Over the past six months since starting as a visiting professor in the international study programme at the Corvinus University of Budapest, I have had the opportunity to meet people who are passionate about education. But recent efficiency reforms from the Hungarian government - which expects professors to do more for less - are putting this passion under severe economic strain.
There is nothing new about reforms that seek the privatisation and semi- privatisation of education. Teachers all over the world have been dealing with this issue for years now; it can be seen in the US, Mexico, Peru and elsewhere. But any rational individual can surely understand that educational systems worldwide are now being administered like corporations. The very essence of a corporation is to create wealth for its backers, and its bottom line is profit. However, we as educators, parents and concerned citizens need to realise and make governments see that a corporation is one thing but an educational system is a different thing altogether.
I visited a local gimnázium, or secondary school, here in Budapest a few weeks ago. There, I had the opportunity to witness a magnificent class where the students were learning English. At the end of the session, I sat with the teacher. I was dispirited to learn that her enthusiasm for, and love of, teaching is being eaten away by the economic agony of her situation. As the mother of three children, she constantly struggles to keep the family budget on track. She recently had her public transport waiver taken away; she cannot get a permanent position; and she has been informed that next year she will be expected to teach almost twice as much for little extra pay.
At local universities, the situation is similar. I have met professors who have not been paid for hours of teaching that were delivered during the 2012 spring semester. I have learned that educators here are often afraid to ask for what is rightfully theirs because the system is forbidding and not open to questioning.
Many professional roles in society are now devalued and misunderstood. Educators are no longer valued for their passion, their knowledge or even their contributions to building the moral and ethical fibre of society - not economically, at least. Meanwhile, models, actors, entertainers, athletes and businessmen are highly valued across Western cultures. Large salaries in many careers are well accepted and much prized by our market- based society.
Although I do not have celebrity acquaintances, I have nothing against their fame and fortune. Every society remunerates such individuals and others of their profession as it (more or less) sees fit. However, we must also talk about teachers, educators, educational systems and the economic remuneration that we deserve. Every Hungarian teacher - and every teacher around the world where education reform is in process or is being contemplated - deserves a whole lot more than what our market-oriented society has decided to bestow upon the profession. We need to spend more on education and on every individual who is involved in providing it.
Countries such as Finland and Norway pay excellent salaries to teachers and are consistent in having a good and effective education policy. It is the right of every citizen in every nation to have access to free basic education. It is also the right of every teacher in Hungary and the world to earn a decent living. Every individual of every nation should find it in their best interest to pay for a respectable educational system because it is an investment for life and for the nation as well.