Speech by Ildikó Orosz, the president of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Association at the opening of the new acade
Dear guests, representatives of church and public organizations, dear colleagues!
As soon as the hot summer ended, the autumn began, which, given the current situation, is also expected to be long and hot.
At the opening of the previous academic year, which happened in peace and fraternity in the village of Nagyszelmenc, we did not expectthe storms that were waiting for us after the beginning of the academic year. In is unnecessary to describe the details, but in short, I am talking about the adoption of the law on educationon September 5, 2017 that struck national minorities as a cold shower and caused many disputes over the policy ofeducation. This law is intended to deprive us of the rights we fought for, contradicts the Constitution of Ukraine, the current legislation, as well as numerous international obligations of Ukraine. The most disturbing is the fact that the government interprets the article of the law that caused these disputes as serving the interests of Hungarians and claims that it was introduced into the law precisely in order to enable them to learn the Ukrainian language at the required level. The key issue here is the definition of this required level itself. The Transcarpathian Hungarians and other national minorities are demandedto have the knowledge of the Ukrainian language at the native level. According to these requirements, a good citizen of a national minority is the citizen who speaks only Ukrainian, just as it is spoken in Kyiv or in Lviv, and who speaks his native language only whispering, at home, in the kitchen or in the living room. When we expressed our opinion that the essence of the problem was the lack of a well-defined system of requirements, we did not receive any reaction, neither was a clearly defined system for verifying compliance with these requirements introduced. In order for us to properly master the Ukrainian language, we do not need to be deprived of the right to study other school subjects in our native language. Instead, we need solutions that promote the learning of the Ukrainian language, decisions that have not been made during nearly three decades of Ukraine's independence.
We were forced to fight and defend what we achieved. As law-abiding citizens, we are trying to protect what our constitution guarantees us. We have repeatedly expressed our point of view to the competent authority in writing and orally. Last time we submitted our proposals during the summer when negotiations with representatives of the Ministry of Educationtook place. Representatives of Transcarpathian Hungarian NGOs took part in these meetings, namely: the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Society, the Transcarpathian Hungarian Democratic Society, and the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Society. Our organization, apart from me, was represented by LajosSzilágyi, regional manager ImreBenedek and JózsefKántor. Unfortunately, we have not noticed significant steps towards a compromise, even the minimal changes proposed by us were accepted only after lengthy and stubborn disputes. For example, the Ministry finally recognized that the Ukrainian language needs to be taught as a second language to individuals for whom it is not native. To achieve this, a curriculum and a system of requirementsthat meet the European educational standards were developed by the ministryand which we also consider appropriate and fully acceptable. When we announced that we welcomed this decision and asked to apply this system in our schools since September, the ministry replied that it was developed not for us but for foreigners coming to Ukraine to study. We, the citizens who reside here, do not have the right to equate ourselves tothe foreigners who are not actually related to this state, do not pay taxes here, do not live here and do not contribute to this society. It's an outright injustice. For a foreigner who plans to study at a Ukrainian university, it is enough to reach a predetermined level of language proficiency. In case of a citizen who resides here but is not ofUkrainiannationality, a lot more is required. The minister explained this by saying that citizens are required to have a higher level of language proficiency, and if the foreigners who are studying here wish to remain in the state for permanent residence, these requirements will apply to them, but before that they can be admitted to universities a lot easier than our children, our students, who are screened at the first exam, because here it is necessary to demonstrate the level of knowledge required from future Ukrainian philologists.
Back in the spring, we were promised that before the program and the system ofrequirements for the Ukrainian language would be developed, our graduates will be required to achieve a lower passing score than the graduates whose native language is Ukrainian. This promise, as well as numerous previous promises, was not kept. I am very glad that despite this, our graduates have achieved good results during the evaluation. This is why I congratulate the teachers who work in our schools on the fact that their students achieved such good results. Though they did not reach the maximum level of knowledge, but compared to the general results in the Transcarpathian region, they are in the first half of 308 secondary schools. The Reformed Lyceum, located in Petrovo, achieved the best results among Hungarian schools, it was ranked 42ndout ofthe 308 Transcarpathian schools.
To our question about reducing the passing score that we asked during the negotiations, we received the answer that such a change requires a government decision.
A similar situation arised with respect to other, at first glance insignificant questions. When we offered to allow us to use the abc-books for first-graders issued in Hungary, as it is done at the Slovak school Uzhgorod, we received the answer that the permission to do so should be requested not from the Ministry of Education, but from another educational institution.
We had the impression that the Ministry of Education only had the permission to negotiate, but did not have permission to make even minor decisions regarding education. Here basic questions are at stake that can affect our everyday lives.
This is precisely what happened with the lesson plans for grades 1-4. For those who are not familiar with the details of the Ukrainian education system, I will briefly summarize the situation: these lesson plans define the framework, in which all the teachers and their state-financed school work, including the curriculum. We were extremely surprised when we noticed that the plans for the New Ukrainian School program, which came into force in September, did not include separate hours for studying the native language for national minorities - these hours should be combined with the lessons of a foreign language. When we expressed our opinion about the discriminatory nature of this step, because for us, our native language is not foreign, we received the answer that for Ukraine it is foreign. This means that we are perceived as immigrants, aliens, and not as indigenous people, citizens and taxpayers. The Minister noted that only the minority, which does not have its own state, can be an indigenous one, so only Crimean Tatars are such a minority in Ukraine. We also did not get an answer to the question why people of Roma nationality are not perceived as an indigenous minority, even though they do not have their own state either.
According to the state standard, educational institutions can determine the proportions between their native and foreign languages within the limits of the number of hours given for studying the "other" language, as this was reported to us at the ministry. This is the educational freedom that the new law on education provides to educational institutions. In this context, during the subsequent negotiations, we proposed the curriculum developed by us for the first four grades,which complies with the state standard and which was worked out together with the teachers and heads of local schools. So, we have developed this document exactly the same way as similar documents are being developed by other Ukrainian experts. Unfortunately, our document was not published by the Ministry of Education, although an alternative proposal from two other experts was posted on the website of the Ministry of Education. When we asked for the reasons, we were told that only schools have the right to issue this curricula, and only alternative curricula offered by educational institutions can be placed on the website, as if the two above-mentioned experts were, in fact, institutions. By the way, one of these curricula provides fewer hours to teach foreign and native languages, thus limiting the teaching of a foreign language in minority schools, and even teaching other subjects that are extremely important for preserving the national identity of a minority, such as ethnography, history of Hungary, because all free hours are booked for studying the Ukrainian language. We also noted that we, as well as the parents of our students, are not against increasing the number of hours for teaching Ukrainian language at schools, but this does not require a restriction on the study of the native language, instead additional hours need to be provided for this, which should be funded by the state. We were told that for the children, two or three extra hours per week would be an unnecessary load that did not meet the health and safety requirements, so in this case it would be necessary to switch to a six-day working week. So, according to the ministry, one more additional working day will not affect the health of children, but two or three additional hours per week will be too much of a burden.
The main news of last week was that, despite the fact that the authority of the schools in developing a curriculum based on the state standard is a well-developed and proven practice, yet in some places the authorities are trying to force a curriculum with an increased number of hours for the teaching of the Ukrainian language. Of course, we have to speak against it. I sincerely hope that the directors of the schools and the teachers will not give in to the pressure and will protect the freedom that the law on education guarantees, and will develop their curricula in a way that serves the interests of the children and the objective to provide the best knowledge of native and foreign languages. I would like to draw the attention of the present school principals to the fact that all those who wish to help can offer their alternatives.
We also noticed some double standards when we stood up for the use of abc-books issued in Hungary. The head of the department for minority affairs said that we should not equate ourselves to Slovaks living in Ukraine, because they are such a small community that they can be allowed to do so. They fear that the Hungarian books will contain Hungarian state symbols, although the Slovakian ones also contain Slovak national symbolism. The ministry added that in general this matter does not belong to the authority of the Ministry of Education and Science, since the adaptation of textbooks is being undertaken by another institution. After that, with the cooperation of the Transcarpathian Institute of Postgraduate Pedagogical Training and its local branch, we submitted an application for the adaptation of the textbook, which eventuallyreceived a positive response.
It is important to note here that the textbooks published in Hungary are better suited to the children's thinking; in the textbooks for first-graders there are no compulsory images of state symbols, as in Ukrainian, Russian, Soviet and Slovak textbooks for first-graders. In the Hungarian book, only one of the commonly used Hungarian symbols is mentioned, namely, the cockade. I express my sincere gratitude to all those who helped us in this matter: the Institute for Postgraduate Training and its staff for the assistance in theaccreditation, as well as the Ministry of Human Resources of Hungary for providing additional funds to order the textbooks. This is very important now, because despite the promises textbooks will not be ready for the beginning of the school year, and possibly not even until December. Ukrainian textbooks are expected by the beginning of November, only then can we begin to translate them.
During our negotiations, our pedagogical community made its written proposals for teaching the Ukrainian language and preserving national identity, including the plans for the implementation of these proposals. We sent these documents in Ukrainian, Hungarian and English to the ambassadors of the NATO European Union member states so that they also received information on this matter. Unfortunately, the anti-Hungarian campaign in the media has not yet calmed down, it has eveneven intensified, which can change the perception of our people in Europe and the whole world. This is what I observed when meeting with the representatives of the VisegradStates, Ambassador of the United States and a correspondent of the New York Times.
But let's not be sad; let's recall the rules of survival from Father Placid: do not dramatize your situation, because you will waste your life. Instead, look for something good every day, something worth living for, and remember that if one door closes before you, God will open another other door. Or, as Count Széchényi said: God never helps directly, always only indirectly. Wereceived such indirect assistance from the Hungarian state and this year. We are sincerely grateful for this; let's recall what exactly has been accomplished via this help:
Thanks to the Program for the Development of the Kindergartens of the Carpathian Basin, partial repair workswere carried out in eight kindergartens, 42 kindergardens were completely reconstructed, 9 of them are still waiting for a ceremonial opening. Within the framework of the second round of this program, repair works are being carried out in 15 kindergartens. In nine settlements, it was possible to purchase premises for kindergartens; at the moment, the re-qualification and accreditation of these premises is taking place. Every Hungarian kindergarten, regardless of whether its reconstruction was a task of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Society or was conducted by the church community participating in the above-mentioned program, received methodological materials and technical supplies from our organization.
Within the framework of the project Eastern Partnership - Ukraine 2017-2018 - Development and Cooperation in Transcarpathia, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy of Hungary, the Charity Foundation for the TranscarpathianHungarian Institute (headed by LászlóBrenzovics) is taking part in the implementation. During this project, 17 objects are being reconstructed, including 9 educational institutions:
Replacement and reconstruction of the roof of the comprehensive school in Nevetlenfalu;
Internal reconstruction of the premises, as well as replacement and reconstruction of the roofand drainage systems at the secondary school of Gyula;
Replacement of the windows of the old building of the secondary school inVerbovets;
Replacement of windows in the building of the children's art school inPetrovo;
Replacement of the roof and drainage systems of the high school inKholmok;
Interior reconstruction of Uzhgorod Children's Art School;
Renovation of the dining room of theHungarian high school in Csongor;
This autumn, within the framework of the second part of this project, the modernization of the heating system of the high school inFornosh will take place.
In the Simon HollosyTyachiv Hungarian Secondary School the renovation of the gym was carried out.
Reconstruction of basic schools began. I will talk about this in details, since many of you may hear about this for the first time.
The requirements of the new Law of Ukraine on Education can lead to the closing of many schools. Of course, there will be educational institutions whose status will become lower if they do not meet the requirements, or they will be merged with other educational institutions, for example, the nearest educational establishment with the Ukrainian language of instruction. The Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Society evaluated the current situation and developed a concept for the conservation of the educational system. This concept contains proposals for kindergartens, primary and secondary schools. Secondary schools should remain exactly where they are, if their premises meet the requirements (for example, there are specialized training rooms, laboratories, a sports hall, etc.). Of course, not every institution can meet these requirements; therefore, some premises will need to be modernized and renovated when the time comes. It is desirable for each region to have theoretical lyceums, so-called basic schools, which can be created by the development and modernization of existing general schools.
In December 2017, LászlóBrenzovics, the head of the Charity Foundation for the Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute, addressed the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán and the State Secretariat of the Prime Minister's Administration on National Policy Issues with a request to provide funds for the reconstruction of basic schools in order to preserve the Transcarpathian Hungarian-speaking school system. This request received a positive response from the Government of Hungary, therefore, in the summer of this year, the reconstructions began. The program Reconstruction of Basic Schools is carried out thanks to the cooperation agreement signed between the Bethlen Gabor fund and the Charity Foundation for the Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute, with the financing by the Government of Hungary. Within the framework of this program, the following objects have been reconstructed:
School No. 3 named after Boyai Janos in Solotvyno;
Comprehensive school in Kosyno, Berehovo district;
Secondary school in VelykaDobron,Uzhgorod district;
The main building of the comprehensive school №10 named after Dayka Gabor in Uzhgorod.
In these educational institutions, the school year for students and teachers will begin in better and healthier conditions. This program continues, and the planned reconstruction will continue until the end of 2019. The launch of this program would not have been possible without the assistanceof the State Secretariat of the Administration of the Prime Minister of Hungary on National Policy Issues, the Bethlen Gabor Foundation, the Charity Foundation for the Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute, the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Society, and the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Society.
On behalf of the Transcarpathian Hungarian-speaking teachers, parents and children, I express my sincere gratitude to the Hungarian state, the Prime Minister's Office, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the State Secretariat of the Prime Minister's Administration for National Policy and its head Arpad Potapi, the Prime-minister’s Commissioner for this kindergarten program GrezsaIstvan, the Ministry of Foreign Policy and External Affairs and its head, Peter Szíjjárto for their help and support. I also express my sincere gratitude to LászlóBrenzovics, head of the Charity Foundation for the Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute, as well as IlonaVass for the successful implementation of the project.
We also received a lot of help from the Ministry of Human Resources of Hungary.
Thanks to the help of this ministry traditionally, as for almost two decades, the KölcseyTranscarpathian Summer Hungarian Pedagogical Academy took place; this year it was attended by 222 people. The 40-hour course passed by the participants is regarded as a compulsory course for advanced training.
270 children participated in the six summer camps organized by the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Society.
33 teachers from Transcarpathia participated in 8 accredited advanced training courses in Hungary.
880 students from 50 Hungarian-language schools took part in the summer camps in Zanka, Hungary from 15 June to 24 August 2018, in six rounds, accompanied by 120 teachers. Also, 440 students (accompanied by 60 teachers) from 14 Ukrainian schools (in which Hungarian is taught as a foreign language)took part in these camps. We express our sincere gratitude for the positive impressions to the Ministry of Human Resources of Hungary, the Government of Hungary, and the Society of Scouts. I also express my sincere gratitude for the implementation of this project to the employees of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Society: Erika Fodor, Erika Radik, Otto Bader, Judit Kovacs, and also the Henkelcompany for providing quality services and addressing unexpected problems encountered during the implementation of the project.
With the support of the Ministry of Human Resources of Hungary, our methodological aids, the children's magazine, and the magazine on educationwere issued. This year, it was finally possible to publish a textbook "History of the Hungarian Nation" for Transcarpathian Hungarian schools.
What can we expect in the upcoming academic year? The only thing I can say is that this situation is unpredictable. I can illustrate this with a somewhat rewritten quote from a famous literary work: "the situation in the east is unchanged," or a similar quote from the feature film "The Witness": "The international situation has escalated." Most likely, we will have not only a hot autumn, but also a hot winter and a hot spring, because the presidential and parliamentary elections can motivate political forces for adverse decisions. As the experience of the previous elections shows, political forces will behave unceremoniously to win, will do everything possible without neglecting even the communist methods to use the teachers and directors of schools for their own purposes. It is possible that they will strive for victory by abusing human resources from the education system, so you, dear colleagues and directors, mayfind yourselves under considerable political pressure, and not only from one side.
This trend has already manifested itself in Hungarian schools, as evidenced by the experience of school principals in the Vynohradiv district. At first, they did not even understand what the situation was when the newly appointed head of the district education department asked them to write an application to quit their jobs, without indicating the date. Some of them did it, but they understood the reasons behind this request only later. Directors who refused to write such applications became the subject of detailed inspections. Fortunately, this story has ended well, but if you're not careful and do not evaluate the possible consequences of your actions, performing such unreasonable requests can make you subject to regular blackmail. So be careful, support each other and listen to the advice of those who are on your side.
During this school year in Hungarian schools, it is likely that certain forces will try to inflict hostility by all possible means; we are already witnessing such a tendency. That is why I want to express my sincere gratitude to all those present, and to all those who could not come today, but took part in the events and negotiationsin the interests of Hungarian children and parents on which they needed to protect their interests against to the system. I wish you all tosuccessfully complete all the tasks that we take in this academic year in order to preserve the Transcarpathian Hungarian education, supporting each other so that later we could quietly look in the eyes of our grandchildren and say that Hungarian-speaking education in this region did not end with our generation.
Given the current situation, we are in a very good position. Despite the unfavorable demographic situation about two thousand first-graders go to schools with Hungarian language of instruction. We will have accurate data after September 15th. Unfortunately, there are vacant 39 teachers’ positions the in our schools. The greatest lack of teachers is observed among teachers of Ukrainian.
I wish all of us strength, health and inspiration to continue to fight for our valuable workwith God's help.
I declare the academic year 2018-19 open.
Berehove, September 8, 2018