Another Brick in the Wall? Putting Freedom and Democracy on the Curriculum in Hungarian Schools

György Ligeti
PhD, University of ELTE, Budapest, Hungary

Biographical Note
Kurt Lewin Foundation
H-1052 Budapest, Váci Street 9. III. floor 1.
University of ELTE, Budapest (Hungary)

Hungary is an East Central European country with a population of 10 million. Every day about 1,821,000 children (between the ages of six and eighteen) go to kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools. Approximately a further one million parents and teachers are affected by the public institutional system. How does this mass of many millions of people manage everyday conflicts? What conflict management and civic models does Hungarian public education use today, 15 years after transition to democracy? Relying on nation-wide studies carried out in recent years by the Kurt Lewin Foundation I will now attempt to reveal answers to questions like these. Our work presents the connection and correlation between school aggression, hazing, and the civic socialisation of the individual. The text is also inclusive of a number of interview extracts, too.

The most important legal provision governing the Hungarian education system is known as Act LXXIX of 1993 on Public Education. This act defines and regulates the rights and obligations of students, parents, and teachers (school users). Although the act has been in force for more than a decade, everyday school life in Hungary is largely pervaded by informal rules and conflict management techniques that rely on unconditional submission to authority rather than consensus. School life usually lacks the techniques designed to help the appropriate vindication of student and teacher rights and allow for the management of conflict under the framework of partnership. Let’s see an example – one of the outcomes of our observations: “The use of cellular phones in our schools is forbidden”, said the house rules of one of the grammar schools we visited. This had not caused a problem until the passionately law-abiding pubescent students prevented the school principal from completing a mobile telephone conversation in the school corridor by constantly reminding the school head of the ban on mobiles. After the incident, the school leadership decided to involve students in the decision making process and together they reformed the school’s house rules and regulations. It now read: “The use of mobile phones shall not interfere with education”. From this moment on whenever someone’s phone rang in class, students had reminded each other of the rule, which they now felt was the result of their own contribution. Let’s observe what had actually happened in this instance. The school had now involved all concerned parties in the process of legislation therefore they were now all able to identify with the rules they had themselves made. From that moment on the use of mobile telephones in class was not tolerated not because it was unethical or annoying, but because the ban had been jointly made.

The Kurt Lewin Foundation’s questionnaire study of a representative sample (N=1,447) of grade 11 (16-17-year-old) adolescents across the country was designed to observe and identify students’ attitudes to knowledge of the law, democracy, and minority groups. The nation-wide sample was representative in terms of community type, region, school type, and gender of the respondents. With respect to school rights the questionnaire had posed three simple questions:

11. Do you think the school can refuse to hand out your end-year certificate because you have not returned borrowed books to the library? Tick only one answer!
o Yes, I do, because I have not fulfilled my obligations towards the school library.
o Yes, but only if the school has issued me with a preliminary written notice.
[CORRECT ANSWER is Schools cannot refuse to hand out students’ certificates on any ground.]
12. What kind of disciplinary action can schools take? Tick only one answer!
o The school cannot apply any disciplinary action against students.
o Any effective disciplinary action can be taken provided it is approved by the school’s education board and it is also defined in the house rules.
[CORRECT ANSWER is The disciplinary action schools can take must be defined by the Act on Public Education.]
13. When and in which cases do you think students can exercise their rights to express their opinion in the school? Tick only one answer!
o Opinion may be expressed during the school year on appropriate forums via student’s self government.
o Opinion may be expressed on the specific request of the principal or the teachers.
[CORRECT ANSWER is Opinion may freely be expressed any time on any subject matter as long as it does not impair the dignity of others.]

Only 80.7% of students identified the correct answers to all three questions (Table 1). However, (only) 17.4% knew the right answer to all three. Readers must be reminded at this point that the above questions concern everyday problems and conflict situation in Hungarian schools.


It is worthy of note that only 16.3 % of students with a zero score were from grammar schools while 36.6 % were going to vocational schools; the latter do not provide school-leaving students with a G.C.E., only a leaving certificate. Similarly, 16.0 % of students with a zero score study in Budapest (Hungary’s capital city), while 60.7 % go to schools in rural communities representing the bottom of the hierarchy of communities in terms of their level of urbanisation. This fundamentally means that – at least according to the conclusions of this questionnaire survey – there is a relationship between the understanding of rights (and indirectly the rules of democracy) and other social variables.

What is the purpose of school rights? Before I endeavour to present bullying which is one of the most typical and also the most critical legal encroachments in terms of socialisation, I must emphasise that the school, being the first institution people come to face in the course of their lives, is also the arena for civic education: this is the first place where real work is going on and where children participate as real citizens. The school is also particularly important in this regard because it is a publicly financed institution designed to raise and educate children.

The fundamental essence of the Act on Public Education is to establish a contractual relationship between school citizens. Participation in public education is a civil right and an obligation at the same time. However, the right is exercised and the obligation is fulfilled by autonomous citizens and not subjects of the state. Analogously, the teachers are not slaves, but autonomous employees also with rights and obligations. In addition to this, student rights also represent pedagogical powers. In terms of socialisation, taking student rights and school citizens’ rights in general into consideration when organising everyday school life is not unnecessary theatrical play, or mere clownery, but an important means of civic socialisation.

“It is much easier to bang on the table than to lay the table”, claimed one of the school principals in an interview about student rights. One of the most important findings of the Kurt Lewin Foundation’s series of research studies for the Office of the Commissioner of Education Rights (2000–2003) is that teachers and students see rights and obligations in isolation, mostly in conflict of each other.

Conflicts and the methods of handling conflicts have an important role in the socialisation of students. We talk about democratic education and democratic education of children if problem management takes the interests of all parties into consideration on equal terms under the framework of partnership. This requires that the participants jointly shape the processes that can eventually lead to the constructive handling of conflicts. Conflict between students, teachers, and parents (school citizens) is a natural phenomenon in a system where millions of people are in contact with each other every day. The real battle in our view does not lie between conflict and harmony, but between the different methods of conflict management. The crucial line lies between the development of conflicts and the lack of such development, between the lawful settlement of conflicts and the repression thereof.

Based on the findings of a nation-wide study (Kurt Lewin Foundation, 2003) we may safely claim that if the rights of one school citizen (the teacher, for example) are violated, it is almost certain that sooner or later the rights of another school user (let’s say the student) will also be encroached upon as a result. Let’s see an example: according to the section of the Act on Public Education relevant to teachers, “In relation to the job the teacher is entitled to the following: a) to receive respect as a member of the community of teachers, the human dignity and personality rights, as well as the education and teaching activity shall be respected and acknowledged”. In contrast, during data collection with teachers we numerously encountered astonishment and surprise when the teachers were asked what they felt had been the greatest achievement in their work: many said they had never really given it much thought. Teachers, who themselves provide constant feedback to their students, may never get any assessment or feedback regarding their own work. Decades may easily pass without any feedback, and the effect it has on education and interaction with students is quite obvious for everyone to see. embitterment, disheartenment, grumbling and the act of seeking solace in aggression are all typical reactions.

Teachers relation to law is best described by lack of information, which is coupled with a lack of effort to seek such information. All this is well-illustrated by a lack of lawfulness, consciousness, and intent in teachers’ interactions with students. Here are a few ideological axioms to illustrate:
• measures that seem appropriate from a pedagogical perspective surpass any legal rule; [lack of lawfulness]
• rights and obligations can be conflicting and there is a hierarchic relationship between them: rights cannot be exercised until obligations have been fulfilled. [lack of counsciousness]

What is the case with parents? When we look at the rights parents have, the right to information seems the most neuralgic point. The very people who are most in need of appropriately profound and adequate information are those who suffer the greatest violation of their right to information. These people are the most vulnerable because of their poor education and their inability to identify and use the appropriate means necessary to get by in society (this, by the way, is the very result of their inappropriate and insufficient early civic socialisation). Parents in many instances are only able to relate to the realm of school on the basis of their earlier childhood experiences. Based on the results of research studies, children with special needs receive greatly different levels of provision, which is partly owed to the parents’ minimal understanding in the subject of public education and even in the system of social institution in general.

The task of school selection does not present itself as a free choice option for all parents. For the children of disadvantaged families the beginning of the school term means inescapable and unwanted pressure. It is important to note here that the fluctuation of student numbers does affect the operation and future of all schools; this compels one group of schools to do everything in their power to maintain student numbers at a specific level in order to survive or vegetate (“vegetating schools”), while other schools subject kids to an arduous selection process (“racing stables”). Free school selection today is not considered freedom by everyone, nor will it be in the long-run as long as the majority of families and communities are stricken by hardship and want. This is not meant to be a criticism of the freedom to choose school, but rather it is intended to present mandatory education pervaded by inequalities and the lack of school pluralism. Studies have shown that a liberal school system, free choice of school, and meeting individuals’ needs at a high and differentiated level is not possible without a solid social welfare system to fall back on.

Still on the subject of parents, there is the issue of self-management. The methods of self-management simultaneously include spontaneous and formal interest representation. An increasing proportion of parents are beginning to recognise the advantages of joint representation, however the forms and objectives do not always project a more democratic and more liveable world. There are an increasing number of middle-class parents who form small communities with a view to organising their lives and school life in a consistent manner with European norms involving teachers and treating children as real partners in the process. As a result of these initiations, a fresh group of schools is about to emerge where the conveyance of information is also coupled with an ideal school climate for democratic civic education. There are also parent initiations that spontaneously stem from pure emotion, from the mechanic pursuit or adoption of the model provided by the other parent. The following initiation of non-Roma parents in village P. is typical rather than unique. Families in village P. had launched a movement with a view to isolating their children from the local Roma children by enrolling their children in another school two villages away from their homes. Their sole objective was to ensure their children do not have to share a classroom with Roma kids. Even the school’s secretary had followed suit. The school is now on the verge of abolishment because the minimum number of students required for survival is now impossible to uphold. However, some of the parents who had earlier withdrawn their children from the school are now gradually drifting back because the other school – which has now introduced a school-entry scheme to select students – had set the standards far too high in languages and mathematics. The requirements were set so high that (irrespective of background) many children from P. could simply not comply. Now what is the model such parental behaviour presents? The model sadly teaches children in their early years how to isolate themselves from their peers. The climate under which students are socialised into civic life puts an equation mark between the terms “gypsy” and “non-desirable” with the assistance of the school.

School aggression (bullying)
Although the violation of dignity might not be the most typical conflict situation or legal encroachment, it is certainly the most important in terms of civic education. It is never the content, the acquired material, or the exact place and date of a school excursion that lives on in our memories, but the atmosphere and the climate of communication that had defined everyday and red-letter school days. This is deposited in the adult person as some form of final product or outcome of education. The complete disregard of personal rights of others (teacher, student, parents) is an instance that leaves a sense of subordination in the injured person. The third party observing an unresolved injury of rights may well grow to think that injuring the other person’s dignity is an adequate alternative of conflict management. (In many cases it is.) The methods of conflict management and the various interest representation techniques are stored by the students and they can suddenly resurface in everyday interaction.

The Kurt Lewin Foundation’s research, which was based on interviews, observations, and a nation-wide representative questionnaire survey intended to reveal the vindication of student rights, was focused on how school conflicts emerge. The fundamental aim was, however, to see how schools actually handle conflicts: whether they consider conflict innately bad, something that needs to be eradicated at all costs, or whether teachers understand that the token of partner relations is in constant change whose most important catalyst is conflict.

In the questionnaire study 8.2 % of the 1 447 interviewed students opted not to leave hazing in recess or in the dormitory unnoticed, while 2.8 % said they would perhaps garner signatures in a petition with a view to imposing stringent measures on hazing. (Table 2).

Gini (2004, 107) refers to a similar questionnaire survey which puts greater emphasis on harassment. The results showed that 42 % of Italian elementary school children and 28 % of secondary school children had been subjected to some form of harassment in the three months prior to the survey.

It is also not without importance how students handle conflicts among themselves. The institution of hazing is well-known in numerous secondary schools. Hazing is an initiation procedure which affects first class students arriving in September. In the beginning of the school year senior students repeatedly seek first-year classes in recess time and force new students to participate in various playful (believed to be playful) games. This usually goes on until the junior prom night (or “hazing prom” as it is often called) is held. First-year students are often stopped in recess and made to do push-ups or collect litter thrown away by others; this is clearly the violation of personal rights. Essentially what happens is that (intimidated) first-year students pretend some degree of false enthusiasm and perform humiliating acts under pressure from the senior students.

The phenomenon is very similar to the maltreatment of fresh army recruits. (The institution of mandatory conscription is about to be abolished in these days in Hungary.) The socialisation of fresh recruits would be in the best hands of those very old-soldiers who themselves had once been raw recruits. The folkloristic stories about harassment in the army return in the verbal accounts of higher class students in secondary schools: “Oh, c’mon”, they would say waving away concerns, “this really is nothing compared to what I had to go through as a freshman” (Here I am quoting the assonant experiences of many of our observations). If you cannot handle this, you’re really worth nothing.

It is very rare that freshmen object and protest. They are afraid of reprisal; and this is also confirmed by the interviews with teachers. Although the humiliating tasks range on a wide scale, they do not testify of great imagination. They range from the funny to the disturbingly rough: some students had to blow out light bulbs, others had to mime driving while seated on the toilet seat using the plunger as the gear stick, but we had an account of a boy whose head was pushed inside the toilet bowl and the water flushed. One of our interviewed respondents described how “in the 20-minute recess, grade three students gathered freshmen around in the foyer, made each of them lean over a washbowl and remove paper boats with their hands behind their back using only their mouths. Teachers were walking by pretending not to notice a thing, although all first-year “victims” had been rounded up.”

The management of certain schools attempts to prevent hazing by spearheading the organisation of the “hazing night” and simultaneously punishing informal, recess bullying with an iron fist. However, teachers’ regular presence and corridor patrol tend to intensify the thrill of hazing, the sense of adventure, while strict punishment strengthens the sense of subjugation of senior students, which again (unintentionally) promotes hazing. We cannot use authoritarian measures to develop democratic attitudes. Hazing is closely related to our affiliation to seniority and authority. The phenomenon is the foundation of gerontocracy, which probably chimes well with the interest of the teachers too: if work discipline of first-year students wanes and as a result students drop out, the student numbers may dangerously decline and the institution may – due to insufficient numbers – lose its raison d’etre: “first-year students today are quite impertinent; they do not know where the limits are, not even with teachers. This may well have been the cause for teachers to turn a blind eye to the harassments. […] This in some way has an impact on school spirituality. First-year students arrive from their elementary schools spoilt; some of them are so sloppy it’s unbelievable. I have practically no disciplinary means against them. And also, we do not want them to leave the school early. You see, the quota is reduced… student numbers fall…, statuses are questioned, so we do not like to give them a hard time. Yet, we do not object if some other power teaches these little kids how to behave themselves”, as one class teacher described her feelings about the situation.

One of the grammar schools, subjected to many weeks of participant observation and series of interviews, maintains close relations with the campus providing homes to students. (Two thirds of the school children live on campus. Many of them come from the far end of the country or even from Romania and Slovakia.) This is a fast paced school where learning and free time is carefully organised. Campus students can only go home every sixth week. In addition to the high-level of interdependence among students, the sense of being locked up is characteristic of the atmosphere; under such circumstances any fellow student that is even just a little different than the rest can easily become a source of irritation. In this school students’ life is very strictly controlled; the always present male teachers in the campus area possess outstanding technical and psychological skills and know everything about student movement. Vince, who was in his second-year at the time of our survey, fell victim of his schoolmates. Physical harassment was an everyday routine in the boys’ campus; no-one would pay any particular attention to such trivial matters. Even the educators would consider the occasional slap on the face a manly expression of emotion. Vince, however, had already become the target of senior students, but later even his peers and younger students subjected him to attack, harassment, and bashing. It became a regular routine in the campus that the “boys let the steam out/off” (as one of the teachers had put it) and beat up or occasionally kick Vince in smaller or larger groups. There was one instance when a thick electric cable found in the school yard was used to hit Vince.

In the dormitories of this particular campus, each dorm room was headed by a year-eleven or -twelve student. The position of dorm commander is either assigned as a form of punishment or promotion. Respect must be shown by low-grade students towards dorm commanders and seniors, which is also reinforced by teachers, as it transpired in our research. It is routine practice in campus that final-year students walk into the room of juniors without any notice and confiscate all edibles. It seems that teachers had identified gerontocracy, i.e. the domination of older, upper-grade students as a means of control and discipline, and are keen to apply it. This tendency, however, reinforces older students in their beliefs that young ones can be hurt and harassed, and that such action does not humiliate the other person. One of the students described the dorm commander and other senior students: “I, for example, was made to apologise publicly from a final-grade students because I had grinned at him in the corridor. Eight of them came up and made me kneel down and demanded I apologise otherwise they said they would bash me up. This was in grade one. But I have heard much rougher things going on in other schools. Final-grade students had a watchword “Johanna” and when it was aired over the school speakers, everyone knew it was time to go down to the cellar to bash Vince up. They did it four or five times. In this school if the teachers don’t like you, they will do nothing, even if they know what »Johanna« means.”

The above is a collection of experiences from data collected using qualitative methods. Although they reveal some concrete cases, they tend to point beyond the actual persons involved and perhaps present conclusive evidence. Nonetheless, it would be necessary to conduct a large-sample survey in Hungary, which – in common with the Portuguese one (Beatriz Pereira et all, 2004.) – would rely on quantitative means to identify the most vulnerable groups threatened by school aggression.

Education for democracy
Democratic, civic socialisation is a special field within civic education helping young people integrate into democratic society, understand and comply with social norms, and even participate in the shaping of society through conveying mutuality, communication skills, and autonomy. The attitudes, skills, and knowledge whose conveyance and development collectively comprise democratic, civic socialisation are easily identifiable.

Let’s have a closer look now at the school where civic socialisation is taking place today. The school is not merely about the conveyance of knowledge and information. Public education institutions also give instructions to the children every moment of school time regardless of whether society had indeed assigned schools the task of raising them or whether pedagogists are aware of the process or not. By saying this, I am presenting nothing new: the majority of school researches of the past thirty years have repeatedly addressed this fact. (Assuming that the facts exist at all. If they do, they need to be included in the never-ending list of skills to be taught.) Perhaps today’s literature and open discourse among school users (teachers, students, parents) concerning the process of raising our children by the school give less emphasis to how conscious schools are of the actual process. Here is an example: one school intends to raise tolerant citizens. One of the teachers in this school scolds a student in front of the entire class as follows: “Should I ever hear you making anti-Semitic remarks in recess, my boy, I shall kick your teeth in.” The educational objective behind the quoted sentence is clear, however, the atmosphere and human relations (subordination along authority and power) that the sentence communicates is quite contrary to the intensions of the teacher.

By attempting to teach tolerance, the teacher in our example has infringed upon rights: the student’s right to dignity. Let’s approach the operations of the schools from a legal perspective, particularly because the service is publicly financed and the operations are promoted and defined by very clear and concrete legal provisions. It is also useful to adopt a legal approach because understanding school citizens’ (students, teachers, parents) attitudes to law can yield important results for understanding school civic socialisation processes.

School house rules
Let us now observe one of the most important school documents, the house rules from the perspective of civic education. It is striking that most school house rules leave the issue of how to clash conflicting opinions within the school completely unregulated. Numerous studies have been made in recent years to reveal how compliant school house rules are with the laws (Gönczöl, 1998), and what they regulate (Bíró, 1998). For our purposes the fundamental question is whether the house rules regulate the manner of handling controversial issues in the school or not. Many house rules explicitly state that students are only entitled to exercise their rights provided they have fulfilled their obligations. These documents suggest that rights are granted or denied by the teachers or principal, and they are always right by default. What are the unexpected effects on behaviour such school philosophies may have? If there is no room for democratic conflict management, if the students do not have an avenue for minimal representation of interest (what is more, schools do not encourage or allow students to recognise their problems and interests), latent problem handling procedures that are in direct conflict with the school’s declared values and methods can easily emerge. These may include hazing and the institutionalised expression of school aggression.

Kindler: this is school slang in many places for school house rules. This fact alone tells us a lot about what students and secondary schools in general think of the law, contractual relationships, and rights, or the type of civic socialisation that goes on in schools.

School types
In terms of civic socialisation, public education institutions (elementary and secondary schools) may be classified into three distinct categories. As with any typology, the foundations may well be questioned, nevertheless let’s make an attempt at gaining a comprehensive view of the categories. The first group includes the so-called racing stables, which clearly prepare students for future middle-class life, for the practice of popular professions (physician, lawyer, economist). The aim is to improve performance and prepare students for exams required for successful entry into the next educational level; this often requires the simultaneous use of additional tutoring and admission-exam prep courses.
The “vegetating” schools are placed on the other end of the scale. We can hardly talk of real education in these institutions, however both teachers and students know perfectly that they are speeding down a dead-end street and the acquired knowledge will only be enough to prepare students for future life in unemployment, and the time spent in education is only good to postpone life in unemployment.

At last I ought to mention liberal or alternative (as they were called a couple of years ago) schools, which place particular emphasis on conscious democratic education and the preparation for active civic participation both in the curriculum and the organisation of school life.

The most important factor is lack of time. There is no time for civic education in both the racing stables and the vegetating schools. There is no time for real raising because the teaching material has to be conveyed to the students according to school curriculum. There is no time for thinking because homework has to be assigned, the reading logs have to be completed, and most importantly they have to be checked to see whether the children have indeed read Antigone at the age of fourteen. There is no time for communication because grammar, literature, and communication ought to be taught, imparted knowledge must be checked and marked. There is no time to provide feedback on individual or group work because work has to be measured, marked, and selected. On the one hand in the middle-class schools there is hardly any time for rearing because the relevance of democratic socialisation is lost amidst incalculable amounts of teaching material to be taught and tested. It is in the remedial classes, which can only provide temporary relief for the long-term problems, and the pressing of similarly colossal amounts of teaching material into the pupils heads in vegetating schools that prevent the conveyance of skills that would be otherwise indispensable for social integration. In this respect there is hardly any difference between “vegetating schools” and “racing stables”.

Teaching is segregated. Disadvantaged and middle-class students, Roma and non-Roma, the fit and the handicapped hardly ever meet in schools. Attention! Segregation in school is usually a result of segregation of communities which stems form the fact that people who are a little better off will try to move away from poor neighbourhoods and regions which leaves schools with little room for manoeuvre.

Knowledge and skill are treated separately. Knowledge is easy to measure, easy to mark, while skills are not. All this is reflected in the ways schools organise teaching material, space, and time. Knowledge conveyed in schools rigidly divides the entire school universe into 45-minute blocks. Students show intense interest toward organic chemistry for a period of 45 minutes then toward 20th century Hungarian literature. Lately students have the pleasure of gawking at teachers lecturing about family, euthanasia, capital punishment, pollution under the framework of 45-minute ethics classes. But what would happen if ethics or civic studies were not taught as separate subjects but instead were integrated into specific fields of culture within the realm of school education and rearing? This way it would transpire that organic chemistry has something to do with civic knowledge, the assumption of civic responsibility (environmental protection, the ethics of experimentation, the utilisation of natural scientific achievements). It would also come to light that literature, history, geography, music, art, and physics (at least its cultural historical side) comprise a single whole unit.

Brief summary
What are the bases for our critique of the Hungarian education system? On what grounds do we express the above expectations? The justification we have at hand is laid out in the Constitution, which “ensures the possibility to exercise the right to education for citizens”. Hungary provides this right by making public education generally available, by making elementary schooling mandatory, and by providing secondary and tertiary education accessible to individuals as a function of their personal achievement and ability. All this is based on the Act on Public Education, which – relying on the Constitution – was established in order to ensure “the prevalence of freedom of ideological conviction and religious freedom, the prevalence of patriotic education in public education, the enforcement of academic freedom, the freedom of teaching and education, the definition of rights and obligations of children, students, and employees of public education, and a public education system which provides up-to-date knowledge.” House rules, being the source of law, in force in schools today are being established on the basis of the above act by school users.

Compliance with the above regulations usually leaves a lot to be desired. As a result and in addition to the above described infringements of rights, students’ right to socialisation that would promote students’ integration into a modern democratic society and a market based economy is also impaired. Today’s public education practice – without the direct intention of any of the participants – can in fact exclude students from the available alternative opportunities without actually violating the provisions of the law. The frequency of legal violations is particularly striking among disadvantaged students and their parents. In many cases these students go to schools or pre-schools that can be considered disadvantaged within the institutional system of public education.

Albeit the violation of rights of actors in public education takes place within school premises or within the walls of the classroom, the causes can be identified in most cases outside the school: primarily within the operation of the Hungarian institution system specifically, the ineffective communication and cooperation between particular institutions. I must definitely mention that poverty, unemployment, the deficiencies of the Hungarian community structure, persistently present prejudice, and the various actors’ relation to written rules and law are all equally important driving forces behind the infringements of rights. What lies behind the causes of legal violations is the lack of knowledge and skills, and the lack of communication skills is particularly striking. There is a parallel between insufficient or complete lack of communication in the entire education system (e.g. not knowing anything about the practices used in neighbouring schools, or the other ethnic group, etc.) and students’ lack of opportunity to acquire appropriate communication skills in the school. Instead our students are made to learn increasing amounts of independent, isolated knowledge.

However, in many places legal awareness among teachers and school leaders is strengthening. In the realm of public education there is an increasing number of programmes, initiations, innovations that aim to enforce the provisions of the Act on Public Education and other legal statutes concerning education in the everyday life of schools and kindergartens to ensure equality of opportunity in the education of disadvantaged students in order to allow public education to make a real contribution in the social integration and democratic civic education of these students.

1 Commissioned by the Educational Ombudsman, the surveys were designed to reveal the vindication or violation of student, parent, and teacher rights, as well as the extent of good practice in 2000-2004.
2 The database also contains as a contextual variable the responses of the 60 class teachers where the surveys were taken.
3 Section 1) of Article 19 of the Act on Public Education
4 The study was conducted among elementary-school teachers. The sample was representative of region and community type. 1,464 teachers were personally asked questionnaire questions and approximately 110 teachers had been interviewed. In that year there were 96,700 elementary-school teachers working in Hungary.
5 Articles 13 and 14 of the Act on Public Education

The complete summary of the research series conducted by the Kurt Lewin Foundation in 2003 is available at There is also an English language summary available.
Bíró, Endre (1998). Rights in Pedagogy. Budapest: Legal Awareness Foundation.
Gönczöl, Katalin (1998). The vindication of student rights in secondary education institutions. Budapest: Report No. 6213/1998 of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Civic Rights.
Pereira, Beatriz et al. (2004). ‘Bullying in Portuguese Schools’, School Psychology International, May 2004. 25, p.241-254.
Gini, Gianluca (2004) ‘Bullying in Italian Schools’. An Overview of Intervention Programmes, School Psychology International, Feb 2004. 25, p.106-116.