacy in public education become absolute. This school system based on a strict central control of the schools. This system opened the gates of secondary schools and universities to women and to young people of modest origin. At the same time the children of non-working class or non-peasant origin were discriminated.
After the transition several changes happened in the education system. The 1993 Act on Public Education enforces all freedoms – including the right of founding a school by a Church, or a legal entity and by a person – as well as the free choice of school by the parents.
The legal framework were amended several times according to current economic and political considerations.
Organization of the educational system
Pre-primary education: Kindergarten education and care (‘óvoda’) is available for children aged 3-6 and is compulsory from age 5. The attendance rate is very high. Most kindergartens are state-funded. Public kindergartens are free: they can only charge for meals and extra services. Kindergarten teachers are required to have a degree.
Primary education: Children start primary school when they reach school-maturity, usually in the year in which they have their 6/7th birthday. Basic education is provided predominantly in 8-grade basic schools.
Secondary education: It usually lasts for 4 years, but it can also last for 6 or 8 years depending on how many years the student spent in primary school. There are three kinds of secondary schools: Vocational training school (‘szakiskola’), vocational secondary school (‘szakközépiskola’) and general secondary school (‘gimnázium’). After finishing vocational and general secondary school, students take a final exam.
Higher education: The Higher Education Act was adopted in 2005, in accordance with the principles of the Bologna process. Within the framework of the new multi-cycle system, BA/BSc programmes of 6 to 8 semesters lead to a first degree. Master level programmes of another 2 to 4 semesters require a first degree as admission criterion. The pre-requisite to entering doctoral programmes is a MA/MSc degree. Besides the BA-MA system, there are a few fields of tertiary education (e.g. law and medical studies) where undivided long programmes remain the standard form of study (10 to 12 semesters) leading to a first degree but equivalent to a MA/MSc degree. Higher education also includes post-graduate specialisation programmes (szakirányú továbbképzés) at ISCED level 5A. These can be launched by higher education institutions and, in some areas (like banking and fiscal trades) by national authorities.
In the Hungarian public education system compulsory education begins at the age of 6 of the child, but at the latest upon reaching the age of 7, and according to the current legislation, it finishes at the age of 16. Before the entering into force of the Act 2011 on Public Education, the upper limit of compulsory education was the age of 18 years, which is considered to be decisively high on a European scale.
Regarding the duration of education, for long decades the major part of compulsory education has taken place in the primary schools, which used to have 8 grades uniformly. However, recently this practice has changed fundamentally, and besides the traditional 8-grade primary schools children have the possibility to study in 4+8 or 6+6 system, which means that after completing the 4th or 6th class, they continue their studies in secondary school.
Compulsory education is free of charge.
The annual compulsory number of lessons on each grade is considered average as compared to other European countries, however the introduction of compulsory daily physical education has increased the workload of students significantly.
In the operation of the public education system, the processes of decentralization have gained strength already before the change of regime, particularly in the 1980s, and the division of tasks between the central administration and the institutions of local authorities and public education has started. The Education Act of 1985 declared the professional independency of institutions, and it prescribed for them the establishment of the organizational and operational rules. The school inspection was replaced by expert counselling. The mandates of executive positions could be filled through competition, the appointment of executives had to be subject to the agreement of the body of teachers.
From the year 2013 the system of education, formerly operating in a decentralized way for many decades, has fundamentally changed. Since the 1st January 2013, a new institution has entered into the system of Hungarian public education, namely the Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ (Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Centre, KIK), which is charged with the professional management of all schools in Hungary. In case of certain schools (depending on the size of municipality and on individual decision) the technical and infrastructural operation remains the task of local governments, while in other cases it shall be taken over by KIK.
As a consequence of the introduction of state-financed maintenance, from now on the institutions are functioning as independent organizational units constituting separate legal entities of KIK. This way the independent management power of schools has been terminated.
Currently one of the fundamental documents of compulsory education is the so-called National Curriculum, which defines principles, goals and development tasks: the theoretical, content and approach-driven basics of tasks of school education pedagogy; the main domains of general knowledge to be transmitted; and the tasks of developing the education and teaching work, and the students with special education needs. The next level of substantive regulation is assured by the framework curricula.
- Education in Hungary. (2008) Oktatási és Kulturális Minisztérium
- Mészáros, I. (1999) The Thousand-Year History of Schools in Hungary. Nemzeti Tankönyvkiadó, Budapest