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A statement of the THPA on Hungarian-language education in Transcarpathia

The Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Association continues to advocate for the education in Hungarian. 

From the point of view of pedagogical science, the acquisition and transfer of knowledge is most effective in one’s native language, as evidenced by teachers of Hungarian schools in Transcarpathia who taught in the Soviet system during the Russification period, when professional disciplines had to be taught in Russian. Most students did not master the subject or the Russian language properly. We continue to argue that subjects should be taught in the native language, while Ukrainian should be taught during Ukrainian classes, based on a set of requirements, methodologies and tools that provide effective competence-based education that meets European standards, during final exams as well. Therefore, we cannot accept the provision, which will come into force in 2023, regarding the percentage of subjects that will be taught in Ukrainian, which will forcibly limit education in the native language. All these restrictions and the law on the state language abolished the ethnic and, consequently, Hungarian-speaking schools; this is a restriction we have never experienced in our region in previous centuries. In 2021, after complaints from citizens, Hungarian schools were asked to explain why school activities in some schools are held in Hungarian, why entries on the websites and Facebook pages are mostly in Hungarian, why the principal of a Hungarian school gave an interview to a Hungarian TV channel in Hungarian instead of Ukrainian.

This situation is the result of politically motivated decisions and can only be resolved by further political decisions. This could have been settled in 2021 with positive political intent, which the Ukrainian political elite did intend to do so. The conflict could be resolved if the Verkhovna Rada decided on the concept of indigenous peoples by applying it to national minorities that may be included in this list in accordance with international standards and which would have the full opportunity to receive primary and secondary education in their native language. At an extraordinary sitting of the Verkhovna Rada, Bill No. 55506 on Indigenous Peoples in Ukraine was adopted. Apart from Ukrainians, the list includes only Crimean Tatars, Karaimes and Krymchaks. How exactly do these peoples differ from other indigenous national minorities (who historically live on the territory of modern Ukraine) is explained by the criterion of the absence of a native state to help protect and develop their culture. Paragraph 110 of the Venice Commission's conclusion on the Law on Education states that “... the reason given by the Ukrainian authorities, i.e. the absence of their own state, cannot generally be considered acceptable according to European standards, the classification must be based on other criteria such as different levels of vulnerability or the need for state aid.” Paragraph 139 (3) of the Opinion on the Law on Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as a State Language (Document 960/2019) contains a specific recommendation: “Repeal the provisions of the law that provide for a differentiated treatment of the Ukrainian language, indigenous languages and languages that are not the official languages of the EU, as such a distinction between languages is not based on an objective and reasonable approach (see 39-44, 69-82, 87, 89, 93, 94, 99-102, 110 and 111)”. The law contains double standards because, for example, the Romani people are not included in the list, even if they meet the above criteria. The law was passed in violation of the voting procedure, without discussion.

The issue of recognizing Hungarians as indigenous people in Ukraine can be approached from another point of view, on the basis of mutual consent of the two states. This may be based on the fact that Hungary, in the new constitution adopted in 2010, classifies the Ukrainian minority as indigenous in Hungary. The decision was based on international practice concerning national minorities living in the country for at least 100 years, i.e. the third generation (despite the fact that 100 years ago the ethnic community living in Hungary did not identify itself as Ukrainian but as Ruthenian).

At a meeting of the Ukrainian-Hungarian Committee on Education in the summer of 2021, it became clear to the representatives of the THPA that the complete restoration of education in Hungarian is impossible without political decisions, as a representative of the Ministry of Education and Science Ukraine blocked our proposals, claiming that they contradict the 2017 Law on Education and the Law on the State Language of 2019, and therefore considers their implementation impossible without making changes to the legal framework, and is willing to accept proposals only within the legal framework.

Regarding some details – which would slightly ease the tension among the Hungarian community, parents and teachers – the Ukrainian side has shown a willingness to compromise, but no practical steps have been taken.

We consider it reasonable to perform the following practice-oriented tasks:

1. The Ukrainian side, within its competence, should develop a separate set of requirements (state standard) regarding the Ukrainian language and literature for ethnic schools, taking into account the ECTF system. It would be appropriate to introduce a two-tier assessment: a medium level in addition to the current advanced level. The current final test tasks in Ukrainian assess the knowledge of students applying to the faculties of Ukrainian philology, but all other students also take the Ukrainian language exam with the same conditions, for example, high school graduates, who are future teachers, kindergarten teachers, biologists, chemists, etc. If they do not reach the threshold value for a given year, which varies from year to year depending on the average level of knowledge of graduates, they cannot apply to any university, including, for example, the Faculty of Hungarian Philology in private institutions. Therefore, it would be very important to prepare requirements and tests for these final exams based on competency and CEFR standards, and provide for an intermediate B2 level for applicants who do not plan to become philologists. Until this is done, it would be advisable for the Ukrainian side to accept the B2 level Ukrainian language exam passed in Hungary as a final exam for Hungarian school graduates and allow them to enter Ukrainian higher education institutions with the results obtained this way. This should be done on a reciprocal basis, as the Hungarian side accepts the results of the EIT in the Ukrainian language, passed in Ukraine in the case of further education in Hungary, regardless of whether this person achieved a passing score that year, at level C1 and provides the appropriate number of points in case of admission to a university in Hungary.

2. The Ukrainian side should allow an EIT in Hungarian language, as according to the current discriminatory situation, there is an independent assessment only in English, German, French and Spanish. It would also be appropriate to introduce a two-tier assessment here: advanced Hungarian as a native language and as a foreign language at an intermediate level, taking into account the CEFR recommendations. Until this process is completed, the Ukrainian side should allow the C1 Hungarian language exam, passed at the examination centres in Hungary, as an advanced language exam, and the B2 level Hungarian language exam as an intermediate one. Applicants should be admitted to higher educational institutions of Ukraine with the results of these language exams.

3. The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine should approve the curriculum developed by the THPA, which balances the number of lessons of state language, native language and foreign language within the hours of choice, adds one hour per week to study Hungarian ethnography in grades 5-6, and the history of Hungarian people in grades 7-9 in order to preserve national identity. The request was signed by the principals of 22 schools and the head of the education department of the local community and sent to the Ministry of Education of Ukraine on July 28, 2021, but no response was received by the beginning of the school year.

4. The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine should allow the use of curricula submitted to the Ministry by a working group established at the initiative of the THPA and the use of textbooks prepared for it in "ethnography" and "history of the Hungarian people".

5. The Transcarpathian Institute of Postgraduate Pedagogical Training should synchronize the curricula in Hungarian language and Hungarian literature with the Department of Education of Hungary.

6. The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine should facilitate the use/adaptation of Hungarian textbooks, teaching materials and workbooks on Hungarian language and literature throughout the education vertical (grades 1–12). The Hungarian Ministry of Human Resources undertakes to provide these textbooks and teaching materials to Hungarian schools in Transcarpathia on a permanent basis.

7. The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine should promote the use of the Ukrainian as a foreign language curriculum and a textbook developed by the Lviv Polytechnic University to prepare foreigners for higher education in Ukraine, in Hungarian-language schools, as it had not been allowed to be used by minorities within the country because it was designed for foreigners. The costs of publishing the textbook and related workbooks will be covered according to the agreement between the two parties.

8. The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine should undertake the translation of textbooks into Hungarian in all subjects, including subjects that have not been translated for almost a decade (eg, law, foreign language, art history, singing and music, etc.). To ensure continuity, the THPA and the Berehove branch of the Transcarpathian Institute of Postgraduate Pedagogical Training should jointly, taking into account the opinion of teachers, suggest which group of textbooks should be translated. It happened several times that books from one group were translated in one subject for a particular grade, while a textbook belonging to another group was sent to the following grade. The Hungarian side undertakes editing and proofreading of translated books at its own expense.

The Ukrainian side should promote the use of textbooks, workbooks and manuals published in Hungary as alternative textbooks in Hungarian schools.

9. Ukrainian-Hungarian and Hungarian-Ukrainian school dictionaries published by the Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute named after Ferenc Rakoczi II should be updated in accordance with the recently adopted rules of Ukrainian orthography, and should be published continuously, at least annually for each first grader, not just for school libraries. It would be appropriate to make these dictionaries commercially available to the public. The possibility of implementing this plan should be based on a mutual agreement between the parties.

10. The Ukrainian state should provide the possibility to order textbooks for private schools on the same terms as for public schools. Currently, the Ukrainian state orders textbooks only for students in the public system, private schools can buy them directly from publishers at a cost that is sometimes ten times higher than the price for public schools, although the main condition for accreditation is that private institutions provide textbooks for all students in all subjects, and this places a significant financial burden on these schools.

11. The Transcarpathian Institute of Postgraduate Pedagogical Training should conclude an agreement with a Hungarian institution of a similar profile on the implementation of joint curricula, which will be included in the mandatory 150-hour requirement for all teachers in Ukraine every five years. The THPA welcomes the fact that according to the agreement concluded with the Transcarpathian Institute of Postgraduate Pedagogical Training, the 30-hour trainings of the Kölcsey Summer Pedagogical Academy, organized by the Association, are recognized for teachers as part of mandatory training. The THPA thanks the Hungarian side for its support in organizing the Pedagogical Academy.

As the permit stipulates that within the existing legal norms, the right to accept and review these additional trainings remains with local communities and education departments, we consider it necessary to develop a detailed letter from the Transcarpathian Institute of Postgraduate Pedagogical Training to schools and education departments or committees on accepting the trainings organized by the THPA.

12. The THPA welcomes the fact that the model curriculum developed and submitted by a working group set up on our initiative in singing and music for grades 5-9 of Hungarian schools was adopted by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. Please, also approve the textbooks for this program. We also ask the Hungarian side to cover the costs of publishing these textbooks.

Berehove, September 4, 2021

2021. szeptember 8. szerda 08:22
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